There are city-wide blackouts
in the recesses of my brain.
I pedal down the alleys
the dirty wash buckets
thrown out the open windows
above in the low-income housing projects.
These alleys are crowded and huddled
and would seem to be fictional labyrinth
were it not for the telephone wires
connecting overhead, a proof and relief.
A man at a crate, wearing denim overalls and
a red bandana, smiles his drunken grin at me
and scratches his bulbous purple nose, whisking
out a tissue from a bony fist.
He is a hint of someone I remember–someone
watching tiny birds; there is torn leather chair, Old Style beer cans,
a tractor pulling a wagon, a lilac scent
scratched with yeast and rusted nails. This,
I remember, is Pa, his gin-blossom
pressed into the dirty kitchen window
at the farmhouse, watching his hummingbirds
as running grandchildren and his sons
populate the yard.
A Parisian-like corner where some of the alleys meet,
a flower market in barrels and palette displays,
chalk-board prices, plump women in purple fuddled dresses.
This is where I come to remember
how I once loved purple lipstick and pretty things
and how I sang to my great aunts in a big city for quarters.
I choose one of the alleys and pedal my way down.
Their smiles filling me with a comfort-
all those plump, soft, lavender-scented women related
to my grandmother, telling me I sang so beautifully.
“Beautiful” is sort of a stop sign around here, or warning.
The alley comes to a dark end once the word
“beautiful” is ringing in my brain, and I see
the alley is now entirely
blocked by a concrete wall.
I turn my bike away, back toward the brighter
center where the alleys meet, choosing, with “beautiful”
still hanging onto my memory like a stale cigarette,
like a yellow-colored flu stain, to go south.
Southeast–cobblestone and rain puddles, I
see the clouds in their reflections. This alley is
I want to turn but the walls on the side
are narrowing in,
my thighs just scuffing the plaster of the walls.
I look forward and it goes on and on
to light then dark, light,
then dark, where unnamed streets cross
but I cannot get to them.
A cracked hand reaches out a glassless
window, and the cold porcelain knocks against my
knuckle. I am picking up speed but I look to see
what it was, and when I face forward,
wobbling, another white porcelain thing—
this one is a doll’s face, white and cracked,
somewhat glued back together. Her
head has holes in it where the doll hair used to
be, and fear fills me as I roll closer, backing on
“beautiful,” she half whispers.
I am in the hallow,
I am in the hallow,
my waking nightmares
and memories–her white face shatters into mirrors
and shoots shards into my entire body. But I have
to get away. I pluck out the glass, all this blood, and
keep going. I know her. I know her.
I break out into blinding white light,
all is soft, the blood has clotted,
and I see what must be
the exit. Or is it entrance? I am looking for.
I cannot tell but as I pass beneath the linens
hanging overhead across lines strung window
to window, I smell, first, mashed potatoes,
a woman scrapes dirty Blue China Plates
under cool water, and then–sweat—but a sweat a know well.
A young-looking lean man in his mid-forties
crosses his long-legged jeans at the cowboy boots.
His cowboy hat is tipped over to shade large blue-green eyes, asleep
in the shade. I know his chin because it looks like mine. A dimple.
A box of band aids is kicked over, and there’s the humming sound—
the birds—flitting and darting and singing.
I start to bandage my fingers but
I am now on an old red tricycle and I am suddenly
the one in overalls, Pa watching me pedal about in the dirt driveway
through the window above the lilac bush,
sipping his Old Style as my father cracks open his in
the driveway, and I pedal up to him.
It is all a dream, I know, but this is the part I have come for,
the part I seek every time I face my reflection–
and that doesn’t matter now. Because I pedal up to him,
parking my front tire against his cowboy boots,
“daddy, someone will save us, right?”
He kisses my cheek, hands me my doll,
and I abandon the tricycle, running
for the lilac bushes’ protection near the
I take out the pocketknife and gouge
at my doll’s pretty eyes so she can’t see.
I saw at her hair until a small blond pile
is at my feet–a pleasure fills me as I take her beauty.
I cut at her mouth as my power takes her voice.
To be a doll, to be a doll–I thought it was that easy, that wish.