4 Poems by Grace Cavalieri
In Paris, with one hour to spend, I went back to the courtyard to say goodbye. The beautiful woman in white flew into my arms saying I was your student in Italy two years ago. Her name, she said, was Felicia. Memory guessed at the last name and was right. Chance. It was Chance, a woman whose poetry I remembered as flummery of odd line lengths. I had only time to share a hot chocolate, please no poetry longuer, I thought. But I was so tired from teaching and traveling and she, being French, could get me a room above the restaurant. It was the kind with children’s p.j.’s left hastily under the bed, a cigar stub, a broken runcible and food cartons stashed on the side. Assignations of all kinds must happen here, but as I said, I was so tired of traveling, When I woke from my rest the plane was gone and so were my belongings. My purse was wide open. Instead of my wallet, keys and glasses were wads of French papers. I asked Felicia if I could borrow her cell phone. I stumbled to the street to get help. My father was home waiting. If I could get a flight, any flight, I’d go by way of Alaska (green conifers cooling my mind.) It was a busy Paris corner, I could not speak the language, the policeman was crossing traffic and would not respond, his mastiff growled and snapped, and Felicia, the outlier, the poetaster, was gone without a worry in the world.
At Jan's Funeral
Because of Jan I dyed my hair red and asked her family if they liked it.
True, it spiked at first but after I washed it, it flowed and the color matched hers. Her mother kissed me on the mouth. Although wet, it was the first sign of approbation. Jan’s brother, the one with the cane, pretended horror although red hair made my eyes light brown and not so intense. It was the least I could do. I told them dying was just putting things back where they belong. This is the self-same mother who sent me home crying after Mass for chanting “Poor Aunt Baloney” like the Latin. Maybe she likes me now I thought. Or is it what the newscast would call simply speculation.
(Appeared in ocho/miPOesias)
A Baby! And A Dog!
Bringing a baby to the movie is one thing/ but I should never have brought the German shepherd. / Always responsibilities like this/ And these creatures are not even mine./ They do not remotely belong to me/Well, we might be distantly related/ alright/but always the question:/Do I hold the baby on my lap or let her try to sit up on the chair? /At least the dog had some savvy./ He found a way to relieve himself when the doors were opened./ In the darkened house/after everyone has left/ here I am./ The picture is over/the blue light dimmed/ and we have to put on our shoes./ I do not dare look down. /How can I take my eyes off one, / then the other? /I want to be helpful,/ but this kind of love has got to be stopped.
Quelly Gets Released
Quelly thought maybe the gift of gratitude
was a heart shaped pillow covered with
cat faces. Because
she had such a pillow
and was grateful for the gift, It was
made for her by an inmate,
or a nurse or a warden. They’re all so alike-
given to her right before she left the
prison or the hospital -
they are so alike.
She’d gotten along there
fine, very fine,
once she found
all you had to do to get along
was tell people all you problems.
Oh there were fights at first,
people keeping windows
open so their radios would attack you;
others arguing when they were wrong
just to argue; all
treated you like you’re a sharp knife
no one could hold.
Best not to think of
Quelly walked down the street.
She walked free. Maybe not good
for her, all this right now.
Unhorsed, careless with time -
Nothing she owned to her name but her name.
The cold feeling came on her.
She couldn’t do anything.
She always got drowsy about that.
Where was she going?
Where could she stay?
Where could she stay?
When she told the nurse she didn’t
have anywhere to go
nurse said she could live elsewhere.
Elsewhere. Hands tightened
on her purse.
Once when the man with
baggy striped pajama pants
flirted, nurse said to get along
with people. What do I do when he looks at
oatmeal and says it is egg?
Go along with it, nurse said.
Being quiet felt like
giving more than she got
but the day she left she saw him tugging at his drawstring. Quelly
shouted in through the window
Extravagant thrill seeker fickle liar fiery pickle -penis
He could put on more after-shave
lotion, oh yes, but he couldn’t
get rid of those words in a
hurry. Then she waved
“You’re quite a dish” he called after her.
Oh fire that burns
face that cries
feet that walk. Maybe she should have stayed
safe inside instead of looking for that elsewhere
they talk about.
She had all the toilet paper
she could use there. Even more.
Quelly liked her given name. “ Quell.”
It was what her mother wanted to
do with her fears
so she’d named her first born that.
The “y” she threw in extra.
Quelly thought such a different name
could make a body feel different,
somewhat like a glint of silver
around her no one else had.
The store window sign said
“Sassy Scissors.” Maybe a haircut
would perk her up. No she wouldn’t
be welcome at the end without paying.
Oh scare talk, that’s all her thoughts
were. Fiddle faddle, the nurse called them.
Night was wearing the day thin
now – sides of buildings leaning in
as if they knew her.
Voices were going wider apart
as she walked the street.
Soon winter would come up behind
the street and where would she go then,
cold, dark, leaving no room for her.
She walked back to Sassy’s and
opened the door.
There are few people
In the world who’ll
cast a line to someone
they don’t even know
but Sassy looked at all
people as if she
first discovered them.
Once a long time ago, when Quelly
lived on the street
Sassy gave Quelly half her sandwich.
Looking up at the
dark corridor, Sassy steadied Quell
up the narrow way –toward
a lightened hall,
up the long uncertain way.
They held the banister tight
up to room 2B, Sassy’s place.
You see, Sass said later
I figure most people will
take everything you have
so I give it to them first.
Pass the ketchup please.
This was pleasant.
Quelly would always remember this
and tried to memorize everything
Nothing could belong to
her now except in memory
so now was the time to take it in.
Outside the trees were insulting.
Inside the nice lady talked
of how most people were
miserable low down miserable creatures
but it had nothing to do with them.
Quelly liked the way she talked
and took back the ketchup
so she could be asked
for it again.
Sassy went on. It’s like if I think
I look like my Aunt Bernice
and I don’t like the way she looks,
well, whose fault is that?
Quelly thought she understood.
She liked mysteries and it’s
the place where she understood
things best – where there were
The answers always confused
her. They never matched
up with what was asked.
Sassy fixed up the couch
with a hand crocheted
cover and a hard brocade pillow
but Quelly’s eyes were shining
and she knew she’d sleep just
Especially since Sassy Scissors
was reading out of the book over her :
Enter through the narrow gate. For
wide is the gate and broad is the road
that leads to destruction, and many enter
through it. But small is the gate and narrow
the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Quelly look up at Sassy’s sweet, wide
face. “My mother was like me. She had
No plans either. No hope is what she had.”
Well, that’s something, Sass said.
What have you stuffed your head
Oh I think about the five and ten
cent store when I was a child.
It’s there, you know. In your
mind, nothing is dead. Even
Grey’s restaurant is still there.
Well, Kittykat, Sass said to Quell.
We got to get you to
run after something. Some thing.
Anything you can love.
What could that be, Quelly thought,
as she fell through the balance
What is the individual story
told by the individual person
worth? Who wants it anyway.
Well, what would everything
be without it. Not quite
everything, at all, she purred.
…Quelly dreaming of Grey’s with its
hot roast pork sandwich,
Sassy looking out the window…
It is best we don’t think
to call this anything,
this journey of appetites, sleep,
Quelly, in the mornings , wanted to holler
for help but today she saw
all the fragments as one
big piece of room, ceiling
– the wall, top of
the door – edge of bed- coming ogether
and Sassy in the kitchen
in a kimono like a Buddhist
frying bacon .
Quell’s stiff arms were folded
across her chest, for protection,
hands one upon the other
wondering what could
She wanted vanilla ice cream
but too polite to ask.
Today was Sunday and
Sass was telling , over eating their eggs,
how she left her old man –
how he gave a party in their
house and didn’t even invite her and
when she asked about it, he
said he needed a house to
give a party in, and then
she went in the living room and
he had a bathrobe on – and that was all -
and girls there so she left.
Quell could understand.
Because she’d left things
far better than that.
Choice. It’s all about choice.
Sassy didn’t know what to
do with her. Couldn’t teach Quell
to cut hair. Scizzors are dangerous.
Quelly said “I’ve never murdered
Yes, but there’ always a first time.
Yes, but there’ always a first time.
They nodded. Yes, that’s true.
Maybe Quell could sweep for
They thought on that awhile.
And Sassy finally spoke:
Nothing can kill love in
me. People can try but
that’s what I was put on earth to do.
Both were a little embarrassed by that.
(But what the hell, Sass thought.)
Sassy wanted to know how it felt
in the loony bin.
A good question worth answering.
Well, Quell said. It’s like you really
like the past because it’s all yours
and then they break the balloon
and take it away and so everyday
there’s a new sadness –
A new balloon breaks.
I hate that, Sassy agreed.
And they were nice to everybody but me.
That’s how I knew I was special.
Sassy wondered about that
But didn’t know what to ask.
So I planned my escape
but when I got on the outside there was
nothing there. It’s pretty with the trees
but no one is there. I’m not as
happy as I thought I’d be.
Christ, I wish you could cut hair,
Sassy said, buttering her toast again.
Contrariness. That’s all I’ve had, Quelly
Sassy assured her she could
think about the past all she
wanted – safe here and
no one to stop her.
She went on. The past is like picking
wherever you choose to live. Do you like Florida or
California? See? You like
the past or the present? Live where you want.
What is the past worth? Sass added.
It’s a spool of thoughts, that’s all, where
everything’s wound up once
and for all.
Quell said it’s exhausting
holding on to it. When you get
what you need, it’s always the worst
thing, hanging on real hard to
a thought, say, or a picture
in your mind that wants to fly away.
Sassy comforted by saying
You’ve been there.
That’s why you’re here.
Soon it’d be time to send Quelly
away and all she’s have is
what Sassy could give.
All day they made a show of
All day they made a show of
brightening but it seemed a
mistaken effort. Both knew
that the seeming was not
the being – not at all.
When Sass awoke, Quell was gone.
Quelly felt good for once
like God had said Hello instead
of snubbing her. She walked
back past the hospital
grounds and decided not to
go in, after all. With a reverent pause, she turned
She liked Sassy and all
the people in her shop.
They didn’t talk with perfumed
or with lashes whipped across
her back. She liked them
better than Grey’s roast pork sandwiches.
The traffic of nice people.
She wondered kindly if –
She wondered what she
could – what the difference
was in ---
both hands and sat on the
curb awhile. She looked
up at the brown stone hospital building
where reality was arranged
carefully for her not to be hurt -
that was the worst hurt of all.
Resuming a study of each
hand, she knew the fingers
could move beyond
what Sassy gave to them.
She didn’t know much
but she’d find out today where she could buy
Grace Cavalieri is the author of books and plays, as well as two opera productions. She produced and hosted “The Poet and the Poem,” broadcast from the Library of Congress via NPR satellite. Cavalieri is the book review editor for The Montserrat Review.com and reviews theater in her column, “American Stage.” Her weekly column of poetry commentaries, “Innuendoes,” is heard on MiPOradio.com. Her 21st play "Quilting the Sun" was presented at the Smithsonian Institution, and received its world premiere at Centre Stage, S.C. In addition, Grace conducts poetry workshops throughout the country. She loves having some untamed poems on Truck.