Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine to the Afterlife with Robin Williams

After Amorak Huey

The limousine is the oyster gray
of early-morning mist. It glides
to the curb in the only parking space
for blocks. The back door opens.
I slide in next to Robin. He is dressed
in faded sweats like he’s just come from a workout
at the gym. His eyes are closed. Maybe
he was dozing, waiting for me
to be done with the last details of death.
Robin and I have never met, but no matter,
we’ve ended up in this vehicle
by virtue of our departure times.
Robin turns to me, hands me a beat-up tin soldier.
“Don’t you love the patina of old toy
soldiers?” he says. I wish I’d brought
a carnation from the graveyard
to give to him. Then I could tell him
about the soap my mother bathed
me with as a child. I could tell him how the man
with palsied hands at the corner convenience store
orders the same soap for me. The driver’s shadow
is just visible through the glass that divides the cab
from the passenger compartment. The radio
is tuned to a gospel station where Louis Armstrong
plays When the Saints Come Marching In.
In seconds we are out of the city
cruising along small-town streets
where a few people wave from the sidewalk.
I like that Robin doesn’t feel compelled
to make me smile. I don’t bother to put on lipstick.
We lean a bit. Our shoulders touch.

Originally published in The Tishman Review
Collected in Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine


Miss O’Keeffe at the White Place

On the sheer walls of the White Place cliffs,
swallows anchor nests shaped like beehive ovens
at Acoma pueblo. The birds sprint from spire to spire,
acrobats without net or wire. Today’s sky, work-shirt
blue, is backdrop for ash-white palisades.
Can I be as daring as a swallow, trust my eyes
to feel the contours of what holds us aloft,
what binds us to earth?

open-mouthed gargoyles
spit desiccated stars
my hair goes gray

Originally published in The Fourth River
Collected in Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine


Zelda Fitzgerald Is Banned from Baby Scottie’s Baptism, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1921

This damn place is 18 below zero.
If I were to venture outside, my breast milk
would freeze. Nanny Shirley, repelled by breasts,
prefers formula dispensed in bottles.

Mama nursed me till I was old enough
to chaw on a chicken bone. If I tell Nanny Shirley,
will she faint with the bone of disgust
lodged in her throat?

Scott insists the baby be baptized a Catholic
in the ice palace of the Visitation Convent chapel.
I am confined to our home igloo for fear
of outrageous behavior. Might I expose

a milk-gorged breast to Father Eskimo
or to one of the Fitzgerald puritans?
But Baby Scottie approves of me. Skin
scented of pear blossom, her lips

are soft as magnolia buds. The pink shield
of her hand is raised to my chest,
her foot taps against my ribs
to the ragtime duet of our hearts.

Note: Quoted language is from the Zelda Fitzgerald
biography by Sally Cline

Originally published in jabberwocky review
Collected in Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine


Given Fire, Given Water

Italicized lines by Kishwar Naheed

Malala would not let stone men silence her voice.
We hear her call. Our answer? Mend the fabric
of goodwill with the warp and weft of free voices.

Note the female kingfisher’s red-banded breast.
Why not display our wounds as marks of honor?
Blood may flow as we deliver our voices.

How small these grains of rice! Given fire, given
water, they swell and stick together—perfume
the air with an irrefutable voice.

The idea of making a footpath was a good
one. We will have to find a way when sickness
stalks the world to tend each true-throated voice.

Our task is to be as resourceful as cornflowers.
Haven’t you seen how a whole field of blossoms
can crowd out the thistles of fearful voices?

Susan, you read books in a library,
carry its card with your name. Still you can
pledge “I am Malala” in an ink-black voice.

Published in Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai


The Compendium of All That is Ordinary

From the compendium
of all that is ordinary
I choose the pearl
because from the dark place
of its origins has come luminosity,

though I myself am reluctant
to explore darkness.
I choose the dusky coo
of the mourning dove
for its benediction

of the gray hours
and, whatever the hour,
I choose the flying buttress
of your laugh. From the compendium
of all that is ordinary

I choose November
as a mode of living
with less each day,
even though I hold tight
to what each day brings.

And I choose the wild foxglove.
Who would suspect
those tender-throated blooms
ascending the spired stalk
are as deadly as life itself?

Published in Clover: A Literary Rag


Summer Evening In The Skagit Flats

The potato fields are in full bloom. Marie Antoinette,
they say, wore potato flowers in her hair. Potato flowers?
I know, that’s what I said.

Frankly, I pegged Marie for the kind of girl
that asked for and got the moon
(like that silver sickle poised overhead,
sharp as a guillotine slicing the sky).
Still, once, maybe on an evening like this,
it was these sturdy, humble stars
she desired above all else.

Published in The Art of Departure