Listening to Tchaikovsky
All at once you feel afraid,
recall those nights as a child
when the coast was clear
and your mother could
set up the music stand,
turn on the phonograph,
violin twinned to her neck,
accompany Romeo and Juliet.
She wasn’t your mother anymore,
red curls pummeling flushed cheeks,
fingers picking at gut, bow impatient,
stabbing the carcass again and again,
passion rising glorious up the stairs.
You could not sleep for the sound
—two lovers on fire—
like nothing your father could match,
the man two-timing late with the band--
trumpet lips playing other necks,
but that was commonplace.
You must keep listening,
but you know what will happen next
if you follow the heat of its mood:
every piece of advice
about careful choices will fly out the window,
your mother’s wagging finger a memory in flames,
and then, music!
I’m in the Mood for Love
crooning from the hi-fi in the den
mother sipping a whiskey sour
while she broils a piece of meat
my father back from New York
tie hanging limp around his neck
how long can the melody last
until their next argument
the trick: to sit at the table
swallow the gristle and savor the juice
I promised not to tell
how he opened the screen door
let in a couple of mosquitoes
whistled from the kitchen up the back stairs
a neighbor on an errand,
stole me out the way he came in
steered me onto a back woods trail
where I’d caught salamanders before
how my pinafore caught on a briar branch
the sound of the tear conspicuous
on a quiet afternoon
how his hands, wider than my hips
circled my waist
(could he have choked me there?)
how his eyes made me comprehend
how he got right down to business
his zipper another rip
and then my own flesh
tougher to separate
Who sent those owls hidden
in the branches after midnight,
the ones with the singular mantra—
who, but who are you—
that cared enough to wonder?
Branches of birch
rapped against clapboard,
weighed down by winter.
What brave thing could perch
on something so unstable?
The door to my bedroom
creaked open sometime later.
Nothing recognizable in darkness
but wool, heavy, smothering.
I floated to the ceiling
until the phantom finished,
call from the window beseeching:
Who, and who are you?
Kathy O’Fallon’s award-winning poetry and fiction have appeared in over two dozen national and regional literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. She has three poetry collections. A clinical psychologist practicing in Fallbrook and Redlands, California, the oldest of eight, mother of two, and grandmother of three, O’Fallon doesn’t lack for material.