Judith Saunders

Crucial Efforts

And there is reason why
a dying patient, muffled
in morphine, begs visitors
to take down all the EXIT signs
from hospital rooms and corridors,
wishing not to see, day and night,
luminescent red letters
pointing the way, spelling it out.

Published in The Old Red Kimono, XXVI (Spring 1997)

Poughkeepsie Railway Station

What the traveler sees is one great room,
not grubby, quite, but drab, furnished
with benches of well-polished wood,
massive ad slippery, a place where people
with clumsy bags and shabby clothes sit bowed
or insolent, waiting for passengers who arrive,
maybe late, or don't, waiting for trains and taxis,
the kind of place where mothers tell their children
to wash their hands as soon as they get home.
Someone (the county? the company?)
has hung a row of photographs, handsomely framed,
beneath the station clock. It takes a long, long look
to realize these pictures represent
the place itself: the waiting room emptied
of everyday hustle-somehow cleaner,
lighter, infinitely spacious-
cathedral ceiling, wood-panelled walls
and red-tiled floor all mirrored
in miniature, unmistakable,
transformed. In this alternative
vision, the space is sparsely peopled
with models posed in romantic pairs.
Beautifully attired, utterly sophisticated,
they bestride the vaulted emptiness
with easy grace; it is all for them.
They meet in happy pirouettes,
lounge nonchalantly against the benchbacks.
They are not bored or tired. They are not worried
about missing trains or being robbed, nor dreading
visits from least favorite relatives. Oh no,
any moment they might leave the ground for good,
leap up into the airy brightness, take off.
They fairly glow with fairy dust, don't need
a train to get where they are going.

Published in Thema 7.1 (1994)

First Visit to Key West

The names no riddle: Isle of Bones,
its beaches paved with coral wreckage,
chalky grit. Morbid, half-eroded shapes
startle tourists sunning on their towels.
The first explorers must have thought
they'd landed at a tropic cemetery,
an island lined fantastically
with sun-bleached skeletal remains.
The shore is lapped by lollipop seas
molten to murderous turquoise.
Like something in a dream? Perhaps,
or just plain unconvincing.

Pelicans flap above the waves,
unfitted, apparently, for flight
by outsized beaks and chests,
implausible proportions.
Like hired clowns, they execute
maneuvers ponderously humorous,
dropping, plumb, from the sky, as if
determined to impale themselves
headfirst on coral-brittle bottom,
then hang, surprisingly suspended,
on wings outspread like broken arcs
of parasols, refolding as the gawking heads
emerge and tilt to slide small salty finds
inside expandable pouches. Resisting laws
of physics with aplomb, the birds take off,
their wingtips fluttering palm fronds.

We, too, take off. Below us floats
a mangrove jigsaw: puzzle pieces
embellishing eccentric seas.
Enfolded in a sudden froth of cloud,
we hover, buoyed in airy nothing.

Published in South End News 25.29 (October 14, 2004)

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