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KUMIN, Maxine


My father paces the upstairs hall

a large confined animal

neither wild nor yet domesticated.

About him hangs the smell of righteous wrath.

My mother is meekly seated

at the escritoire. Rosy from my bath

age eight-nine-ten by now I understand

his right to roar, hers to defy

the bill from Wanamaker’s in his hand

the bill from Strawbridge’s held high

the bill from Bonwit Teller

and the all plum-colored Blum Store.

His anger smells like dinner parties

like trays of frothy daiquiris.

Against the pre-World-War-Two prime

standing ribs his carving knife

flashes a little drunkenly. He charms

all the other Bonwit-bedecked wives

but something overripe malingers.

I wear his wide cigar bands on my fingers.

Oh God it is so noisy!

Under my bed a secret stair

a gold and purple escalator

takes me nightly down under the sea.

Such dancings, such carryings on

with the prince of this-or-that

with the duke of ne’er-do-well

I the plain one, a size too large to tell

grow tremulous at stickpin and cravat

I in toe shoes and tutu suddenly

see shopping is an art form

a kind of costume ball.

Papá, would we so humbly come

to the scene in the upstairs hall

on the first of every month, except

you chose the mice for footmen, clapped

to call up the coach and four?

You sent to Paris for the ermine muff

that says I’m rich. To think twelve poor

little things had their heads chopped off

to keep my hands unseemly warm!

When you went fishing down the well

for fox furs, hats with peacock plumes

velvet evening capes, what else befell?

You paid the bills, Papá. You cast the spell.

The Mummies
Two nights running I was out there

in orange moonlight with old bedsheets

and a stack of summered-over Sunday papers

tucking up the tomatoes while the peppers

whimpered and went under and the radishes

dug in with their dewclaws and all over

the field the goldenrod blackened

and fell down like Napoleon’s army.




is a mildewed tent. Under the center pole

you must either bend double or take to your knees.

And suppose, after all that tugging and smoothing, you ease

yourself, blind end first, into your blanket roll —

wet under, and over, wool scratch, and you lying still,

lashed down for the season, hands crossed between your thighs.

the canvas stink in your nose, the night in your eyes —

what makes you think that rattling your ribs here will

save you? Camper, you are a bone-sore fool.

Somewhere a brown moth beats at a lighted window.

Somewhere a weasel fastens into his mouse.

The ground heaves up its secret murmur of toadstools;

they are marching to bear you away to the dumb show.

Yank up the pegs and come back! Come back in the house.