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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 151-153

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The Purse, and: Canaries

The Purse

For the first night
she borrowed a black one
from a friend,
   something sixtyish,
   oversized and boxy,
the arrangements happening
so quickly
   there was no time
to care about the fine
cracks around each rivet,
   to empty the wedding
invitations, adjust
the too long strap,
   unzip a pocket and find
an initialed hankie
to dust off the patent
leather sides –
   still so glossy
she might not have needed
a mirror if she cared
   to touch up her mascara
after an hour in the front row
   watching the line file
past her daughter's
champagne-finish casket
   not noticing who lingered
over the jewel-tone pieta
cornices or who had clacked
   one of the six polished
brass swing-bar handles [End Page 151]
that matched the smudged
top latch she'd left undone
   on the purse,
allowing the camphored air
to escape from the satin
lining and mingle
   with the perfume
   and after shave
the mourners had bussed
into her raw cheeks
   and crushed velvet dress.


   Every spring
we'd tip toe around it –
   the cage rolled
to an out-of-the-way place
in the cramped apartment,

and for a few weeks
there'd be singing
   and fresh greens,
the blinds raised,
   curtains pushed aside.

He would offer her string
   and scraps of paper
from the floor of the cage. [End Page 152]

She would hold on to the rails
   and soften the angle for him,
tweeze the down
   below her breast
and arrange it all in a cup
near the warmest corner,

set for weeks on the clutch
of silent eggs

   while he sang
and chomped his beak,

   regurgitated seed
and carried it to her
in the cracks between his toes.

John Bargowski is the recipient of the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest. His poems have been published in Poetry, the Gettysburg Review, Cimarron Review, and others.



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pp. 151-153
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