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Madeline Tiger: Six poems


Madeline Tiger's recent collections of poetry are Water Has No Color, Mary of Migdal, and My Father's Harmonica. Recent poems appear in The Journal of NJ Poets, Anti-Lawn, The Jewish Women's Literary Annual, and the forthcoming anthology, The XY Files. She teaches in the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Writers-in-the-Schools program and in the Dodge Foundation poetry programs. For over thirty years she has lived in Montclair, New Jersey, where she raised her daughter and four sons.


Piece by piece I put spaghetti in DeeDee's
mouth, he opens like a plump bird
holding his whole round body very still.
His cheeks puff as he chews.
His dark eyes look at me seriously as if
he reads my imminent move and signals
ready ready ready. The mouth opens before
I lift my fingers from the bowl again.
My mouth opens, mirroring.
There is chirping in all the branches
of the high, bent skyscrapers.


My mother is lonely
she is like a lost finch:
she is pecking around her kitchen

My mother is shrunk, shriveled
like a weathered pear,
she is sere

My mother is hanging on:
every little wind moves her,
the world is turbulent

around my mother
She is smaller than
the tall queen with blond curls

who dried me with a huge towel
and tucked me in with tradewind lull-
a-byes. My mother is without a song

She watches the news like a hungry
reporter, taking her scotch & water
her Ritz & la vache qui rit

she goes to bed early
and sleeps like an old fawn
I think she doesn't dare to tremble

Mother's eyes are still as blue
as a placid lake, but clouded
over: Nothing crosses her view

She stares flat as a Magritte
eye into the infinite sadness
of everything she forgets

Mother is so alone inside
she is startled whenever
I come near her. Poor Mother,

do not be an orphan,
be safe in your warm house,
be cozy with your little dinner

I will come as a bird
and sing
in your window


(It took about 50 years.)

She's walking back and forth in her kitchen
back and forth in her very clean kitchen
back and forth on the bright blue and white speckled linoleum
in her very clean very quiet very well ordered kitchen,
back and forth on the long aisle of blue linoleum floor in
her very orderly kitchen, back and forth from one long end to the other
from swinging door to the other far door in the cleanliness
of the white kitchen over the blue floor with notes in her hand
she is walking purposefully, not to the maid's room but
unmindfully, back and forth, from the washer and dryer
past the ovens and cabinets and the white dishwasher and
the white dish rack and the empty sinks and the clean rags
hanging and the scrubbed white counters
and the low counter for lunch and breakfast where Daddy
used to sit on the white chair, and the high counter where
she and I used to sit on black high-backed naugehyde stools
where the blank screen stares out of the little 8" tv and
past the empty gleaming double sinks again
and past the big white refrigerator with its little secrets
its neat sealed square plastic containers of food and
past the two waste receptacles--one for wet garbage with its
white plastic liner and silver lid and silver pedal
and one for paper, the white wicker one with a paper bag liner,
its paper lip folded over precisely, and
past the dry goods pantry with the double doors and quiet
rows of tins of crackers and boxes of teabags (some I'll have
to take back because she doesn't need them), and in one tin
there may be just one cracker, all wrapped in wax paper,
nobody is supposed to open a new box of crackers until
all the tins are empty, that's the way it's done
at hors d'oeuvres time every evening. So she is walking
back and forth in midday doing things back and forth
in the kitchen and her heavy Cuban heels
clump dully on the waxed blue floor, her face blank.
Now I understand her walking all the time
in her kitchen, heavy with so much
to do, she has not been thinking
about herself, just about where to put things or
what to serve, ever since
her father died in 1914. She is used to this long walk.


My mother's heart has slowed
to almost nothing, she is
lost, more lost from herself

than the orphan she was
from the empty city. Complete
electric block, the,doctors say.
Pacemaker, the doctors say
slowly. I observe her twitch,
call for the notebook and the
lost slipper in the black box
that isn't there in the air.

Whom I call Mother
lies in terror making her angry noise.
She gropes and pulls her restraints,
she soils herself, wimpers, yelps,
chokes on the bent pipes,
jerks to the wires. "Sundowning,"
"delirium," cat scan recommended

for this little curled up woman
whom I tuck and turn and tend and hover over,
this pale other whom I never knew as friend.
No time to start.
I'm called upon
to cut her meat
and chide the nurse
to ease her rectal pain
and nag the doctor
out of his disdain
to fix her fissure,
make her breathe,
mend her heart.

I don't wait for her
requests, or thanks.
I go to bed at zero weary every night
and, oddly, waking fresh, .
I find, with something like relief
or fury, that I recognize her body in my own.

A week later, she does not remember
that I fed her, that I
pushed the cardboard bedpan under her
shriveled ass, that I tried to move the azalea
(I'd brought her a red azalea) into the sun,
into her view,,that I smoothed the pillow,
that she scolded, that she called me stubborn,
that she grunted when I came near.
She doesn't seem to know that I came near,
she's still angry. Now I know
she's afraid
that I don't love her. I don't.
But I love the lost mother who is inside here


crust of the new bread
a baguette the early morning man on his bicycle
carries on his back across town

he has no wife
he has never seen Paris, I must avoid the cliche
I must avert my eyes from

the scene in his rooms,
he is sharing his morning bread quietly
with a small dog

I mustn't presume or
inquire into any loneliness, I must ride on
to the shore of this image

where moluscs and other crustaceans
shape themselves
they are forced by long lines of tide and

into harsh crescents
the cutting edge of the sea


It was country,
Waylon Jennings, and I don't love you,
Famous Last Words of a Fool

It wasn't opera, it was just her sons coming home
large as life and basso profundo
blues only for her

It is not opera:
a late night, rainy,
the entrance downstairs
scrapes open: It's her lost lover.
She is flossing her teeth,
she asks him to fix the night light,
offers him chocolate,
he debates it,
a drink but
says he won't dull his senses.
They giggle, agree on a scotch.
He sits on the edge of the bed
taking off his sox
with his shirt on.
They are like an old married couple,
not opera
until she throws herself/
across his chest/ rushes her cold hands/
all over his body/ and when he is no longer
cringing they are laughing
and sighing.
They kiss
like expert hedonists, now
they have no smell or taste,
no closed doors, so quickly
they become
another he says
he wanted to bring a feather
they are
hilarious, bubbly
more ribald than Kama Sutra
smoother than ballroom dancing
they glide and billow all songs
elongate, they enter each other.

And after
the love cry, his small groans,
her hysteria, mutual laughter:
nothing is over

shadows around
their drifting free

blanket of stars

"Your body's saying to mine" she hears
"You want a man with a slow hand, an easy touch"
she hears him turn off
the radio and all the night lights
She finds her favorite pillow, they settle
into each other's drift,
light conversation, nothing
with anchors,
little recitals, nothing like aria

She tells him he's getting old,
repeats what he always says:
"indeed," "as it were," "so on and so forth,"
professorial, he accepts
himself, he fits the image
even that he is supercilious, "indeed"
they are sleepy, down to abrasions, secrets
their fingers loosen
They will sleep away from
any entanglement, not like islands
more like old buffalos
lumbering undercover
all night, nobody madly inspired, no rebirth,
no dying no dangerous encounters

Not opera:
last seen, last scene
they drive off
in different directions
he to the capitol with his ingenue daughter
she down wild highways into new territory
surrounded by forests, concentrating on birdsongs

Copyright © 1998 by Madeline Tiger. All rights reserved.

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