Judith Skillman’s recent book is Kafka’s Shadow, Deerbrook Editions. Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review, Shenandoah, Zyzzyva, FIELD, and elsewhere. Awards include an Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. She is a faculty member at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. Visit www.judithskillman.com
Thinking about the Bull
I imagine it must be quirky,
male and stupid. Blinded by sweat,
making the same charge towards
the same fuchsia flag
kept at a distance
by the matador.
Picadors fire Lilliputian arrows
at leather skin draped in folds
as if to stitch
a garment over rage.
Flies bother eyes that ooze goo,
tail swatting as it groans,
a heavyweight held aloft by jelly legs.
Never quite feral enough to win.
Fond of the steaks thrown by keepers
who fatten this animal of festivals
for young men who carry
the torero on their shoulders
through town as what’s ordained
lies slain on sawdust, seeping.
It must be the illness
Settled in to her mind
and undid an ability.
Maybe for math, as things
have slowed. Reading
pages. Seeing into the children.
It must be some kind of finite capacity
in the brain as in the body.
Now the storm relents
she hears a memory.
To be this staid, this plain.
To have no more razzmatazz
than the road behind
this lot, where a single car
threads its lights
through still standing winter firs.
The subject comes again,
where I am to travel
across the water.
I turn to leave
through many houses
carrying my useless cell,
An old terror follows,
many women, French accents.
The day comes late,
full of beauty.
Blue jays rest
between green leaves,
songs come in waves.
and twist lingers--
the paper money
in my purse,
I handed to the one
who seemed in charge.
My skirt wet,
my linen jacket
not quite covering
enough of the danger,
the liaison. When
to the station
the train has left
for Prague, not Seattle.
There will be no way
to go home
except by exposed streets
and what if I am young?
The men will offer
and force themselves.
Night comes to this day
like every other
with its cast, its crucible.
Soliloquy of the Misanthropist
The Asplundh monkey climbs firs,
waits for the all clear before
four-foot lengths hit earth. Thuds
shake my own be it ever so humble.
Those neighbors I hope never to meet
will have their new alleyway. Cut the forest
in half, allow Mercedes access
to a three-car garage where, if it were
mine, the first do-it-yourself LHC
with temps colder than deep space
would send killer particles
around magnetic tunnels to collide.
The socks I wear: fourteen pairs
of tubes all the same white flinching
bright. Who has time for laundry?
My ex-wife thought dinners
communal deals—almost Biblical,
her standards exponentially high.
No sirree. I like uncooked top ramen,
a zip-lock bag full of nuts and raisins
and popcorn in the microwave, kernels
getting so excited they crackle and riff.
The Band-Tailed Pigeons
You called ring-tailed doves are merely average.
It’s true the feathers gloss liquid in sun.
The appearance of a necklace adds
a bit of luxury as first one, then two,
then thirteen come to eat the seed you throw
out on our moss driveway. One evening
through your telescope, you photographed said dove
at the top of the farthest fir tree
on the acre. Look, you said. I believed
the circle of lens, the inside story.
I believed because I was gullible,
hungry for those whose rank and file it is
to perform the will of their leader.