Suzannah Gilman: Three Poems

Only Words

In my house I glance down
at the coffee table and see the latest
issue of National Geographic with the white
bold font spelling out “Libya” on its cover
and in my head I hear “Libby-uh,”
but then “Lib-yuh,” the second
in my grandfather’s voice.
I hear him say “War War One,”
in which he was a sailor,
and “War War Too,”
in which his eldest son served
and was wounded, earning
a purple heart, the last thing
he would earn in his life before
he became permanently
drunk in his easy chair.

There was never a copy
of National Geographic (nekkid people!)
in my grandparents’ house, nor mine,
nor in any of the houses of my numerous
uncles and aunts and cousins. We had only
the religion of my grandmother and
her family, Assemblies of God. Though
my grandmother loved my grandfather’s
sister Bertha as well as she would have
loved her own, my grandmother would
whisper (because she never meant
to be rude or hateful), “Bertha
is Church of God, and they don’t b’leeve
right.”

So in my grandparents’ house, we had only
the Bible, the Pentecostal Evangel, the biography
of Corrie Ten Boom, and the Reader’s Digest
to read and digest, mixed with Lawrence Welk
and Hee Haw on my grandfather’s seven inch
TV screen. He won the little pop-up set
in California when he worked
at the Navy Shipyard, his last job
before he retired and we all moved
to Florida, where I am still, and where, after
age 40, I ordered the Time Life
DVDs of Hee Haw. I watched with
thick, ketchup-y anticipation and
nostalgia for my childhood, and
because I was out of my child’s
daisy-dreaming head and in
an adult frame of mind, I saw
for the first time what it really was—
titties and innuendo, ass-slapping and sexism,
a slow yawning of cock-sure male
libido and a little
needling behind the haystack—
and I wondered what in the hell
anyone in my family
ever stood for,
ever.

###

Gladys

In the hospital, she was nameless—a body, nothing. More
like a machine. Sloshing a mop across a hard floor tires
her mind, which has become numb, beeps and codes and
thoughtless repetitions filling the minutes of her days spent

like a machine, sloshing a mop across. A hard floor tires
her veined and aching legs until quitting time,
thoughtless repetitions. Filling the minutes of her days, spent,
she labors the streets of Memphis-Chicago-Houston, wearing

her veined and aching legs. Until quitting time,
she looks forward to the rented room with a shared bath,
she labors. The streets of Memphis-Chicago-Houston wearing
their cracked, uneven sidewalks upon her memory forever.

She looks forward, to the rented room: with a shared bath,
she can’t linger long enough to soak away the cities’ pain,
their cracked, uneven sidewalks. Upon her memory forever,
the move to L.A., where Earl found a good job at the shipyard.

She can’t linger. Long enough to soak away the cities’ pain:
the distance between the new life and the old. She celebrates
the move to L.A., where Earl found a good job. At the shipyard
her husband, full of work, retires his body to their bed only.

The distance between the new life and the old! She celebrates
her own things, happy and waxing her linoleum squares.
Her husband, full of work, retires his body. To their bed only,
she brings clean, smooth sheets and loosens the corners,

her own things. Happy and waxing her linoleum. Squares
finally, a couple with a carport and their own front door.
She brings clean, smooth sheets and loosens the corners.
In the hospital she was nameless, a body, nothing more.

###

Energy Bill

The energy bill I can’t pay is due on my dad’s birthday.
There’s nothing I can do on either count, powerless.
Dad is dead and has been, so what does this mean?
His ashes sit on a shelf at my brother’s house.

There’s nothing I can do on either count. Powerless,
my sons live in my house with the heat blasting.
His ashes sit on a shelf. At my brother’s house,
lights left on everywhere. And for what purpose? Will it end?

My sons live. In my house with the heat blasting,
sooner or later all of this will burn me up,
lights left on everywhere. And for what purpose will it end?
I will be ash, too, if only metaphorically. Due dates march on.

Sooner or later all of this will burn me. Up
until now, I’ve taken the heat, but if this continues
I will be ash, too. If only metaphorically, due dates march on.
The energy bill I can’t pay is due on my dad’s birthday.