Some days it’s hard to find
four corners that converge
into a square before falling off
the canvas, just one kind
of geometric configuration
that is not a pie. Triangles, octoroons,
squids, hustle and bustle
that is New Orleans at midnight,
and the talon tainted saints
that rule the quarter
are not squares. Voodoo,
Mississippi momma, muddy banks,
blue and purple sky loom above
dark earth, flat, unforgiving—
a globe without gravity
pulling us down. All meet
in the margins of magic,
white handkerchiefs beckoning.
My Heart Like Many Animals
Pulsing like a terrified hedgehog—blue
—orange—green—the beating edges
of my heart spill out over the black and
silver screen— expand—retract—expand.
Soon, says the doctor, shutting
down the machine, putting
the feral beast temporarily
to sleep. Don’t delay.
He sends me to a man in white
who wants to bisect my chest
like a magician sawing a woman
in half. My heart retracts, becomes
a mouse, claws scuttling along
the edge of my ribcage, looking
for a place to hide. You’ll heal (heel!)
says the doctor, you always do.
I go instead to a man in scrubs
who won’t crack me open, expose
the growling bear within—
this surgeon’s hand will slither
sideways like a snake, tunnel through
archives of muscle and ribs, clip the tear
with a plastic ring to mend my heart,
a purring cat, forever married to itself.
My Mother’s Dreams
It all seems like a dream,
my mother said after my father died,
fifty-five years of marriage, erased.
With those words, we all disappeared,
figments of my mother’s reveries.
Her life now a looming blank page,
she met Charles, a Jamaican man
of ambiguous age—white hair, a daughter,
a three-year-old grandson, possibly
his son. Charles cooked her lavish
dinners— roast chicken, pineapple
maraschino cherries, red beans and rice.
Isn’t she lovely! he exclaimed
as he wrote himself onto that empty page.
My mother, frail as rice paper, radiant
as never before, awoke to a new life,
wondered which was the dream.
When she was whisked to the hospital
with a mysterious fever, doctors discovered
an infected womb, asked the expected
questions. Lord, no, I replied, astonished
at the thought —my father’s been dead
for years. The doctor paused, let it go—
my mother dreamt on, not waking again.
Elizabeth Burk is a psychologist who divides her time between a practice and family in New York and a husband and home in southwest Louisiana. Her chapbooks, Learning to Love Louisiana (2013) and Louisiana Purchase (2014) were published by Yellow Flag Press. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Calyx, Atlanta Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Red Wheelbarrow, Spillway, The Louisiana Review, Earth’s Daughters, Naugatuck River Review and various other journals and anthologies.