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Sample Poems by Andrena Zawinski


The milkman's daughter

is what he called me
as he stared at my peachy cheeks and pearly skin
while my mother placed the emptied glass bottles
into the insulated silver bin on the stoop,
carefully rolling then slipping the next
morning's order into the mouth of one
for a quart each of milk and buttermilk,
bottles she scoured to a gleam that clinked
against each other as the milkman swung off
with them in his wire basket from the doorstep
down the sidewalk to his truck.

The milkman's daughter
is what I longed to be.
I loved when the sun rose and buttermilk came,
pulled off the seal and foiled cap, ringed my finger
around chunks of yellow fat at the bottle's lip, shook
and spilled it into a glass, salted and gulped it down.
There I would set the stage for my mother to become
a redheaded woman in a Hopper painting sitting in a diner
next to a man in a dress suit waiting for a coffee refill,
tapping an unlit cigarette, her fingers stealing toward his,
note between them.

I wanted to be
the milkman's daughter,
child of a smiling Rockwellian character, neatly dressed
in pressed jacket and pants, wearing a bow tie, clean shaven
and perfumed by soap unlike my father home from work
ruddy faced with a stubble of five o'clock shadow, rumpled
and stained carrying the smell of soot and smoke in with him,
downing a bottle of beer as he watched her bend to pull
from the oven sugar cookies she would wrap in parchment
for the milkman who would rush with them to the truck,
open a bottle of milk, then sink his teeth into them.


Cinderman

Those Saturdays when he'd pull an extra shift,
I'd trail the buckled sidewalk to the shadowy
pedestrian tunnel. As he looked to catch me backing
along fences, ducking into bushes, I watched him.

Long legs sure in stride marching off to make
a month's rent, black lunchbox swaying, latch ticking
in sync with his steps in clunky steel toe boots,
he smoothed his work shirt, straightened his cap,

a young man, his worth tied to being of use,
laboring toward a whistle and a timecard
at the end of the stretch of an extra stint. Back home,
I would wait for his stories to spill through the flat:

his pal Slowpoke Pete screwing up on the line again,
a gag Bad Joke Joe told that made him laugh anyway,
Old Mack the Foreman crazy enough to get married
to the young shop secretary in these times at his age.

Like any cinderman, he'd scrub the dark from his face
and hands making a murky mess of the porcelain sink,
slump at the kitchen table with a shot of Smirnoff
where earlier he gulped down a brew of Maxwell House.

I lived in this world of a man whose muscles always ached,
who drank too much, who never could make ends meet,
lived for him to pull me onto his lap each night to nuzzle
under his arm, fall asleep in the musky scent of him,

until he'd heave me up with a grunt, trudge up the flight
of stairs, loose steps groaning under the weight
of my limp body leaden with sleep, arms and legs draped
about the curve of his hunched back, sandman in my eyes.


I remember when I was just a kid.

Do what you are going to do
and I will tell about it.-Sharon Olds

When I was just a kid, I remember being
a runner for my parents' daily numbers
penciled onto folded slips of white paper
I handed on tiptoes to the butcher bookmaker.

Afterwards, I'd pay for their Camels and Kools
with quarters fed to the vending machine
that delivered shiny penny change inside clear
and crinkly cellophane wrappers I'd tear into

to buy ribbons of Chocolate Licorice Twists
or the honey sweet crisp of Butterfingers
for the hike back along the sidewalk home.

And when my father's vodka crossed the table,
I turned escape artist and dashed off to nearby
woods, wandering hours inside the shade
and patches of sun until streetlights came on.

I even devised a disappearing act behind a bureau
and vanity, under a desk or bed, when his leather strap
slid through its loops, a raw rice mat on the floor.

Now I rub the tiny dimples of those scarred knees
and remember, wince at the welt of belt across thighs
and remember, sprawl under the shelter of pines,
dark Doves in the pocket, and remember.



Living Dolls

...A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.-Sylvia Plath

As a little girl, I never wanted any creepy
doll. No haunted puppet or voodoo doll,
not Twilight Zone's sinister Talking Tina,
no Chucky of horror fame, not even
a sideways glancing Kewpie doll waif
won tossing balls in a carny booth.

Yet they continued to arrive
on holidays and on birthdays.
Betsy Wetsy drink-and-pee in diaper,
Walking Baby in gingham and Mary Janes,
stiff dollies with oddly cheery countenances.
I wanted none of them.

Not the rosy-cheeked Southern belle
with golden ringlets and starched ruffles,
not the newest bride doll propped up
on the bed, collections of them crammed
on a bookshelf or hung high on the wall
in out-of-hand displays of crinoline and satin.

I favored the comfort of a monkey sock doll
from Rockford Reds my mother clipped,
stitched, and stuffed. As a little girl I wanted
my brother's Lionel train remote to make
the trail of cars speed, smoke, and toot along
the figure eight tracks through a tiny toy town.

As a little girl what I wanted
was an Erector Set to assemble bridges,
Lego bricks and beams for cityscapes,
Lincoln Logs for cabins and barns,
Frigidaire box castoff to turn clubhouse
with Crayolas, scissors, and tape.
I chose, over dressy dolls, to strap on
a cowgirl holster and gun with chaps and hat
to cruise the block on a cherry Schwinn
or to whiz around on slick metal skates,
key dangling like some fancy locket

from a string at my neck. I really loved
to smack the Wiffle Ball with a bat,
to shoot glass cat eyes against a wall,
to crawl around on monkey bars,
to pump the air with the wooden swing's
rattle of chains in my hands. As a little girl,
what I really wanted was to fly-
wind in my hair, imagination rocketing.




Play

Inside the herbal emporium I fret fresh tarragon and thyme
will wilt in my basket waiting for the checker to get off the phone.
Cilantro and sage added to the cache, I kill time wandering
inside a natural health magazine to a study concluding kids
who get outside in nature grow to be happier adults.

Inside paragraphs, speculative researchers are not talking
about kids like I was once roaming rustbelt working poor
stomping grounds. Not kids like me who took off all day
to run around in nearby woods, took off to escape flails
of words and worries from down-on-their-luck parents.
They are not talking about Boomer born raised on the doom
and gloom of "as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer."

They are talk talk talking about the iGen'ers with too much time
at lit up screens inside fast chats or maneuvering animated avatars
in games that chirp and buzz, no birds or bees or trees. Talk talking
about kids inside highrise jungles with rooftop parks. Talking
about parental fears of mood disorders and developmental lags
who can't find time for outdoor play. Talk talking about a need
to experience microbial diversity and chi with trees.

I step outside the magazine covers, still waiting for the checker
to be done with the phone, then drop the magazine and basket
on the counter and leave. Leave remembering what play was for me:
scattering jacks and pick-up sticks, jumping rope and hopscotching,
walking, and even running really fast and deep into the woods.