Charlie Butterworth is in My Soul

Charlie Butterworth is
            in my soul, is
in my dusty venetian
            blinds, is in
the dead basil plant
            on the porch
is in the green astroturf
            on the porch's floor, is
in the standard-issue
            brown apartment carpeting
is in the peeling paint on
            the radiator in the
bathroom, the peeling linoleum
            the flaming electrical
burners, in the leftover
            Chinese food in the
refrigerator, in the whole
            house my mother would
like to dip in acid. Charlie
            Butterworth is there and
I celebrate him. He
            died of poverty
I think; that's what Mother
            said or did
he die of
            kindness Did he die
of not
            caring about
Paul Klee designer rugs
            over a polished
hardwood floor in the
            dining room He
was a lawyer but somehow
            he died of drafty
rented rooms, of getting
            by, of giving his services
, of the hundred poor
            people who attended his
funeral, of a wife Bernice
            who unaccountably cropped
up in the dingy
            rooms of center
city Philadelphia, radiant,
            devoted . . . . Maybe he
died of a Philadelphia
or the white dove
            on his death announcement—
Charlie Butterworth!
            When I was in
boarding school, your mother picked
            me up and took
me across the
            river to her little
white house She
            gave me chicken
and dumplings and pie
            and mashed potatoes
and gravy She
            took me to a church
where the choir wore ridiculous
            pom-poms on their
heads She dragged on
till the ash
            fell off She
talked and played
            cards with
the butt dangling
            from the corner of
her mouth. Aunt Kits . . . .
Butterworth. His brown
            eyes his kind crow's
feet, the rim of
            brown hair around
his bald head
            I wasn't supposed
to like him
            Charlie Butterworth
coming out of the faucets—
            chlorinated—in my apartment
rising off the radiator
            in waves
sluicing the path
            of the tiny silver
scar over my daughter's
            left eyebrow
My mother comes
            and says she wants
to fumigate
            call the health department
get a plastic surgeon

The Laurel Review 37:1 (Winter 2003): 28-30.

3 a.m.: Put Pedro to Sleep

I know exactly what death looks like

     downy hills      pale green
                              tufts of cottonwood trees
     ribbon of road, ribbon of river.

The needle, long and shiny . . . .

Her breath rises and I feel for it.

She’s small.
                            During the apneas
                                   the little pauses

she might drift      as on a hang glider

over that      landscape.

I almost pushed him down

            the cliff

    on Canyon Road
        on his last day      today

I thought about it

Pedro, companion
                          of my loneliness

                my solitary glides, at night,
     over those hills.

Why do they call it

                      putting to sleep?

At night
           we turn ourselves over to God.

In the spring      on the first warm
                                          hot days

that force the buds open

     force purple-scented lilac
                  from dun-leaved bushes

people want

            to feel the sun and air again.

They take off their shirts

        their heads

with a gun, with . . . .

My baby and I keep our shirts on,

stay on this side.

Pedro scrabbles up the edge

across the stones
                 in rapid water.

Pedro, ball of will
                             and bites,

wagging his white-tipped tail
                     when he comes to me.

He’ll be put to sleep.

     At first, his rest will be very dark;

then, wisps of dawn

     will fill the house;

he’ll scratch to be let out

his black and brown tank-shaped body

          will trot down the sidewalk

     his toenails will click

          his collar will jingle

an hour later

          he’ll return from Smith’s

as he does
                every morning

from scrounging      the dumpster

      with a whole roast chicken

   a dozen spareribs raw or cooked

a freshly baked loaf of bread
                        still in its cellophane. . . .

The Iowa Review 29:2 (Fall 1999): 151-156.