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Spring Tonic


Clouds obscure the glory
of your mornings, your pewter-plated
afternoons, the fig trees of evening,
alive with talkative birds.
It's been this way forever and a day.
This minute the air smells
like slug-colored medicines
you were given as a kid.
Childhood ought to be light years
behind you, but isn't. Which old
terror or complaint seeps slow
as resin through your veins,
despite your gentle parents'
best efforts to purge it?
Your ragged spirit still flees you
so frequently: a mongrel slinking out
the dog-door of your mouth,
anxious to tip over trash cans,
chase vermin and get dirty
before limping home. What made you
furtive so early, amused only when horses
broke loose in the park and trampled
several church picnics,
or on the morning after grandpa's
citrus groves froze in an ice storm?
Your mental weather's perpetually
inclement, like those dank fogs
once believed to be the breath
of disease. Only a meteorologist
could log your thoughts: sea smoke,
coronas, buttermilk billows.

This spring's uncertain currents
waft you back to the past, where
mother and father, huge painted
saints wearing paper crowns,
hold court in the dark, wielding
red-tipped cigarettes like scepters.
No one knew what was wrong with you.
You were fed thick medicinal liquids
whose sugary tinge failed
to disguise their chemical agendas.
Your tongue curled, a pink newborn
marsupial, afraid of the taste
of iron mixed with ink, or chalk thinned
with motor oil, or greasy silt left
in the pan after mother fried liver.
Weren't those potions meant
to cure everything: your sullenness
and tyrannical attachments;
your refusals to eat or speak;
and most of all the terrible religions
you kept inventing, which left you
hollow and rigid as some insect's
shed exoskeleton, ever meditating
on what it would be like
after you died and your body
turned into a worm farm? No other
thoughts fit into your head.
During those sickened nights
and glazed days, you never imagined
your metamorphosis (a word
you wouldn't learn for years)
might transform you into something
less like mom's teaming compost heap--
and more enduring and bright,
like diamond.

--Amy Gerstler


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