THE STRAWBERRY COATS
Here come the girls in their strawberry coats,
up our building’s walk
with their thin boys and black bangs.
It’s 2:30 am on a Friday and they return
precisely now, and now
they see me watching from my fish-tank room.
They are swimming toward me through their freckles,
through their knitting.
Tonight the season starts to chill.
From my desk, I blow and their hair turns gold,
turns red, falls in piles on the drive.
They are artists without paints or pens or instruments.
They all own birds.
Here come the strawberry-coated girls!
They are smoking on the stoop because they have to:
it’s in their contracts. They’re Catholic,
or something like it.
Their words are purple rosary beads,
they visit each station in turn,
tap each holy head with a thumb and begin again.
They never say too much.
Smoke eddies at the windows of my fish-tank.
I remember I am Southern, other--
and despise my messy mouth: bragging and gushing,
smearing and smashing all my meaning together.
I light my fish-tank from within,
write on the front glass, where the girls go by.
I am no mystery.
There, my juvenalia sits in the corner like a naked doll,
with my old name and made-up lovers, there
where anyone might see and know the worst of me.
There! They are coming--
the girls with red coats and black bangs and birds,
who live deep down in our building
in rooms without windows or doors,
with their clocks and thin boys who worry and count.
Off come their red coats.
They are snuffing their smokes on the stairs,
pouring their silent bodies back
into our building’s gut.
They hide what’s wrong and wear what’s right.
I hear them lock-up, light-tight
and sweep their crumbs.
I smell their papers burning in the kitchen sink.