Erica Goss – Poems

Arts & Crafts

Once I spent years earnestly sewing
hundreds of triangles together,

placing one equilateral side next to another,
point up, point down,

knotting miles of thread
and linking the layers with stitches small

as sesame seeds. It took so long to make
that the finished part became frayed and dirty

while bags of cloth triangles
piled up around the house.

In winter it was cozy: the quilt draped over
my knees, expanding one four-inch piece at a time,

but when summer came the needle slipped
in my sweaty hands and my legs grew clammy

under its growing bulk. When all of the triangles
were sewn together I placed them on top

of a square of batting and a plain cloth backing
and quilted all three layers

which took several more years and when
it was finished it had shrunk and no longer fit

the bed I’d made it for or the life I was now
living. I folded the quilt with my sore fingers

and stowed it in the closet with my other
failed projects: five years of piano lessons,

three years of dance, one painful afternoon
with the dulcimer

and went into the garden
to turn over the compost.

Soul Hockey

Behind home bench
I see the young men
raise their sticks. I wince.
Are their mothers watching?
Because I am. I can’t pull
my eyes from the goalie’s
knees, thwacking air
like pinball flippers.
Next to the arena,
a woman waits
for the end of the game,
the hopeless furniture of her life
displayed on the sidewalk.
If the home team wins,
her cup that says please help
might hold enough to buy a meal.
The tipsy crowd crosses
the street, happy, loud,
hands skating in the air,
stumbling through her
muddled piles, clothing here,
sleeping bag there.
This time of year
the street should be sodden
but this sold-out night
is dry, and my heart skips,
skids like a slippery disc
across white ice.

Poems from Night Court

Published by Glass Lyre Press (May 26, 2017)

 

Encontrada

I have never learned to wander
to trust in grass and stars and mouthfuls of air.

If I ramble without keys or shoes
I might meet my ghosts, who always seem friendly

at first. No drifting allowed, no matter the delicious
temptation of the vanishing point. I’d rather hit

a sign than turn an unnamed corner
regardless of its lonesome beauty. And so I study

maps of the world, avoiding
shady groves hung with moss,

or streets tense with empty cars
or large bodies of water. When lost

they say, keep to one spot.
Don’t meander. That’s how you found me

a map of the spirits stuffed in my back pocket.
All I had to do was stay put.

First appeared in Catamaran, Fall 2014

2:00 a.m.

Sleep ends, percussive, final. I don’t speak,
try not to think, but sometimes

I just need a good story. Once,
a woman asked twenty-five Catholics what they thought

Heaven would be like. She got twenty-five different
answers. When my husband was a boy,

he broke a flask of holy water.
The glass cut through his small hand,

lodged in the bone, leaving a Y-shaped scar
thick as rope. The night, ribbed like corduroy,

leaves marks on my skin. No one calls me,
no child cries. Why this vigilance?

I rub my cheek against the night. Heaven
is one enormous national park. It smells like

childhood. The prince waits patiently until
Sleeping Beauty wakes, even if it takes

a hundred years. I kiss my pillow.

Night Court

After midnight
when the rates are cheapest
I put my tragedies on the witness stand.
How fresh and alive

they become
one by one
permanent and hard
as jewels.

They do not flinch
when I question them.
They have sworn to tell the truth
and nothing else.

I test them again and again:
they are precise as nightmares
and I am never more awake.
If there is no safe place

at least this night court has rules:
I know all of the answers
in advance. This, my examination,
my handbook on how to live.

First appeared in Lake Effect, Summer 2011

This is a Wild Place

On the last day of winter,
my car, filled
with chaff and spare parts,

fits neatly in its painted slot,
a motion box, stopped.
The little junk birds peck at foil,

and I am called away from my body
to forage for my life
out in the open.

When I was eleven
I climbed a huge pine
and had a vision

of flying into the thin
mountain air; my mother called
my name softly, standing on the red earth,

and her voice was a ladder
I climbed down.
I have seen the sky

in late winter, watched clouds
form the ribcage of a fantastic beast,
understanding that

the world is stitched together
from the loosest of tissues – even
concrete, webbed

with faint cracks
leaves nooks
for the smallest seeds.

First appeared in Café Review, Spring 2010

Early Morning, San Bernardino, 1969

Even then I knew:
my father was waiting
for a message

and we were supposed
to be witnesses.
He could not stop his mind’s

wild associations,
but the sky kept its silence,
tar-black and star-smeared.

My brother whimpered,
pinned against the swing set
while Daddy pointed at the heavens,

his do you see it do you see it
more and more frantic,
but we didn’t see it

wanted our beds
shrank from him
as he trembled, holding

his head with both hands
and the unruly stars
burned out in a desert morning.

First appeared in Contrary, Winter/Spring 2016

I Am No Falconress

“My mother would be a falconress.”
– Robert Duncan

He was born
with long sharp nails
and when I tried to trim them
blood welled up
and the nurses pursed
their lips.

He hears
the little bells
when he turns
his head.

A young raptor,
my boy:
the intense eye,
the slash from
flesh to bone.
It takes my breath
away, his need
for flight.

My mind follows him
into the blue sky
where I am not
allowed to go.

I am no
falconress, yet
the hood and tether
are there
all the same
and I feel
the claws
at my wrist.

First appeared in Contrary, Winter/Spring 2016

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