Lucinda MacKethan

Lint Head

     
   

Yours, in a dryer full of heat, no light and no way out

except through a filter where dead thoughts

clot and thicken.

To start a fire, let the fuzz grow.

 

Or instead, make a sculpture.

First collect the lint, slough of deodorized dreams

shed like particles of old skin, mush of damp hopes,

molted from musty mounds of tee shirts, matted

playclothes, stained cotton undies, unmatched socks.

 

Note how it clings together, the color of washed out sky.

 

Water the clumps to make a paste, and shape:

into song birds or chalices, sailing ships or snakes,

a totem pole, a Faberge egg,

busts of the severed heads of saints.

     
         
 

Bird Poems

     
   

1. Crows

We sat on folding chairs near the grave.

The weather was raw for April,

but not so bad, the locals said,

for hill country in Kentucky.

Perpetual light, the minister murmured

into the wind. Eternal rest intoned,

who barely knew her.

 

When I heard the blackbirds calling,

I thought it was a good sound,

like someone crying out grief, grief, grief.

That is the work of birds, I thought,

to sing what we can’t or won’t say.

 

When I mentioned afterwards

that the sound of the birds seemed right

for a day when you bury your mother,

who died alone,

my sister said, For heaven’s sake,

they were only crows, cackling.

 

2. Hawk

 

Patience his work, vision his knife,

the hawk sits high in a pine,

the slight flick of his wings unheard

far down by the vole

who will not feel her swift death coming,

quick as the lift of the brick red tail.

 

Out from his perch, the hawk sets sail

only when his eye says Now,

in patience not unlike a writer who might

wait years for the scent of the one word

that will work.

 

3. Winter Heron

Cut from the grey shroud of pre-dawn,

a great blue forages for fiddlers

scrambling across the mud marsh floor.

 

Along the dark cove, hunters in camouflage

man their blinds, waiting wordless for a mallard

or marsh hen to clamber out of the tall grass.

 

Noiseless the heron stalks his prey.

When he strikes, the silent water spreads

in circes, leaving no wake as he goes.

 

Circling high, his legs a long black line,

he makes an arrow’s mark in the lightening skies,

crossing hunter and hunted as he flies.

 

4. Mocking Bird

He is in the courtyard stalking

a hedge as thick as a stone wall.

Taking on each boxwood bush,

he’s using fingers thinned to claws

to lop off new growth near the top,

pruning to make things even.

 

When I come near, he points

 to a stranger dozing across the way.

“Go talk to him,” he orders,

in the voice I used to know.

I cross my fingers praying for luck

or just for a good lie to put us even.

 

In a nearby tree, a mocking bird

performs his crazy trills.

People here, like the mocking bird,

will steal their words from those

they loved when they can’t remember,

mocking to even the score.

 

No time to mourn, sings the bird that lifted its tunes

for the man who has scissored the yard.

Now their path is littered with shards of green,

leaving nothing even.

 

     
           
 

Working Memory

     
   

1.

When we were kids,

we could count on the Saturday picture show.

Pay your dime and hide in the dark for the whole day.

Slide your nickel in a slot and guaranteed

came Dots or Milk Duds in a box.

Every week an old cartoon with a new plot,

and then the feature, better scary than not.

 

Until one time my sister sneaked me

through a door marked “Twelve and Over,”

and we watched a thriller called “The Thing,”

about a monster frozen in Arctic ice,

who thawed and would not die.

Of all the ones I saw,

this is the only picture I remember.

 

2.

You can work a memory to death,

or poke it so it never sleeps again.

Or dig for others, or wait.

Something will always make its way back,

covered with petals, or ashes, or snow.

 

3.

We lived on an old brick street

where maples and elms made shade,

a quiet street except for autumn nights

when up and down, our fathers gathered

with their rakes and matches

while we played in the smoky dusk,

covered in dry leaves, shouting out the dark.

Now the elms are long gone,

leaf piles and brick street gone,

gone like dead things buried in an icy bed,
buried like we were once

when we leaped and burrowed in the leaves
before our fathers lit their fires,

and the street went up in flames.

     
           
        return to poetry
 

Lucinda MacKethan taught American literature and Creative Non-Fiction at North Carolina State for over three decades and also served briefly as Director of Creative Writing. While she wrote and studied poetry as an undergraduate at (then) Hollins College, it has only been since her retirement from teaching that she has begun to work again on her own poems. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and frequently lectures on southern literature, especially writings that relate to the era of plantations and slavery.