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Single Poems by Lee Woodman

Wake-up Call

Proud cocks crow in the Caribbean morn,
muezzins call flocks to worship,
lighthouse strobes flash danger.

We sleep with our backs turned,
knees drawn up like fetal snails.
I shut my eyes till the front door closes.

Discoveries bleed through dim-lit dawn:
questionable deals, memberships
cancelled, beneficiaries altered.

Back-and-forth retorts slice like rusty razor blades.
His clear blue eyes turn milky, my reflection
fades in a pock-marked mirror.

Sweet night connections end in crooked
sofa beds of separation. Cocks crow on,
the lark severs the throat of the nightingale.

*first published by Broadkill Review April 2021

Secrets I Tell Myself

When I was ten,
my friend Stephanie and I tore ends from a foam pillow
to make breasts we did not have

When I was thirteen,
I held my wrists in bed at the Honolulu Hotel
so I would not commit suicide by mistake

When I was sixteen,
I lay on the bathroom tiles feeling my stomach, my heart
thumped in my abdomen, I feared I was pregnant

When I was twenty,
I weighed 88 pounds and hid prune yogurt
in the cooler of the dance studio at college

When I was a dancer at Tanglewood,
I’m sure a famous composer
put Quaaludes in my Kool-Aid

During my first marriage,
I told my mother-in-law if her wonderful son
and I ever separated, we’d be good friends

When I got pregnant
by my first husband after we separated,
I told no one and insisted on abortion within a week

When I drank clear vodka for three nights
after being stalked by a schizophrenic Jesus freak
I did not tell my third husband it was not water

As I am nearing seventy,
I tell myself these secrets
and repeat them to see if they are true

*first published by Naugatuck River Review, January 2020

What to Expect at Congressional Cemetery

Not the graves that drew me there,
not the closed iron gates where I found an opening,
not the numbered maps leading to celebrity markers,

I turned to the un named, the no ones, the un knowns.

Confused by the totem poles along the brick walk,
distracted by the verse I was waiting for,
bewildered by grief and loss and heat,

I blinked through sweat, pulled my straw hat low.

Amused by the K-9 dog-walkers
who paid to be in the special society of cemetery donors,
we all were deciphering Washington DC anew.

Not the Cathedral School where my first husband taught,
not the Capitol Hill co-op where I lived for 14 years,
not the Annapolis flat I rented during separation,

I turned to hundreds of years of burying:

the 1892 epitaphs from husbands to wives,
tipped-back headstones of proud gay lovers,
locked vaults built by self-claimed venerables

made me flee back to the totems, the red carved cedars:

Female bear of liberty,
male eagle of war,
turtle in the middle of the crossbar.

I learned comfort from woodcarver, Jewel Praying Wolf James,
from Lummi Nation, a Washington far from Washington.
This is the verse I was waiting for, the distraction

I sought: all our arms linked underground
wrapped around one another, all our crooked
feet know pain and suffering.

Mother Earth holding us up,
Father Sun covering us down,
dogs and their owners keep walking.

*first published by The Hill Rag, September 2019

Voices in the Void

—after Alberto Giacometti’s “City Square,” National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 1948/1949

You are far from us now, though 1966 is not so long gone. Pericardial fluid hardened around your heart, locking it in cement. You left behind sculptures of all kinds—miniature cast models trapped in matchboxes, giant plodding statues, skeletal dogs lurking. I follow one set of shadows across a lonely plaza: City Square: Five figures pose a fleeting sight as they move through a gigantic expanse of nothingness. Blade-thin silhouettes—misshapen heads, huge hollow eyes, chins thrust out, Adam’s Apples sinking. Four of the five attempt to stride in different directions across the deserted pavement, but their ponderous feet strain upward at the heel, never escaping the merciless hold of the slab. One does not even try. She is static, sclerotic—extracted, pinched, striated, gouged, charred.
I call to her, “Ava?”
Loud and bold, the males chant first:

“We are tensile, strong as iron,
with captured feet of clay.
Our someplace badly bombed and burned,
All that’s left is sex and death.
We hang to our intensity,
we thrust our knife heads forward
We cannot look at women,
in them we feel our shame.”

At last, sound courses upward through constricted vocal cords and lodges
behind her eye sockets. Through those wide holes, a choking solo:

“I want them to touch my
golden curls frozen in bronze,
To understand that one breast
droops in memory,
To know how my arms are battened
to my sides; how my hands, clumps
of stone, hide against my knees.
This hardened lump of genitals
has fused between my hips.
Touch me. Lift me.”

The square falls silent.

With respect and concern, I plead for these exiles wrapped
in emptiness:

“Are they choking or chanting,
falling forever, or rising with hope?
In this city void, they walk as ghosts,
as spirits met in dreams.
They make the action vanish,
they make the present vanish.
Why did you chip them all away,
peel and leave them as husks?
No accordions fill the City Square,
no giddy partners dance on cobblestones.
You have not sculpted human figures,
just shadows of castaways.
In the name of God, and Ava, of
humanity, and flesh,
Release them!”

*first published in The New Guard, November 2018, Pushcart nomination 2019

Lee with Guests Eastern Market 2019
Lee at The Writer's Center
Lee Signing Books TWC 2020
Lee Reading at Eastern Market DC
Lee Reading at Eastern Market DC
Lee Woodman readings at Bowery Poetry
Lee Woodman readings at Bowery Poetry
Lee Woodman readings at Bowery Poetry
Lee Woodman readings at Bowery Poetry
Lee Woodman Group Reading at Bowery Poetry

All photos by Sonya Melescu

Single Poem Links

The Concord Monitor, End-Stopped, June 2019, about Donald Hall’s memorial

Grey Sparrow Press, Road Trip to Nilokheri, 2018, Jaya the Ayah, 2019

Vox Poetica, Sorrow, One Touched Me on the Shoulder, Reconsidering the Moon 2019. Toward Big Sur 2020

The Ekphrastic Review, Who’s Watching Whom, The Underside of Colour, They, Alien 2018-2020

Zocalo Public Square, Learning the Twist in New Delhi/What it Means to be American, December 2015

Lee Woodman at Literary Hill Book Fest reading “Homeleave”

Some Favorite Poems from Poets I Admire

“I Loved You Before I Was Born” by Li-Young Lee

“Ghazal: America the Beautiful” by Alicia Ostriker

“A Blessing” by James Wright

“Looking for the Gulf Motel” by Richard Blanco

“Portrait of a Woman in Bed” by William Carlos Williams

“Boys of Summer” by Chimako Tada

“The Raincoat” by Ada Limon

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