Shelley Puhak's first collection, Stalin in Aruba (Black Lawrence/Dzanc), was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature, and her chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales won the Stephen Dunn Prize. Her recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, Carolina Quarterly, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, and many other journals. She teaches at Notre Dame of Maryland University and lives in Baltimore.
Searching for Baltimore
—after Jack Gilbert
Not a fox. A rat. That nibbles my muffin- top, nudges
past my hips. That burrows between me and my
yellowed sheets and dreams the wharves too—Bond
Street, Henderson's, Broadway Pier—dreams the dumpster
scraps and the soft clutch of soil, dreams the dozen chambers
under each dock and the bay breeze that snakes through.
My rat. Tunneling the slink and sprawl of suburbs,
there were too many spaces between us but not
space enough to shunt love and haul it home. The train
since dismantled, we took to the automobile, my rat
and me, coupling and switching the tracks of our bodies
in the backseat. Arrived to find the city sealed up
against us, the trashcans empty at 3 a.m. And no subway,
but oh!—the sewers! My rat stayed but I slunk home,
scrabbled back up the roof and chewed through
the next three years. Made do with meadow until
it was also paved over. Then hitched a ride back; got
an apartment; lined it with shredded paper, sacking,
cloth; looked up the rat and asked him out.
My rat, now grown both tall and fat, handles me
exactly as one spreads out the bedsheets, flapping me
out of myself, smoothing, smoothing—there, there, lay flat.
Indian Summer Aubade
We're buried under the quilt, quantifying:
to the moon and back. Around the world
two times, no, four. You trace my ear. I talk
you through the night. You are three,
which makes this love, makes this biding
our time in the western field, fallow.
Too soon, white dawn over the slope
of you. And so much swims in morning—
motes, specks, spores. Each of your fingers
I clutch— a tuber, thin spindle on which to wind
all the dry months ahead. One day I will tell you:
There is a zucchini softening on my porch step,
an ear of corn silvered with worms. You'd know this
if you ever came to visit.