The Secret Drinker
When I heard the woman in the next booth say that her mother
had been a secret drinker, I thought about what the mother
might have liked to drink, and why we assume it was something bad for her.
If you got simple, made it two nouns instead of a noun and its adjective,
you could tell yourself she was simply drinking a secret,
as in swallowing something down she didn’t want to tell.
I was sitting with my mother eating Chicken Ginger String Beans,
and when I looked up at the dark TV screen above the door,
it looked like there were two doors out of the place but one door
was just a reflection, refracting and doubling on the screen.
I was pleased by the illusion. Neither door was where the real one
actually was. There was an exit where there might not be one.
It was one of those strip mall restaurants. Horizontal mirror 7 feet long,
rimmed by a picture of a waterfall in China I most likely will never see.
The cook and the waitress were chatting in Chinese, and my mother
was forgetting what she thought she might have been saying. I was trying
to think up questions to ask her but I was thinking about secret drinking
and where that woman’s mother went to do it.
I picture a shed behind a house not far from here; a woman sitting
at a window watching snow fall. The quiet thing snow does
shifting towards us, filling up a yard. The woman is putting her lips
to the rim of a glass she has hidden behind the garden forks.
She is sucking the secret drink into her body. It is like one of those
long worms they drag from the sand. It keeps coming and coming.
It is elastic. You can pull and pull on it and it won’t break. I wanted to know
how no one knew she was back there drinking in secret.
Why no one put their faces to her mouth to smell that room
at her lips. Bicycle grease on her knees. Those tulips wintering over.
I’ll be right back, she might have said before she left the room. Does anyone
want anything from the fridge? she might have added,
closing the door softly behind her.
By What Sign?
If you could say I feel lost here and I’m going home now. For where on earth would you buy that ticket. Who would meet you when you got there. By what sign would they know you. C.D. Wright One Big Self
Yes, you could wonder by which sign
they would know you. It could be simply
which side of the door you happened to be
standing on and how long you were there.
Maybe the sunlight is reflecting in such a
way as to give you a beard when
you have no beard. Dust in the wind
has coated your eyelids. Who could
recognize you? If it could be simple like
that. Just a matter of time of day.
Whether the wind was blowing or not.
Or sugar on your face and bees
coming in to sup. Who would know you
with all those wings at your lips?
Like the cats yesterday, bedmates
for two years then staring at each other
from opposite sides of the glass door
and both of them terrified. The female
did not know the male because she was
outside looking in and she’d never
been there before. He was seeing
a cat where usually there was none.
They reared up and started hissing at each other,
batting the glass door between them and when
she came in, they went on fighting.
Slips of grass draped across her back, rose petals
sticking to her fur. The wet of snail on her pads.
A simple trick of light. And those snails
Nothing any of us in this house know
the first thing about. They crawl up to the door
at night. Cling to the side of the house.
In the morning you can see where they’ve been.
The wet trail drying out in the sun like thin glue.
A slight stain on the walk.
Carol Potter’s fourth book of poems, Otherwise Obedient (Red Hen Press, 2007), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in GLBT poetry. Her book of poems Short History of Pets won the 1999 Cleveland State Poetry Center Award, and the Balcones Award. Previous books are Upside Down in the Dark, 1995, and Before We Were Born, 1990—both from Alice James Books. Potter’s poems have appeared in Field, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, The Women’s Review of Books and many other journals and anthologies.
After five years in California,, including part-time on a boat in Marina del Rey, Potter returned to New England and is living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Most recent publications include poems in Field, Switched-on Gutenberg, and forthcoming in the Open Field Anthology.