The Undertaker’s Daughter

Terrified at a reading to read
poems about my fears & shames,

a voice in me said: Just
open your mouth. Now

I read about Anubis, the God of Egypt
who ushered the dead

to the underworld, who performed the ritual of
the opening of the mouth

so they could
see, hear & eat.

Had it been my father speaking,
giving me back that

depth of taste & color,
fineness of sound

that his rages stifled,
though I had hoped

all my life that my father would feed me
the milk my mother could not

make from her body.
Once, when I opened the door & saw

him shaving, naked, the sole of his foot
resting on the toilet, I thought

those things hanging down were
udders. From then on I understood there was a

female part he hid—something
soft & unprotected

I shouldn’t see.

My dad & sardines

my dad’s going to give me a self
i’ve made an altar called
The Altar for Healing the Father & Child,
& asked him what i could do
for him so he would
do nice for me. he said i should stop
saying bad things about him &, since
i’ve said just about everything bad
i can think of &, since . . . well,
no, i change my
mind, i can’t promise
him that. but even healing is
negotiable, so, if he’s in
heaven (or trying
to get in), it wouldn’t hurt
to be in touch. the first thing i want is to be able to
enjoy the little things again—for example, to stop peeling
down the list of things i
have to do &
enjoy this poem, enjoy how, last night, scouring
the cupboards, i found a
can of sardines that
must be five
years old &, since i was home after a long
trip &, since it was 1 a.m. & i hadn’t eaten
dinner &, since there was no other
protein in the house,
i cranked it open & remembered that
my dad loved
sardines—right before bed—with
onions & mustard. i can’t get into
my dad’s old heart, but i remember that look
on his face when he would
load mustard on a saltine cracker, lay a little
fish on top, & tip it with a juicy slice
of onion. then he’d look up from his soiled
fingers with one eyebrow
raised, a rakish
grin that said—all
for me!—as if he was
getting away
with murder.

A little prayer to Our Lady

so all day i
go by the
xmas tree bulb (orange) in the
little altar of
that i set up &
keep lit at the
top of the stairs, so that rising now i
to praise
her, to
remember the sacredness of my
perhaps she likes orange light
thrown softly against her for
she looks divine.
my house seems richer
more alive
less lonely
with her here
i am allowed
to believe.

The new pet

i don’t want to worry about a fish  yet
here i am   when i am tired   going down & up two
flights of stairs to bring him clean spring water
to fill up his bowl   maybe he looked un-
happy because there was no current—the water was not
high enough to reach the motor—& he has grown used to
the big tank, the heater & water filter, for he began to flip
about & even leap up to my finger when he was hungry.
surely nothing will come to me for doing
good to a fish, & still i do it; though i often wish i had
a mean heart