Catherine Cleary

Little Heavens with Danny at the Center

Every morning theophanies and Christophanies.
O’s fingertips on my cheek wake me from sleep. 
When my eyelids open he gasps, Amazing!
The sunlight focuses itself on the emerald leaves again 
and again into eternity—
a lens twisting the world sharper.
(Who could parse them now—
all the grays lining the perimeter of black?)
Then this— my cousin, the first firefighter to die at Ground Zero 
Before anyone understood what was happening he was crushed 
by a falling body                    My mind claims him
and the supreme disorientation of his death.
Then immediately the brain resumes— 
folding images into an interior
like blue shirts into the drawers of a dresser—
cornflower, periwinkle, indigo, sky.
What if the desire to please you does in fact please you?
What if the center of my palms where she placed the host or
the drone of wisteria alive with bees     an aural whiteout?
Playing Freezer Burn and Now I Wanna Be Your Dog on repeat
as a girl. As a girl, praying continually.
Danny, forgive me     all I can do
is what I can do.
But every morning I drink from a coffee mug stamped with FDNY 
purchased by my father when he and my brother visited the memorial—
O says, dragging a stuffed bear behind him named Teddy Bear,
shortened to T.B., shortened to Teebs,
I’m taking it—
Where are you taking it?
I’m taking it to heaven.
Then the wheeling of bats pouring from a house at dawn,
their flight so distinct from that of birds in a way I cannot describe.
The air textured with them.
Only, it wasn’t the bats     it was the way they moved from house to house. 
Then the eyes of the dad at Deep Eddy     I met them by accident,
but I kept looking, I
kept looking.
The acceleration of a toddler’s whine. Danny, I— 
Can I express this.
Can I.

Little Heavens Nos. 2 and 3

For J

The pollen in corbiculae.           The first American 
Bumble Bee Queen nectaring on a Prairie Blazing Star.

The air was thick   wet     but when he raised the shade     the twilight entered into us there 
along the rows of semi-circular gray desks.
I want to say the light was lilac over the parking garage.

Is it plausible I’ve understood nothing? 
Surely it was more complicated than lilac.

On the elevated highway a man
perched on the guardrail looks out over the bayou,
service road, the crests of pines. The hazard lights on his produce truck blink.

When you looked at me with the wet black pupil at each center          and said,
let’s try this          I would have tried everything, I would have.

The sunlight inside my vehicle is extravagant and
in the twilight a pink evening primrose blooms     a claim ripens into possession. 

Tonight’s lesson is plausibility. To be plausible is not to be probable.
We have to believe it could happen. We do not have to believe it did happen—

or even that it was more likely to happen.
Certainly your desire was plausible.
The sun drops lower now     shoots through a gap in the branches

and the light on the wall is wavering lines of orange   of gold.
Beside tupperware full of fat black caterpillars,

manilla packets hold native plant seeds: 
American Basketflower, Rattlesnake Master, 
Missouri Ironweed, Fragrant Mistflower, 
Fall Obedient Plant.

Every day I burned to brush
your cracked lip with the pad of my thumb     and though I burned
I was not consumed I—

have come this far and understood     Is it plausible I
have understood nothing about—

As a child, I memorized the small catechism my heart
inside its uniform—
plaid skirt, knee socks, navy polo.     Reciting

We should fear and love God so that—
While a teacher carefully checked my recitation against the text, counting off for each missed 

or plural          so that          so 

that                  so—

Pain Scale

In the simulation the patient kept throwing ice cubes at us 
then sobbing I’m sorry, I’m sorry          I just     hurt
so bad.
She was found wandering the marina, looking for her husband 
or her boat               She didn’ have a boat, or no—
she didn’t have a husband     no one could remember and
the notes from the officer were illegible.
She had a plan, but no intent. She was talking about her garden. 
She was talking about her nightmares.
In the simulation the doctor asked for our names
and the old nurses with stooped spines couldn’t believe it,
kept repeating, no asks that, no one ever—
That evening my son and I crack the ice that accumulates
within the slide’s shadow, a lace of gray with green blades threading it.
From the center outward is how we are taught to do nothing
except clean wounds, and I check “tearful” on the chart.
If every weapon has two ends consider
every arm extended to dress a wound     we combed
dark rings of curls out of the bone flap that evening
my husband asks me     how do I think we’ll talk to our son about heaven?
But I couldn’t understand what pain scale we were using.
First it was an eight, then it was radiating, then it was grasping and unfastening.

White Poem (Amenorrhea)

When I stopped bleeding I drew orchids
lines loose and folding into a center I
no longer possessed, diffuse and unbound 
from lunar time—
In the textbook the human
body was likened to the celestial: contained, discrete, brilliant—
We were living on a flightpath
and when the planes crossed the sun
they extinguished all the light in the house like a switch
turning, but nothing turned off the moon which hung above my bed and bound 
my eyes in white strips of light each month—
Occasionally my blood would come to me in a dream
dissipating slowly through a blue swimming pool
shredded into threads and gone by morning     Still,
I felt that I had somehow freed,
slipped the red thread from the needle of my body
which I could watch, now, as though from above
afternoon sunlight whiting out my shoulders
walk into and out of shadows, canopies of leaves
toward home               and I was above it or
beneath it          to its right and to its left
surrounding it on all sides     a shielding—
The book spoke of the weeping moon,
the reaping moon                    It described
the lifecycle of the Danas Chrysippus butterfly, equivalent
to that of the moon.     I
push the baby along the footpath.
In front of us walks a teenaged girl in combat boots,
Her gait is supinated, heel bulging out to the side
mashing down the leather, childlike
It opens her to me.
A pollution rule, said the book, clarifies cultural norms
by providing a focus a
center when morals seem to conflict—          Heaviness
radiates from the girl’s body like heat, sadness, maybe          something
was once thirteen and holding every—
My blood did come back, but disappeared again during pregnancy 
then I craved citrus: pineapple, grapefruit, clementine, anything 
sweet, acidic, wet with juice, and I made nothing
outside of myself          always wondering,
Did the blood contaminate or purify? Spoilage
occurs, it is believed,     if moonlight falls directly on the—
When I prayed to get my virginity back,
my friends gently corrected me, saying What did it feel like
to have your purity restored?

Catherine Cleary received her MFA from the University of Houston, where she was an Inprint/Brown Foundation fellow. Her work has been published in Poetry, the Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Bennington Review, Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. She lives with her son in Houston.

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