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Issue Three




by Helen Conkling

Never to Go Out in a City in the Rain

just before dark, when streets shine
under street lamps, not to feel
easy doing that on a November evening,
and after boarding a bus, crowded at rush hour,
finally get a seat next to someone who is drunk
although quiet enough, in fact asleep,
someone who leans against you;

never to think, “What good after all
are worlds apart,” and continue thinking that
while passing vacant lots, weeds,
pools on sidewalks, piles of wet leaves,
and store windows-their intricate displays-
and the red lights of cars reflecting in water,
white lights of cars;

never to be at ease with others as I am now,
on my way to have dinner
in a restaurant where I am known,
where a young woman at the piano,
a music student-she is very good-
will play Satie if I ask; never to stop
and go again, and wait,
on my way to eat and drink and hear music-
three small piano pieces, a little sad-that
would be a great loss.


December 1941

In the kitchen
Mother was talking to my aunt,
“Ruth, if Lloyd goes,
you come stay with us.
It will be better if we’re all together.”
The radio droned through static.
This was hardship, sacrifice,
and Christmas would not be the same,
because soldiers were giving their lives.
My cousin Charley would be a soldier.
And my cousin Ralph. Aunt Ruth said,”Why
do we have to go through this
all over again?” Uncle Lloyd would enlist.

“Honey.” They were calling me.
“Come sweep the floor,
then get ready to stir the gravy.”
Voices as usual, telling me what to do.
I closed and opened my eyes six times
to appease God, and tomorrow
would stop at the library
to see if Ben Hur had been returned yet:
read, read again that part about
Jesus healing the leper.
If only miracles could happen now.
If only they would.
Bread in the oven–the smell of it baking–
cloverleaf rolls for dinner.
“Honey, where are you?”


At the Winter Solstice

It is difficult
not to personify the world on a snowy day.
The dog takes you for a walk and says, “Now,
I will leave a message for my friend Bob.”
And the road remarks, “Did you know
a road was present at Cinna’s expulsion from Rome?”
All trees in the pine grove will be wearing white,
and the tallest will murmur,
“So, I told Catherine, I said, All right
you can have the nest
but you can’t have everything in the whole world!”

What makes the difference, what,
on a day like this?
It’s breath and lightness,
more daylight, less discontent. And now look-
through dark earth atmosphere’s
blown-about clouds, comes the sun.
Only for a minute, and with only a faint pearl glow,
the sun
saying in a faraway voice,
“It is I.”


“Never to Go Out in a City in the Rain,” “December 1941,” and “At the Winter Solstice”
are from Red Peony Night, by Helen Conkling, © 1997

Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

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