Sample Poems by Gail White


Housecleaner

My mother harried balls of dust
From under sofas, tables, chairs,
Bits of paper, single hairs,
All were gathered in her lust
For a desperate cleanliness.
Now serene I face the mess
I live in, safe with mold and must,
Storing in my attic head
All the lint and thread and fuzz
Gathered in a past I’ve shed
From the dust my mother was.


My Personal Recollections of Not Being Asked to the Prom

I never minded my unpopularity
in those days. Books were friends and poets (dead)
were lovers. Brainy girls were still a rarity,
and boys preferred big bosoms to well read
and saucy wits. I look back now with pity
on the young Me I didn’t pity them.
I didn’t know that I was almost pretty
And might have had a charm for older men.

And my poor mom, who never bought a fluffy
ball gown or showed me how to dress my hair—
she must have wondered where she got this stuffy
daughter. She didn’t say it, but her stare
asked whether genes or nurture were to blame.
(But I got married, Mother, all the same).


Breaking Down in the South

It knocked me over to learn there’s no such thing
as a nervous breakdown. My aunts and uncles had them
all the time. It was spoken of in whispers,
like drink, divorce, or cancer. Aunt Leona
had a Nervous Breakdown back in ‘67
and never took communion again—she thought
the devil had her. Enviable Aunt Leona,
sure of her standing with the Lord and Satan.
Uncle Eugene got violent when he drank
and ended up in a Home. They never said
whose home it was. Some people who broke down
looked fine to me, but still the fame and glamour
of a Nervous Breakdown hung around their necks
like a name-brand diamond. Now, in middle age,
I’m told my dismal state is just depression,
Reactive, mild—here, try a little Prozac.
Damn it, I don’t want drugs. I only want
to be eccentric, batty, somewhat daft,
covered by Aunt Leona’s mental mist.
Again, my generation gets the shaft.
I’m due for a breakdown, and they don’t exist.


For My Niece as She Enters Her Teens

One thing the Puritans were right about:
Children are savages. They have no mind
or morals, and their art-work doesn’t count.
But now, thank God, you leave all that behind
and count as almost human—golden ore
that only wants a little smoothing down.
So now, the news flash you’ve been waiting for:
Your aunt and uncle didn’t come to town
on a load of melons. We discovered sex
without your help; we drove our elders wild
with music, alcohol, and politics,
and wore our hair as long as yours, my child.
So don’t suppose you understand pop culture
when you don’t even know who Pogo was.
The Beatles aren’t yet ready for the mulcher.
I still know several ways to get a buzz,
the Buddhist creed, and how to write free verse.
Your generation, love, could do much worse.

David Robert Books

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