Michelle Reale ~ Four Poems


Clemency is always sur­ren­dered to the quick foot­ed.  There was noth­ing left to defend.  The grand­moth­er who pos­sessed the famil­ial third eye had been gone for years, and you’d inher­it­ed her con­nec­tive tis­sue, a tan­gle that kept you teth­ered, how­ev­er ten­u­ous­ly to the source of all inher­i­tance.   The snow that night was like a scourge, the thing that we will remem­ber most.  I slept unknow­ing for­ev­er.  I found myself in a house with­out the claw-foot­ed bath­tub, where I would soak while decep­tive motifs grew around me, star­tling me out of my inno­cence.  The brave among us asked ques­tions like a com­mit­tee that already had the answers. Your moth­er shout­ed down the clos­est rel­a­tives on a phone that she would lat­er say felt like a gun in her hands.  From now on, we were all on the cusp of some­thing sin­is­ter and arbi­trary. Your father under­stand­ably, slurred every word but still, bor­der­ing on hys­te­ria.  I was con­di­tioned to use what I need­ed.  I was an inno­cent bystander, lost in my own, sad rever­ie.  The world passed me by.  I’d been taught that self-inter­est is like a big hatch­et with a dull blade—promising, but point­less.  I climbed the walls the day after you’d been found, freez­ing and life­less, your head tilt­ed as if in won­der.  I thought hard at what it might have been like to behold some­one who had just seen the face of God.



The round table with the wal­nut grain, set with the amber whisky and the crys­tal ash­trays, where unfil­tered cig­a­rettes pass the time smok­ing them­selves.  The smoke wafts up, encir­cling the ubiq­ui­tous cru­ci­fix on the south­ern wall, a sou­venir from someone’s trip back to the old coun­try, long ago.  Circuitous con­ver­sa­tion hap­pens out of necessity—-where one begins and anoth­er one ends is anyone’s guess. The drink does its work.  Heavy lid­ded uncles pierce the mem­brane of mem­o­ry long enough to exca­vate the grudge, all shiny and new as though it were yes­ter­day.  The  sly aunts by mar­riage, pointy breasts, teased hair and mouths set in defi­ance attempt to bury regrets with a retelling of every story—the equiv­a­lent of bury­ing the dead with small stones–with great ges­tic­u­la­tion and laugh­ter. The third cousins drink cold cof­fee from chipped cups, ignor­ing the shad­ows that move between and among them.  The chil­dren are piled into an upstairs bed­room, hands on the Ouija board, sweat and sway with expectation.



The long, oiled plait, cre­at­ed with the sor­cery of her grandmother’s hands.  Clutching a fist­ful of skirt, she stands next to the American in civil­ian clothes, who mis­reads the look in her eyes, like a for­got­ten cast­away.  All mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tions had been thor­ough­ly reject­ed.  Only the ancient, the trib­al will do here.  What was need­ed lined small apothe­cary bot­tles the col­or of sun-fad­ed gems in the wine cel­lar.  Someone takes a drink.  Someone cuts a cake with the sharpest knife in the draw­er.  Generations of occult seed care­ful­ly laid will still sprout in rocky soil. Crumbs on the cochineal pink of the fad­ed beauty’s tongue. The long wheezy sigh of an uncle way past his prime.  The heavy serge of the American’s long coat, hung with dejec­tion, the post­card to his moth­er nes­tled in the frayed carmine lin­ing of his pock­et.  Three objects for luck lay expec­tant­ly on the coarse grained table: cheese, rag and match.  A sym­bol­ic doc­trine for the one des­tined to mark time with grave and orna­men­tal disappointments.



Sundays were carved from empti­ness. I crawled the floor­boards while every­one else exist­ed on an edge of shad­ow that my eyes could only fol­low inter­mit­tent­ly. I rum­maged through draw­ers scent­ed with sou­venir soap as a first line of defense, because I’d always believed in the inci­den­tal.  I was aware of white puffs of smoke that waft­ed from a for­got­ten house that I watched when every­thing else failed me. It’s dull win­dows told the sto­ry of the town hero that most had nev­er believed any­way. . It’s me, he whis­pered.  It’s you, I agreed.  I was always aware of how the sands of time were not a del­i­cate process, but instead, a thing we hoard­ed and dug, with clawed hands, leav­ing damp piles in our wake.  I want­ed the day to evap­o­rate. I want­ed my stra­bis­mus to desert me, like a neglect­ful lover.  My teeth ached for just one bite into a ghost apple, son that for once, I could chew with the air of author­i­ty, and for all time, be the bet­ter for it.


Michelle Reale is the author of Season of Subtraction (Bordighera Press„ 2019) and In the Blink of a Mottled Eye (Kelsay Books, 2020) among oth­ers. She is the Founding and Managing Editor of OVUNQUE SIAMO: New Italian-American Writing. She has been twice nom­i­nat­ed for a Pushcart Prize. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a col­lec­tion of poems titled Blood Memory.