by Lynda Hull
From the hospital solarium we watch rowhouses
change with evening down the avenue, the gardener
bending to red asters, his blonde chrysanthemums.
Each day I learn more of the miraculous.
The gardener rocks back on his heels and softly
Riva talks to me about the d.t.’s, her gin
hallucinations. The willow on the lawn
is bare, almost flagrant in the wind off
Baltimore Harbor. She wants me to brush her hair.
Some mornings I’d hear her sing to herself
numbers she knew by heart
from nightclubs on the waterfront circuit.
I wondered if she watched herself dissolve
in the mirror as shadows flickered, then whispering,
gathered. Floating up the airshaft
her hoarse contralto broke over “I Should Care,”
“Unforgettable,” and in that voice
everything she remembered—the passage
from man to man, a sequence of hands
undressing her, letting her fall like the falling
syllables of rain she loves, of steam, those trains
and ships that leave. How she thought for years
a departure or a touch might console her, if only
for the time it takes luck to change, to drink
past memory of each stranger that faltered
over her body until her song was a current
of murmurs that drew her into sleep, into
the shapes of her fear. Insects boiling
from the drain, she tells me, a plague
of veiled nuns. Her hair snaps, electric
in the brush, long, the color of dust or rain
against a gunmetal sky. I saw her once, at the end
of a sullen July dusk so humid that the boys
loitering outside the Palace Bar & Grill
moved as if through vapor. She was reeling
in spike heels, her faded blue kimono.
They heckled her and showered her with pennies,
spent movie tickets. But she was singing.
That night I turned away and curse myself
for turning. She holds a glass of water
to show her hands have grown more steady.
Look, she whispers, and I brush
and braid and the voices of visiting hour rise
then wind like gauze. The gardener’s flowers nod,
pale in the arclamps that rinse the factory boys
shooting craps as they always do down on
Sweet Air Avenue. I know they steam the dice
with breath for luck before they toss,
and over them the air shimmers the way still water
shimmers as gulls unfold like Riva’s evening hands
across the sky, tremulous, endangered.
Lynda Hull’s collection Ghost Money was the University of Massachusetts Press’s 1986 Juniper Prize selection. She teaches at the Vermont College MFA Program. (1988)