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Sample Poems by Gretl Claggett

Critical Care

One day she stopped. Teeth clamped, sunken
jaw locked. Not a drop of tapioca or ice cream
could be coaxed through the two-inch slit

as if the lip's chapped hatches had stitched it shut.
She refused to speak, even to me. Hours
she'd stare at the white walls. Pain's sheets of sleet

moved through her, and one bruised hand clung
to the sidebar. I'd hum the "Waltz Parisienne," rub
her stubbled scalp. He never came: only a poinsettia.

Hungry Ghost

Only once did he describe 'Nam, how Hueys
hovered, how the rotor's smack-smack-smack
slashed the sun's waves as he hacked,
body bag in hand, through elephant grass.
He refused to fight, so this became his task:
piece together what was scattered.

~ ~ ~

Dusk, a cloudburst, then calm. I'm alone.
In his jungle jacket, the jungle in his eyes' hungry,
he hovers under the porch lamp's dim, refuses
to come in. He needs money for a train
"to meet some buddies." There are thick sticky gaps
between his words, but I dig through Mother's purse
and hand him a twenty. On the right corner
of our television screen, body counts climb.
I can't speak. I've only been taught
to duck and cover.

~ ~ ~

Death by drowning the coroner's report claimed.
But that night, the tracks he laid
were in his veins. We don't talk about Duvy.
Father often says he's MIA. And me?
Like a hungry ghost, I feed
on the unspoken.


The Jane Street Grocery,
a grubby shop stocked full
of beer, cigarettes, hookahs,
lotto tickets and papers
with headlines that bellow WAR!,
has hanging from its awning
a dozen American flags
waving into the nervous
night breeze.

Beneath fluorescence
I pay the ebony-eyed man,
his stare secured to a TV.
He hands me change.
I step into the deserted
street. My reflection glares
back at me from the window.
Yellow frown of a moon
hangs large and low.

By Dawn, All Women Owning Red Clothes Were Arrested

When they sprayed us with rubber bullets,
the girl beside me collapsed--her eye
pierced. I crawled away from the barricade, didn't look
back--ran home'heard
screams as they dragged anyone they could into vans. That night,
the knock. I was ready. I let them
ransack my closet: "Sirs, what do you
search for?" One blew smoke in my face:
"A woman wearing red threw stones at the police."
I locked the door, shut the drapes.

Five years later, bees swarm the spot
where I buried my dress,
and foxglove grows. No matter where I am,
its fingers point.

The Send-Off

Age six:
I tell my father

I can walk to school
alone. At the corner

my hand slips
from his. Each step:

a birth and death.
I don't look back.

He watches me
stride through an alley

to the main road,
where, without a wave,

I vanish. He stays,
watches, waits--

The crosswalk's
painted lines

fade. Decades

Monsoon Solo

Merlot makes her sad, always has.
When the wet season starts, she pours early,

drinks deep into afternoon. Gone
are doubt-free days of communion,

salvation in a single sip. The sky, now
a punched eye, swells. Steeples vanish.

At night in a stranger's bed, his chest
a bare wall she can beat, sex an excuse

to scream. More intimate: the cigarette
shared after, the ripped condom wrap, its familiar

grin. With a fingertip he dabs
sweat beads on her back, says, "Stay."

She turns her head, watches droplets
slide down windowpanes'her faith

fleeting as a breath-mark. He sleeps.
She showers. Daydreams of deserts, unseen

saviors, water to wine. The last bottle drained,
she leaves thirsty. Sediment

at the back of her throat.