Poetry: Miriam Sagan


Ordinary day—the news is bad, the weather
Fine for January.
Emptying the compost
In the backyard, late afternoon
I see the little white bag
For clothespins on the line
Has finally rotted through.
You hung it here almost twenty years ago
And since you’ve gone—I’ve neglected it
Although what exactly could I do
Given how much care
To those insignificant wooden pins
With metal latch springs
Mouths that open and close
Like a need I didn’t know I had.
Inside the house, forced bulbs
Bloom lavish red and red and white.
The pins are almost gone to rot
They lie on the ground like bulbs or seeds
That planted, won’t grow, only
Disintegrate to earth.
Often, toward morning, I dream of you
Your shape gone
Like laundry taken down…
I toss the clothespins into the compost bin
In the evening’s east, the moon, renewing itself
Rises like a paperwhite narcissus.

Pluto in Riverside

The scale model of the solar system
Spreads across greater Boston
Starts with the sun in the Museum of Science
Mercury in the lobby
Venus on the top floor of the parking garage
Mars in Lechmere’s Galleria
Where patrons might sip a cappuccino
Earth outside the Royal Sonesta Hotel
Jupiter at South Station where the trains depart
With the romantic expectation of arrival
Saturn in the Cambridge Public Library
With Uranus at the branch in Jamaica Plain
And Neptune—across traffic and congestion
Rests in a mall in Saugus. We don’t really have the time
To spend all day crossing city and crowded suburb
And not in all this rain.
Still, I wanted to see at least one—
Pluto is in Riverside, not that far
From where we’re staying—the smallest, farthest planet
At the end of the line.

We start at the diner in Waltham
Over eggs and middle-aged conversation
With your old friends, coffee, home fries
Our parents, our children’s lives
Somehow eclipsing our own
As if our goal were just to survive
And hold up our portion of the human race
Although a different look might cross a face—
Flirtation, memory of romance or anticipation
There’s life in us yet, for God’s sake.
The moment passes, pass the ketchup, salt
The economy is tanked, the government…
And do we really know?
And should we stay or go?

We pay the bill, it’s freezing
Everyone agrees,
Sure, we’ll go see Pluto
In the station, at the end of the trolley line.
It’s free, and tiny, this side of the turnstile
I’m disappointed, I’d expected…what?
Something bigger than my thumbnail
A potato-shaped asteroid of a planet
Or maybe its moon, Charon
Or some vision
Of its atmosphere at perihelion
A trans-Neptunian object
Hard to see with an amateur telescope.
There is no tenth planet.
Pluto is named for Hades, king of the dead.
As a kid, I liked that story
Demeter and Persephone
The daughter out picking flowers
Long skirt, long hair, picking anemones
Petaled purple and red
Then Hades breaks through the crust of the earth
On his black horse, and carries her down
Into the underworld.
At thirteen, I was waiting to be snatched
Longing for someone bad to come along
Grab me out of my mother’s white-shingled house
Where she’d yell
“Eleven-thirty! Don’t forget your curfew!”
Down to Hell I’d go
Amethyst cave, the dead with coins on their eyes
Where blind fish swam through the drip of limestone.
Hades, bad boyfriend, I just knew he was coming
I put my ear to the earth and urged him on.

Half a lifetime later
I dream of my mother’s city, this Boston
Its subway lines and trolley
Where I stand on a platform in a vast space
And when the train pulls in I rush to ask
The dark gentleman in the three-piece suit
“Is this train in- or outbound?”
And he answers, before the doors swish shut
And the train drops underground
“Everything here is inbound.”

MIRIAM SAGAN is the author of more than twenty books, including the poetry
collection Rag Trade, and Searching for a Mustard Seed: A Young Widow’s
Unconventional Story,
which won Best Memoir in 2004 from Independent Publishers.
She runs the Creative Writing Program at Santa Fe Community College.

(c) copyright 2005, Miriam Sagan; author retains all rights.