Alice Osborn: Four Poems
The wind whips the neighbor’s oak leaves into
our front yard; the early afternoon sky darkens
and I cancel the babysitter with a text—no driving tonight.
They say you can’t see an East Coast tornado until it’s too late,
the funnel hides in hail and stinging water hoses,
not like Kansas twisters, lone wolves in the prairie
touching down without a tear drop.
Last time I saw Daniel, he rode his bike without his helmet,
skinny eight-year-old legs pumping down the sidewalk,
while his three-year-old sister slept on our green couch.
I’ll find my own way! He likes to tell me, but not now
in this spring tornado I know he knows about from
watching the warnings all morning.
Hail pings my Subaru from sodden clouds, a tax
from the global warming gods, soaking the sponge.
My husband’s at work where rain invades the staircase.
He tells me the Sanford Lowe’s is a ripped off sardine can
and I wonder if in my store manager days I would have
rushed customers away from pounds of glass and concrete.
Where’s Daniel? I imagine his skull bashed by a mailbox
and his bike sailing over Oz, a broken helmet plunging
through a roof. But instead frissons along my arm
tell me he’s hunkered safe. Meanwhile, the power dies
and our daughter sleeps on.
If you love someone let them go, but bar the doors
before a storm, no matter how much they complain.
A break in the rage and Daniel knocks on our door—
drenched, his new Vans purple laces strewn with bark and burrs.
He followed a neighbor and her Chihuahuas back
to her townhouse, no clue dueling cyclones ate children
near the road he and Daddy drive on everyday to school.
Giant junipers kudzu our split level,
forming a perimeter around my mother’s
manicured patches of tulips and hydrangeas.
The blue-green giants block out the sun, keep us kids in
and her view of Mr. McKay’s slack yard work out.
These quick-growing privacy screens
grow a foot a year—my mother wishes
she could plant them even along the sidewalk,
screw the codes and rules.
Wait, what is that under the thick branches?
A hole in the defenses between our house
and the McKays! In the worn dirt chute a kid
on the high end can glide down and trespass
in another’s yard. The chewy buds sting
and prick when Danny McKay slithers in his Catholic-school
corduroy pants onto the rooted ground and tumbles
head first into my front yard, two inches
from the magnolia tree bed.
My turn down the hill: on their side,
the’76 wood-paneled station wagon
soaks up sun and sap. I feel the McKay’s
hard weed-grass on my bottom, higher
than my Traks sneakers from Kmart.
Danny can’t help me when I scream,
I’m too weak anyway
to stop junipers fueled by manure.
The spiny needles attack me in the earth gutter,
under my shorts and socks.
I slide feet first, heel up the earth.
I’m spat out with red welts
that won’t disappear.
The King of Cool Looks at Fifty
I idle my bike in this empty field,
dry as a Southern Baptist wedding.
I cough from the exhaust and
the scorched wildflowers on the edges
smell wasted, me on pot.
Don’t smoke, don’t drink anymore…
My body’s given up way before telling me the score.
As a kid, I don’t remember my mother much,
and I never met my father.
He saw me on TV as Josh Randall
on Wanted: Dead or Alive,
priming the “Mare’s Leg,”
and never bothered to call.
Uncle Claude threw me
against walls on Sunday nights
after spending the day drinking Bushmills.
Saturday mornings he taught
me how to shoot ‘em
rabbits and squirrels
in that shitty dump
I had to leave.
Mom showed up,
I couldn’t stand her.
Her dyed blonde hair, legs up in the air
men passed through her
like watches at a pawn shop.
At twelve, I was tumbleweed that blew into Chino,
the reform school where I
was never tall or strong enough,
yet hit hard without hurting my right hand.
(My first two wives would agree)
When I made it in The Magnificent Seven
I asked Big Money to give
soap and jeans to the Chino boys.
Yeah, man, I worked my own stunts,
almost filmed me and not Bud jumping my bike
over the barbed-wire fence.
My dune buggy ride
made Ed Sullivan piss his pants.
They needed to know I drove the Mustang,
I always get the last word,
don’t they know?
Maybe they could fail
but I couldn’t.
When I die, it’ll be
On Wearing Black
My mother told me once
I didn’t deserve to wear white, so now
my closet is filled with black pants, skirts and tops—
a lacy collar pokes out Saturdays
from my black lab coat. Professional, practical.
Black pants absorb the brick red lipstick smashed
into my cosmetic bay’s carpet when I
bob to grab a jar of miracle cream
for my customer in a shiny pink blouse
who’ll return it tomorrow
at another store.
Getting ready for work on Sunday I spot the velvet dress,
a cocktail number my mother bought me at 17, sight unseen
while I was in college. A snug size 6, she made me
promise I wouldn’t gain weight before
the Homecoming Dance. Full of guilt, its heavy
matching coat with draped embroidery hangs nearby.
She also told me I shouldn’t sell cosmetics,
since I would never be able to touch people,
as if tar sparks would shoot out of my liquid eyeliner
and streak up a customer’s hooded eyelids. I wonder what
she wore when she studied makeup in Paris
or if she was wearing black the night she
almost killed herself at 17.