Poems by Tina Schumann
When I was young
and in the waters
of a foreign country
the body of a fish appeared
before me. It rode the crest
of small waves
near my brown torso –
silver as a dime, quiet as a coin.
There were many things I did not know
but I knew the fish to be gone –
irredeemable; gills torn back,
mouth lolling open to the river.
An old friend is near death
and that fish once again gleams
on the water’s surface
– daring me
to touch it or walk away.
Self-Portrait as the Sacred and Profane
Once upon a time there was this semblance of a family;
———-framed portraits akimbo on bloated bookshelves,
Creaking beds, hardwood floors, a television lambent
——————–in the corner, a torn couch,
———-frying pans stored in a cold oven,
garbage bags slouched under the sink. Outside
———-stood the ancient garage with its grease pit
——————–and ice picks. All of it.
Now we are as gone as gone can be.
———-We stepped into the rushing whirligig
—–of the great hereafter like so many families
——————–before us and so many after.
It’s hard to believe we were ever here – with our shaking
———-heads and tight-lipped refusal, slammed doors
and cracked voices. And to what end?
———-To this end, and this end and this end.
Look at us as we go whooshing by.
———-There were Sundays at the altar. Bare knees pressed
to leather hassocks. Positions of supplication. Memories
propagating memories – resentments upon resentments
——————–we kept locked in the toolbox of our heads.
———-Alone in our pulpits of neurosis.
We lived and died on the same planet
———-as Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer, and Chichén Itzá,
whose steep stairs I climbed as a child
———-beside my father, hand over head slowly –
looking at each other for reassurance.
———-Once upon a time my mother would donate blood
for a few bucks to buy gas or groceries that lasted a day.
———-I waited for her in plastic bucket chairs chained to each other
——————–and bolted to the floor. I watched my feet
as they swung over the scratched linoleum. I remember the stench
———-of bleach, the blue tinted Buick wavering
in the parking lot, the way she would clutch
———-her purse under one arm and smile at the nurse.
I probably asked for her cookie, and she probably gave it to me.
——————–I can’t remember.
I just know how natural it seemed that she would be selling
———-her blood for another inch of life.
Along with this was the sun and the moon. Water and earth,
———-spinning planets, other families, and homes
——————–lined up like regiments of domesticity.
Always. All of it. Endlessly. We fought
———-about human nature and the universe
——————–over dinners of pork and rice.
We laughed with Flip Wilson and marveled at Itzhak Pearlman.
———-We debated God over a sink full of dishes.
We disavowed each other again
———-and again. Pulled away and came together.
We fell asleep each night and dreamed complete novels,
———-traveled to deserts and through cavernous rooms,
saved lives and took others, shook it off in the morning
———-light and turned on the bathroom tap like every day before.
We broke eggs, buttoned our shirts, took one last look
———-in the mirror and rolled backwards out of the driveway.
Tina Schumann is the author of “Praising the Paradox” (Red Hen), “Requiem. A Patrimony of Fugues,” (Diode Editions) and “As If” winner of the Stephen Dunn Prize. She is editor of “Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents,” (Red Hen). Her work has appeared widely since 1999, including Ascent, Cimarron Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Poetry Daily, Rattle, Verse Daily and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. www.tinaschumann.com