Three Poems by Tamara M. Fricke

Tamara M. Fricke (2010) is a Frances Perkins Scholar and is the 2010 co-winner of the Gertrude Claytor Award of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Springfield, Mass., and currently serves as the vice president of the Massachusetts Chamber of Business and Industry.

The Bar
In a wasteland of booze,
hapless, pie-eyed patrons
guzzle pints of fermented yeast,
groping for a complicit embrace.

Hapless, pie-eyed patrons
ride somber beech steeds
groping for a complicit embrace
through a thicket of bluesy need.

Astride somber beech steeds,
women wilt with frost sheaves on their glass
through a thicket of bluesy need,
men splinter like rotted branches with each shot.

Women wilt with frost sheaves on their glass,
stale music entices labored pulses,
men splinter like rotted branches with each shot,
as lust fuels beer-drenched flesh to motion.

Stale music entices labored pulses,
heavy heads nod and sway along.
Lust fuels beer-drenched flesh to motion,
while hungry eyes scavenge the room.

Heavy heads nod and sway,
an alcoholic musk permeates the air.
While hungry eyes scavenge the room,
strangers writhe out of step and tune.

An alcoholic musk permeates the air,
sweaty paws fumble desperately
with strangers, writhing out of step and tune,
hoping the ritual of fire will purify their sins.

Sweaty paws fumble desperately,
solitarily, at pints of fermented yeast
hoping the ritual of fire will purify their sins
in a blighted, wasteland of booze.

The Penance
gold-chained and clasped securely around my neck;
a sparkling albatross seduces the eye,
evoking admiration for a mutual crime.

Before it lay placid and ice-bound,
our albatross was a capable companion—
though never much to look at.
We threw it table scraps, named it Love,
and just assumed it would always tag along.

Aviary friends are messy, capricious creatures,
though, so very much like you. But when our bird
tried your patience, you shot it for scavenger
and thief; while I stood by complicit in silence,
watching it die.

You mounted our albatross in gold filigree,
stuffed it full of sawdust half-truths, and hoped
a crystalline crust would stop the rot.
An old seafaring curse came to mind,
and was laughed off with champagne,
even as the skies darkened around us.

Christened in feathers and blood,
we danced and prayed frenetically,
always knowing ritual could never consecrate
homicidal rage; and now we know all too well
that blood only begets blood.

Refined glassy slag, final relic of communal sin,
is unset and set again, as a frozen homage
to the past. Heavier now than petty reflected light lets on,
illusion never belies a pendant’s true feathered
form, or the scornful breast that carries it.

This is not my home—
yet I see myself standing in front
of the window, surveying a plain of
wheat I’ve never seen awake.
The pride of ownership wraps around
me as I stand still, leaning, watching.
This is how I know something is out of place.

A sunless day has robbed the
vista of its gold. Clouds have
whitewashed the land and darkened
the walnut window frame and panels
a shade heavier than night. I see myself
at the window and feel the weight
of the curtains I hold back, the coolness
of the glass on my brow. My eyes
ache with the strain of searching
for something I’m certain is coming.

Artificial light is pointless.
Its false cheer won’t chase away
the shadows that live here or
shorten the wait. Colors may perk
in an incandescent sheen, but in it,
only trepidation ever grows.

There is something out there—
an unnamed anxiety,
that tethers me in place,
that demands a watchful sentry.

I watch the tension in my shoulders
and note the angle I hold my head—
chin down, head slightly turned
to increase peripheral vision, braced
for whatever may come. I feel the sigh
of acceptance. I watch myself exhale,
knowing there is nothing to do but wait.

Something is here, and opens the door.

Copyright 2011 Tamara M. Fricke

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