Three Poems by Wendy Rainey

What I know about my Stepfather

When I was ten
I found his scuba gear,
his hang glider,
and his saxophone,
in the garage.
“Why don’t you do any of these fun things
anymore, dad?”
Without skipping a beat
he told me that after he took on
four kids,
a wife,
a dog,
two cats,
and a mortgage,
that was about as much fucking fun
as he could handle.

____________

 

Where did you go, Joyce Finklestein?

I dreamed of you last night, Joyce.
You were standing on the grass between the jungle gym
and the Jacaranda tree,
in that coat with the dirty sleeves.
Some boys were playing catch with your beret.
Laughing and screaming,
the two Brendas shoved you back and forth,
until you fell to the ground.
You got up,
but they knocked you down again,
so you got on your back,
and kicked at them
with your patent leather shoes.
I ran over to help you,
but you were spinning on your back by then,
kicking at Tammy and Kimberly,
who were now turning away from you
and descending on me.
Their pig tails whipped through the air
as they pushed me to the grass.
I stood up,
balled my fist,
and smashed it into their flowered dresses.

Sometimes I think of you, Joyce,
when I’m trying to get home on the 405.
You sat at the desk next to mine.
You wore a plastic patch over your left eye
that clipped onto your glasses.
You had a slight lisp,
and on occasion you stuttered,
but when you spoke
kids turned around in their chairs and listened.
Mr. Wadinski stapled the John Lennon poster
you brought to class
on the board near our desks.
The word IMAGINE floated above your head.

I can’t remember the day you moved away,
but I remember sitting with you on the floor of your parent’s livingroom,
watching The World at War.
Your father came in with his tumbler of Cutty Sark and changed the channel.
He didn’t want us to see the footage of the prisoners of war,
or the explosions, or the piles of dead bodies.
After he left to get more booze,
you got up and changed the channel back to The World at War.
You smiled, stretching out onto the carpet, reaching into the Frito bag,
“They never want us to know what really goes on,
but we find out anyway.”

_____________

Sweaters of the Dead

When I was young
I wore the clothes of dead people
I bought at the Salvation Army.
The sweaters of the dead
kept me warm
as I rode my bicycle through Hollywood
and waited for the bus on 4th and Grand.

One of my favorite sweaters
had a label sewn into the neck:
“A Mrs. Blanche Culpepper original
knitted for Mimi.”
I found the beaded cashmere cardigan
in a bargain bin
for $3.00.
Mrs. Blanche Culpepper,
I picture you waving to me
in a field of sunflowers
whose heads are swaying in the wind.
Their green stems are winding their way
up Fairfax Avenue.
I was lost, Blanche,
always waiting for the bus before dawn,
but kept warm in the sunflower sweater
you knitted for Mimi.

And Bobby Alvarez,
who gave your 1948 USC Varsity sweater
to the women’s auxiliary in Van Nuys?
It should have been kept in a cedar chest
filled with moth balls.
Instead I wore it to the bar every weekend.
Soaked in sweat,
and sloshed in beer.
I never got the blood splat out of the left sleeve
from the belt fight two punks had one night.
I got so drunk once
that I fell face down in the street
and got a taste of the gutter.
Sort of like the dirt you tasted
when you slid into home base
that one last time.

I remember the sad sweaters that found me,
sweaters desperate for love
and attention;
the plaid mohair
with a disintegrated condom
in an inner concealed pocket.
And the bowling
sweater belonging to Darla Baronowski
from the Tarzana Bowling League.
Her name was emblazoned in sequins across the chest.
On the back were two bowling balls
with an erect pin between them.
I wore it proudly.

There were the angora sweater sets
so soft to the touch
that strangers on the street would stroke them
without my consent.
I named them after movie stars;
Natalie Wood,
Marilyn Monroe,
Lana Turner,
and the sweater with the floating pineapples
was my Carmen Miranda.

When I was young
I rode the buses,
walked the streets,
and worked the jobs
in the sweaters of the dead.
The sweaters kept me warm.
The sweaters told me their secrets.
The sweaters listened to mine.
I see them on a circular rack in a junk shop
off of Magnolia in Burbank.
The sweaters are whispering to me.
The sweaters are reaching for me.
The sweaters are beckoning me
back home
to that bus stop on Wilshire and Fairfax
where I will always be standing alone
in the dark,
waiting for the dawn to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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