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Fran Castan: Three Poems
from The Widow's Quilt


Fran Castan, a native of Brooklyn, moved to Hong Kong with her six-month-old daughter and her first husband, Sam Castan, when he became Asia bureau chief of Look Magazine. He had reported from Vietnam for three years prior to that assignment, but was killed only six months after the couple made their home in the Far East. In the time since, Ms. Castan worked as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, an editor at Scholastic Magazines and as editorial director of Learning Corporation, the former educational subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. She first began to write poetry at the age of 40. While earning her M.A. in creative writing at New York University, she won a teaching fellowship, a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, a prize given by the Academy of American Poets and N.Y.U., and The Lucille Medwick Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in Ms. Magazine and many literary journals and anthologies, including Anchor /Doubleday's On Prejudice: A Global Perspective and Norton's The Seasons of Women. For 20 years, Ms. Castan taught writing and literature at The School of Visual Arts, a college in Manhattan. She lives in Amagansett, New York, with her husband, the painter Lewis Zacks. The Widow's Quilt is distributed by Canio's Editions, c/o Canio's Books, P.O. Box 1962, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. Phone: 631-725-4926. E-mail: caniosbooks@hamptons.com.


I could use a merkin* now that estrogen has taken
its thicket of bristles
to wherever it has gone,
just as it brought them glistening,
tough as whiskers when it came.
Perhaps it would be better
to place a pious cap
on that little pocket of pleasure,
a mini-version of the sheitl
my old testament ancestors wore
to cover their heads,
the long glory of their hair
tucked up out of sight, beauty
that might tempt a man,
other than their husbands.
But this pubic wig, this merkin,
might lure another while reminding me
of the times I lost myself
willingly for love
in those full-foliage days
when a beloved's hand
drawn to that tawny pelt
could make me do anything.
0, nothing particularly kinky,
no more or less than most
would do with their bodies
in sheer air for love.
If I agreed with my doctor
that menopause is a deficinecy disease,
I'd do ERT--
Estrogen Replacement Therapy--
legal drug you can take
until ninety to stay dewy,
and as my bones were lowered
In their thin tent of skin,
a mourner would slip
some tampax in the coffin,
just in case, like a food or wine
placed in the death vaults
of believers in eternal life.

* "Counterfeit hair for women's privy parts," 1796, O.E.D.


I hold my mother in the bath
the way she used to hold
a plucked pullet in a tub of hot water
to ease out the last feathers,
stubborn ones at the tip of the wing,
at the base of the thigh,
where slippery skin covers and uncovers
a white hinge of bone. My mother's spine,
her rib cage, her winged shoulders
protrude like an embryo's
into skin the color of pale yolk.

Remember the evening gowns of the '40's,
Rita Hayworth's lames
rippling over her sexy body?
Those were the costumer's glory days,
gold draped in loose folds
upon each hip. From a criss-cross
at the waist, gold puckering up
to each breast. 0,
the nightmare of my mother
in a slinky gown made of her own skin.
"This body," she says, "This body,"
the way you'd admonish
a naughty child or a disobedient dog,
expecting no immediate answwer.
"This body," already draped
in a shroud of its former glamour,
calls me forth
as it did the first time,
when the allure of its curves, its pheromones,
set to music my father's cries
and bid me enter
her body, my life.


The widow always wears a black coat.
She is cold in this coat even in summer.
She is here to receive the flag.
She is here to say hers is a small sacrifice
for God and for country. Valium
is the drug of choice for such occasions.
She will not cry out. She will not collapse.
Two men, solid as a pair of bookends,
flank her and grip her arms.
They wear dark suits or other uniforms.
"Hero," is the theme of the eulogy,
as if her husband chose to give his life.
Tonight, she will sleep with the widow's quilt,
the folded flag taken from his coffin.

Copyright © 1996 by Fran Castan from THE WIDOW'S QUILT. All rights reserved.

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