Michelle Bitting





Finding Steckel Park With My Son

When he motors the window down,
a breeze-warmed broth flows through,
citrus mix of budding orange blossoms
and his own growing spice:
groin and pit, he can’t help touching
with fingers to sniff. Awkward innocent,
shoulders even with mine
and muscle-ripe,
he could snap the neck of a bird,
any one of the inmates
in this obsolete aviary
where we arrive to find
skeleton cages, furry
with iron filings, rust residue.
Where have they gone,
the Chinese Geese, Blue Crown Conures,
our Love Birds from Australia?
We turn to salute
the squalling present: one testy
Sri-Lankan Peacock drags
his tapered brilliance towards us,
flashes an azure wave and flees.
Run-of-the-mill pigeons flutter,
a white parrot cries “Hello! Hello!”
to the upturned curve
of my son’s smile. No longer
hormonal-nuts, I hardly recognize him,
alien as this scrappy state park,
its lifeline clamped in fiscal-skittish hands.
“Hello, hello” it shrieks again,
our friend hung out
like a rare sun, an albino honeydew
on his jail swing, singing. Neruda
knew beauty banked
in the commonest things:
splayed feather, empty chair,
the emperor’s torn socks
stepping under the guillotine,
a coin in the gutter, spinning. Knew how
the skull of a coconut split
births blue islands from inside,
this milky dream we share
in the ruined shadows of a cage,
condemned to love what’s leaving,
whatever’s meant to last.   

Morning at the Café Vida

And it begins to rain
lightly on the plein air seating

so that agile busboys
must hustle wet tables

under awnings, surfaces specked
with tiny drops like shattered salt

on marble tops, ground fine. I like
a lot of flavor on my food,

especially Fleur de Sel
from the Guerande region

of France, but not when we fight this way
on Valentine’s Day,

words like Fleurs Du Mal
flung from nowhere  

like the bad news recently
that out of twenty-two students

from my fifth grade class,
three have committed suicide.  

See, life gets stuck,
trapped granules sour

between cheek and gums,
searing a tender, unseen wound,  

a sudden swelling
of nerves and throat—pain

and teeth overrun with damp,  
the ship and chandeliers going under.  

One minute we’re waltzing,
veils of love unlaced

so delicately, the ballroom
of another day picking up

kids and phone calls,
even the social worker consulted

for our “special” son
and dancing between broccoli

or spinach for dinner. Nothing
glamorous about that

only somehow we are
until one of us stumbles  

and the clouds give out,
water collapsing down,

a regular torrent with knives
flashing across the sky,

more now, I can see than
simple table sprinklings,

pooling everywhere into lakes,
disappearing the furniture,

drowning shapes, washing,
swallowing everything up

while somewhere
someone won’t stop bleeding.



Palisades Poet Laureate Michelle Bitting is a fourth generation Palisadian and mother of two. Married to actor Phil Abrams she has published extensively in national journals including The American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Narrative, the L.A. Weekly, and others. Poems have appeared on Poetry Daily and as the Weekly Feature on Verse Daily. Her book Good Friday Kiss won the DeNovo First Book Award and Notes to the Beloved won the 2011 Sacramento Poetry Center Award and received a starred Kirkus Review. Michelle has taught poetry in the U.C.L.A. Extension Writer’s Program, at Twin Towers prison with a grant from Poets & Writers Magazine and is proud to be an active California Poet in the Schools. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, Oregon and recently commenced work on a PhD in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is honored to once again be a contributor to Poemeleon.