Sarah Freligh

Ann Arbor, 1974

Sky bruising purple when I stuck out
my thumb and caught a fast ride
west in a spoke-wheeled Cadillac
with three geezers who passed

a silver flask of Scotch, honeyed
with age, and even I sang along
with Sinatra on the car stereo, soprano
blanketing their reedy tenors, all the way

to South Bend where the driver
handed me a Hershey bar and a wad
of ones. I played pinball for hours
at the Greyhound station, high

on horsepower and whiskey,
an eternity before the bus
chuffed in. How is it that time
is slow and heavy as an elephant

when you’re young and impatient to get
to the next second? Now, the merry-
go-round of years, a heartbeat
between Christmases. It’s like you

go out a girl who can honky tonk
all night and come home old, smelling
of spiced apples and cat, fat
with memories coding your bones.

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In Another Life

I lived in a part of Philadelphia where everything
had once been something else. My apartment,
a sugar refinery; the lesbian bar, a former meat market
where skinned hogs hung from iron hooks; and me
masquerading as the girl I thought I should be. I followed
a schedule, showed up on time or even early, reported
to work daily and came home just as dusk was shutting down
the sky. I took my heart out, dismantled it for easy cleaning,
burnished the hurt places until they shone again. The elevator
rose inside a glass shaft, afforded a view of the strip club
across the alley where topless girls on hot nights enjoyed
a cigarette on the loading dock. Someone said it’s a bank now,
row of tellers’ windows where the stage would have been. Money
dispensed in stacks instead of a single bill stuffed into a G-string.
Each morning I caged my heart in my ribs. I drank coffee at a diner,
hypnotized by the scuffed checks of the linoleum until I believed nothing
could touch me. I cried a lot; I’ve forgotten why. Only
that the floors of my apartment smelled sweet
when it rained, like a skein of sugar spun into candy.

 

A Letter to My Mother in the Afterlife

There are clocks here and too many flies. 
In a farmer's field, a dozen buffalo, horned
and enormous, plod through a fog
of bugs. Head down, the way you used 
to each morning after Dad left
for work when you were stuck
with us and skim milk souring blue
in the bowls of oatmeal we refused
to eat. Nights I break and enter
the place you’ve gone to: high-
ceilinged white room, window framing
an ocean view.  You look up from
a book as if I’ve interrupted your heaven
of solitude where nothing is more
than enough and time is measured
in the tick of waves. For each fly
I kill, another two show up, but no, a fly
for a fly won’t bring you back.

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Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize, and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Other books include A Brief Natural History of an American Girl, winner of the Editor’s Choice award from Accents Publishing, and Sort of Gone, a book of poems that follows the rise and fall of a fictional pitcher named Al Stepansky. Her work has appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, Rattle, on Writer’s Almanac, and anthologized in the 2011 anthology Good Poems: American Places. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.