Three Poems by Mary M. Sesso


He sleeps fitfully in the easy chair, his bronze
skin radiant in morning’s brightening light.

His life now a tiresome thing, so he busies himself
untying the strings that hold him to it. His fingers fumble

and cannot undo the last knot. There’s no time left
for talk. Yesterday all his words departed like a flock

of startled gulls. Today he concentrates
on each breath, its depth and volume,

as if tuning a motor, precisely gauging
the richness of oxygen, just how much

is needed to fend off drowning in the malignant
waters that balloon legs and belly.

Each spring he would leave the cherry farm to ship
out on the Great Lakes freighters until hell froze over—

twenty-one days on, ten days off and back to the farm.
For too long he lived this double life without a vacation

and never complained, even when weather wrecked
the entire crop. No running away then or now.

Knives, chemicals, radiation have taken aim, but none
hit deep enough. He calms himself by puckering

his lips for a kiss from his elder daughter. Tonight
we will stand watch with him, hold hands and ask

ourselves what choice do any of us have—who can refuse
one last kiss, the one that steals away our breath?


Mad Orange Sunset

Carrie is taking care of her dying
father who has given her power
of attorney to tend to everything.

All the stocks have been transferred
to her name, even the house and car,
so he owns nothing. He says, I feel so free,

almost weightless. She suggests they sell
it all, fly to some new place where he could
bird-watch. He says, No, no, I’ve said goodbye

to that life. Then he tells her what bird
he’d like to see one more time—a scarlet
tanager, describing it as a mad orange

sunset tricked out in feathers and black
wings. Suddenly he feigns sleep,
as though angry with himself.

It’s as if he had just confessed
to wanting a million dollars. He agrees
to a poster print of a tanager

and wants it tacked over his bed
to take care of him while he sleeps—
he laughs—as if it were an angel

or saint or Semiramis, a legendary
queen of Assyria. Her mother left her
in the care of doves. Growing old

and giving up her crown, she became
a dove herself and flew to heaven.
Will Carrie’s father now sleep

in scarlet colored dreams?
Will black wing beats and an upward
curve of orange stun the air?


Red Makes Me Feel Like Running

My grandson, age 9,
said dead bugs stink,
so he kicked the cicadas
to the curb. Later,
he gave me a copy of a poetry
exercise he did in school:

Chaos is black,
it tastes bitter and smells
like burnt marshmallows.
Red makes me feel like running.

I tape it to the refrigerator.
But after he leaves, I wonder,
what’s the good of my imagining
if it doesn’t startle the self,
bring color into focus, like Kevin
did, and conjure madder,
turquoise, gentian and gold,
along with colors that don’t yet
know their names.

I could roll them up into balls
to keep in my pocket, like good-
luck stones, stroke brightness
with my bare hand, then hold it out
in front of me to ward off night
creatures dipped in black.

Mary M. Sesso