Arrowhead Farms (poetry)

Unincorporated island—
city corpus surrounds this
dusty stump
where no appendage grew,
no sidewalks either. All negative
space—all septic. Streetlights
are rare.

Casual murders In the night,
in its little triangular park occur
by desert exposure, by gangs
statistically impressive.

Twitching bodies in the weedy sand.
Rigor mortis limbs, one tangled
in a swing—seat and chain—
one stretched for shelter
of the sun-disfigured slides.

-M. Ashley

I have officially posted every day in April for NaPoWriMo! I’ve never completed it before. Thank you all for reading along. Onward and forward!

Image Is Everything in a College Cafeteria (poetry)

One of the work-study cafeteria
workers took to drawing pictures
with a dry erase pen on the
sneeze guards over the entrees.

There was a speckled pink pig
for pork chops that had a conversation
bubble squeal (exclamation point)
above his terrified head.

There was a smiling, four-legged octopus,
(making him a quadrapus?)
above a tray of congealing seafood pasta
dyed, inexplicably, emerald green.

Mr. Peanut dapper-danced above the
orange peanut butter chicken
and a culturally insensitive meatball
thumbs-upped the scarlet Italian delight.

The artist slept in mornings though
leaving the breakfast sneeze guards bare
and me left to figure for myself
which mystery muffin was which.

I’d choose one at random and quickly
to appease the snarling line behind me
stacking into a long, contemptuous curve,
eyes on my body, eyes on my choices…

And inevitably I’d end up with the
loathsome banana nut which I would
eat alone, hands shaking
huddled in a bathroom stall.

-M. Ashley

Nightmares of Oklahoma (poetry)

It’s going to be over a hundred here
this weekend
so roaches have started coming up
from under the slab. Great big ones
of the outdoor variety looking for water
and morsels of dog food.

It gives me nightmares of Oklahoma,
of poverty, of you
leaving empty syruped peach cans
on the floor,
open cereal boxes on the counter,
making coffee anyway in a machine
the water container of which
was infested with molting nymphs.

You called them albino roaches,
and laughed and said
I was your freakshow baby.

-M. Ashley

Eau de Summer Camp (poetry)

The base note has something to do with
sunscreen—a fair haired girl’s
most important piece of camping gear
next to bug spray
which is the sharp second layer of the scent.
The whiff of stiff, chlorinated towels,
unwashed and hot from the top
of the waist-high chain link fence
they were draped over to dry
completes the first perfumer’s chord.

For nuance, a drop of happy sweat
from happy children come to wash
their hands and faces with pink powdered soap
from lime green metal dispensers
hung over shabby sinks
on which daddy long legs perch
each rolling their eight dull eyes
at the rush and frivolity of the new generation.

-M. Ashley

Letter to a Friend (poetry)

It’s like we live a great distance apart
and come to visit sometimes,
but usually when the other is away.
We walk around, touch the dust kindly,
see we’ve both been busy breaking
and stacking colored glass in the windowsills—
methodical about hue and striation.
This one is like a bear and this one a bird.
This one is like a wave and this one a glacier.
This one is sunlight. This one is also sunlight.

How are you? I’m embarrassed it’s been so long.
I know there has been so much and I care very much.
I hope you know.

-M. Ashley

Ophelia’s Opal (poetry)

When my grandmother knew she was dying
she picked out an opal for me,
had a ring designed
and sized it,
for the short time being,
for her own hand.
I was an infant then, recently diagnosed
lifelong colorless and could-be blind.

My grandmother was a force—
a farm girl who took beatings
for sneaking away to read,
a young woman who left her family
to work among foul mouthed boys
at the Pentagon during WWII,
a single mother,
a stone wall,
razor tongue,
acid wit,
first female management at the FAA.

She held me at the hospital
in a hallway while the final diagnosis
was pronounced to my parents
in a tiny, sterile room.
Her breast was warm,
though the breathing behind it was labored.
Her embrace was soothing
though her hands were not soft
from folding crust-cut sandwiches in wax paper
for her children or grandchildren’s outings
of uncomplicated youth.

She explored my hot face and closed eyelids
with her wise yet diminishing fingers,
the opal slipping forward and upside down
under her nearly exposed knuckle,
resting against my forehead,
cooling a spot just above my eyes.
She leaned forward and blessed me,
“My dear little Michelle-y,
I do hope you can see.”

-M. Ashley

Heavy Duty Cycle (poetry)

She sheds herself
one rough skin at a time,
drops them dripping into the hamper,
and, naked innards walking,
drags the dripping hamper
to a sly-smiled laundress
who has her discount ticket pre-filled.

“Heavy duty cycle,” she says,
“and remember,
hang is the only way to dry.”

-M. Ashley

Durian (poetry)

For his seventeenth birthday, I bought my Thai stepson a green, spiny
“poo poo” fruit, the proper name for which is “durian,” the mighty stench—

abject suffering—one of the Four Noble Truths spoken by Buddha
grounding in our physicality, merciless as dirty diapers.

He’d been craving the delicate, baneful brown-yellow fruit flesh for months,
spoke of it often, pining, a taste of sunny childhood in Phuket

laid sensually against the teeth, tongue, and palate, lilting comfort
like the sonorous language he had to exchange for stark, clipped our English.

-M. Ashley

Poveglia Island (poetry)

One sanatorium in particular,
given back to time and riveted
to an island at the seaward head
of a canal in an ancient city,
became like a Galapagos of spooks
where all manner and species
of good ghosts were left
coughing blood and lovers’ names
into collapsing hallways.

-M. Ashley

If I Knew Brutus (poetry)

I dreamed of a very short person,
asking me if I knew Brutus.
Yes, I said, yes, yes I knew Brutus.
Et tu Brute, and all that,
chewed forever in the second mouth of Satan.
Yes, yes, I did. Brutus and I were familiar.
The short person, neither man nor woman,
older than young but not old, dark haired,
flailed wilder and screamed, No, no. No.
You do not know Brutus. Not that Brutus.
You do not know.

Now, of course, waking,
I worry about twenty-three stab wounds on the Senate steps.
I worry about most of them finding mark in my spine.
I worry about not being hero enough for my bloody back
to be counted a travesty. I worry about cruel gravity
pulling me into the arms of a son or daughter metaphorical
who I failed to acknowledge in real life,
and trading betrayal for betrayal with my child
by each other’s sticky, dilating eyes.

-M. Ashley