by: Valerie Fox
These three prose poems by Valerie Fox figure the reader as a fly on the wall witnessing a family drama that unfolds with a dream logic all its own, reminding us of the distance that lives at the heart of our most intimate connections.
A Previous Life
Our mother is a plaster bull, head bowed, ready to fly. She is a weighty, plaster bull, a study for one that is larger and made of bronze. This bull was a fixture in our modest house. But we didn’t notice it was our mother until we’d been gone for many years and then returned back home.
Our mother used to tell us when we were little that the bull was made by a 17-year-old boy, who also drew pictures and calligraphy. She said he was lost, died in a fire, before he reached 20.
In case you wondered, there are three of us, known as smart, pretty, and indeterminate. There was this custom that you had to be one main thing. Like with my decorous mother, I guess, who is an animal.
We festoon the bull with Christmas lights at Christmas. Sometimes we top the bull off with a men’s Sunday hat, made by Champ, feathered. We touch how rough and gray and scratchy the bull’s skin feels, in contrast to the satins that line the hat.
One day our mother wanders off into the wide, dormant fields.
From inside the plaster she feels matter-less, all form. Our mother is the front, leading leg of the bull, beginning to crack and break off, soulful and light. She dreams about being a round, hollow weight, part of a bigger world, like a fishing net. She is afloat, aching but curious, out in the Sound.
Meant to Love
My mother smacks me when I wipe my nose on my sleeve. Okay for her. Not okay for me. My heart is still here though, in a useful pocket. I was never a book person or a multiplication person.
I’m dissolving into my room, I’m that one, always. My cousin who is always listening may be singing about me someday in front of a mournful crowd. I can’t remember the last time we talked. Time crawls and hums, an amber beam of light.
Even the Christmas tree was nicer that year
Mama is mostly coherent. Brother Billy is nowhere to be seen, thank our lucky stars, says Charly, who watches a lot of dumb TV like Leave It To Beaver. Charly’s sober dad appears carrying a giant cage holding a bird chick. “It’s a mynah bird. It eats lizards and we can teach it to talk, a hundred words.” Charly learns all about how to fix up the chick’s habitat. She calls the chick Baby Jesus since it’s Christmas, even though the chick is a girl.
Charly used to be Billy’s sidekick, but he’s been gone for almost a year even though he should be in high school. He returns unexpectedly when school would already be out, and he won’t quit trying to get Baby Jesus to perch on his hand. It’s not something a mynah can do. Billy tries every way he can think of, pressing his dirty fingers too tightly around Baby Jesus’s small body and talking to her like he’s some kind of expert at bird hypnosis.
The words fill Charly’s head: Ace in the hole, billy, charly, full house baby, hello honey, hi baby, hit me up, I abhor you, let in some air, love you, mama, mustang, normal, one two three four eight, say that again, up the ante, wake up sunshine, what’dya say, where are you hiding, you are loverly, you are lost, you are my super moon you are where are you?
Valerie Fox’s most recent book is Insomniatic [poems], from PS Books. Other books include The Glass Book (Texture Press) and The Rorschach Factory (Straw Gate Books). She’s published poetry or fiction in Philadelphia Stories, Hanging Loose, Sentence, West Branch, Juked, Cordite, Ping Pong, Curate this, and other journals. Much interested in collaboration, she has published numerous works co-written with Arlene Ang, and published Bundles of Letters Including A, V and Epsilon (Texture Press), which is a compilation with Ang.