Telling the Truth
The child knows crossed fingers
behind your back lets you lie,
but I never bother, blithely
work the art, think it a virtue.
That day we children raked
the withered browns and golds,
all afternoon bathed in the dust of dying leaf,
all for the old lady across the street
in a porch-aproned house
I never entered. But she promised us
a wiener roast and charred,
sticky marshmallows behind her house
at dusk while burning our labors.
I could not wait.
They must all be having fun without me.
My mother sent me to see.
The yard was drearily empty,
but I hurried home to report
the jolly crowd I pretended I saw there.
I did not cross fingers
or anything except my mother’s logic.
The found-out liar stayed home that night,
nursed my tragedy, nurse it still.
I did not learn a thing, though.
Ask me how you look
in that new outfit, and,
despite the spiraling stripes
which balloon your girth,
I will reply, “Wonderful! Wonderful!”
"Don't Disturb the Birds"
The desert swallows built their nest
balanced on the inside lintel
of the double garage door,
perhaps thinking it another of the cliffs
surrounding us in glorious golds and oranges
to enclose our sprawling campgrounds.
The garage was a shortcut for humans
to the main gathering places
(dining room, assembly hall, library,
nurse's station ) from high mesa housing
or the desert road, and so the sign.
I often skirted the station wagon housed there
as I trudged and climbed from there to here
and here to there. I tried to obey,
but chirps and cheeps rained down on me
as I passed through, and tiny balls of gray fluff
appeared at the rim of their twig and clay bowl.
The sign asking care did not stop
my causing turmoil among the avians
… they temporarily there just as I …
I stirring things up despite intentions.
Like it or not, our arrival anywhere tends
to act as steam roller, and time often
tells how ruin follows our human progress.
Warnings are warranted. When they
see us coming it may be wise
to turn a little flustered, sound the alarm.
A Bridge in the Distance
crosses the Colorado
at the base of the Grand Canyon,
looks too far away after six hours
of agony getting to this flat trail,
hours of jars and jolts as the hooves
of our mules bore us down, down,
so safely down, with each step
pile-hammered up our human spines.
As we descended, I saw none
of the glories of canyon walls,
never thought of swift- passing eons
of sediment. But the bridge
will lead us to that place of preparation
for a new day and our return to earth's rim,
a day to glory in our beasts' soft ascent,
padding upward as we, at last,
can dream the long history
layered around us, the golds,
the carmines, the sand shades
laid down, layers and layers
of sediment dropped, sediment
on its own unimaginably long journey.
But now the bridge is still so distant,
so far from our hope to climb
and imagine eras within only hours,
hours stolen out of our
so short and fragile lives.
In the movies of my childhood there were
often Murphy beds hidden in smooth walls,
perhaps in small NYC apartments, great props
for comediennes. Ann Tyler wrote of an old lady's
Murphy bed she always fearfully looked under
after pulling it down for the night, she, perhaps,
like me, too much taught hopes and fears
by the movies of those days. My friends and I
could walk to see, for 10 cents, a new show,
a cartoon, newsreel and serial (a cliffhanger).
I never dreamed I wanted a Murphy bed until
my friends got one, a family heirloom, and I was
allowed to sleep on it in their added-on room
overlooking the lake, windows all around. This piece
not like an ironing board hidden in the wall
but an impressive, heavy affair of golden oak
with elegant scrolls of floral design, a hidden bed
to be moved about with effort and muscle,
a fantasy meant for elegant, over-furnished rooms
of an era with servants meant for heavy-lifting..
That night, my first visit since they inherited
the stately piece, I slept in Victorian splendor, awakened ,
as always, before anyone else, turned on the coffee,
sipped and watched from among pillows and comforter
as the east lightened, the lake glittered, and I surely
would have swooned into the arms of any dashing hero
who might have entered into my romantic setting.
Every later visit I hoped to repeat my night
of elegant comfort, but they had pushed the piece
aside forever and returned me to the guest room.
Now the lake house is gone, and the Murphy bed
must have been a victim of downsizing.
I never asked where it went
or even asked myself where "they went,"
those, my youthful dreams of romantic splendor.
From a Passing Billboard
I write myself on every wall
I stand and wave my arms
in front of every movie screen
My name is scrawled up and down
the margins in that book you read
and, of course, like Kilroy
and Alfred E. Newman
my gap-toothed grin is right there
staring up from every hand-held device
you ever dreamed of
yet somehow like those faces
and giant eyes and hollows
sunk between racked and finely-hung
bones of starving children
with a flip of your finger I vanish
The radio informs me children
no longer fear quicksand, and my mind
immediately goes to the Cimarron River,
a hopeful nomenclature,
as it was ever a placid stream
on a wide spread of sand, straw-pale.
Family trips downstate to visit cousins,
times anticipated like the passing
of the ice cream man, were marred
by my terror of the metal and cement
and asphalt crossing-bridge that might
dump us down into the fabled, fatal
swamp of sucking sand below us.
Today's story said children of the '60s
had the greatest fear of this slippery
maelstrom … always hungry for victims.
My decade, the '40's, came in a close second
with this dread, which only began
as the film industry started up
and spread its tensions by raising volume
on scary music. The number of movie stars
I watched sink, flailing after one unwary step,
grew year by year, competing with the many
sleeping innocents, blissfully unaware
of the hairy tarantula's silent creeping
up their sheets, soon to touch exposed flesh.
Now the children never think of these things.
I wonder what haunts their bedtime hours …
perhaps finding themselves with empty hands
and a sudden lack of a mesmerizing screen.
Carol Hamilton has retired from teaching 2nd grade through graduate school in Connecticut, Indiana and Oklahoma, from storytelling and volunteer medical translating. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has published 19 books and chapbooks:: children's novels, legends and poetry. She has been nominated ten times for a Pushcart Prize. She has won a Southwest Book Award, Oklahoma Book Award, David Ray Poetry Prize, Byline Magazine literary awards in both short story and poetry, Warren Keith Poetry Award, Pegasus Award and a Chiron Review Chapbook Award.