Land

“The Land I Knew”, “Tangles” and “1941 / 2017”

In Poetry Issue Eight by Maya Roe

The Land I Knew

The land I knew when I was four 

was never domesticated.  

The headboard of the Sierras shot up

from the tangled sheets of the 

Central Valley, their snow the savior 

or traitor in California summers.  

The land I knew ran barefoot 

without fearing nails or glass,

sang songs without fearing plagiarism, and 

carried all she needed on her back.  


The land I knew when I was nineteen

had secrets.  Under maple and alder

were wires and walls, and an unseen 

lawnmower was always humming 

in the smallest state.  The land I knew 

left the window open, and the night 

rain fell through the screen.  She was chased 

away by wasps hiding in abandoned 

hand-pumps, and she walked out late at night 

into the humid air and fireflies.  


The land where I sit is unknown to me,

and a familiar lullaby to the one I love.

Blond brick walled house at my back, 

flood of corn ahead, and sky beyond. 

The sound of the poplar windbreak out 

behind the barn, and the sharp smell 

of fresh romaine.  The cows stare at me 

with eyes like judgmental aunts 

as I drive the truck, certain that

these fields are not mine to know.

Tangles

At night, I would brush my mother’s hair.

Sitting on the seashell comforter,

skinny legs dangling on either side of her shoulders,

her dark earthy hair blanketing

my hand-me-down pajama pants.


I lived in the attic, painted the

color of the sky. On the winter nights

when she read and I brushed,

it was the warmest room in the house.


I would start at the tips, and by chapter’s end,

the hair flowed without resistance,

as though I were drawing the characters from my mother’s

imagination and into my hands

with each stroke of the brush.


I found the white hairs first,

stiffer and unexpected by the temples.

A bright streak of phosphorescence in

her midnight ocean. I touched them with

reverence, silently folding them into her braids.


I don’t brush my mother’s hair anymore.

When I called her tonight, I heard the echo

of my shaking voice mix indistinguishable with hers.

She started from the ends.

I sat between her knees,

telling her a story to be brushed straight

by deft hands and coiled into something manageable.

1941 / 2017

Something here

transcends time and 

pierces me.  

He stands, 6 feet 2

of half-absent man,

slightly leaning

against the weight of his

duffel bag, in the 

minutes before leaving.


His shorn hair,

this nondescript afternoon

and my shining eyes.


An incomplete thought 

settles heavy on my sternum.

This is all more I think


than kissing 

goodbye under the fluorescent 

lights of a dorm room.  

More than a plane flight

or his nights in rooms

I will never know.


I think this might be a dance.

The steps come to me slowly,

falling through generations,

like a spoon through honey.

I raise my hand to the softness

of the back of his neck,

knowing that he must now slide his hand

along the waist of my dress.


This dance was practiced

before there were wars to be fought,

before the word goodbye was known.

Perhaps it was born 

when lips were created to be kissed,

and when bodies were created to be 

longed for.


This dance was refined 

by the feet of my  

great-grandmother

and her mother 

and all the women who 

said goodbye to their men.

Who mourned the part of them

that receding into the distance

as the plane or bus or ship left.

The ones who learned

the weight of waiting

of changing, of finding 

within themselves

the strength they feared losing.  

This is Vietnam and Iran

Troy and the Western Front.  

This is the dance I was never

taught, that runs in my veins


He bends as I rise on tiptoe

catching me in his arms.

My skirts swirl around us,

my breast swells with pride.

The kiss lasts until my calves burn,

and I speak the last words of the script.


“Take care of yourself out there”

            she says

About the Author

Maya Roe

Website

Maya Roe was raised in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and currently lives on Mount Desert Island. She enjoys swimming in the ocean at night, baking pie from scratch, and finding good books of poetry at thrift stores. Her work has been published in the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as a few anthologies.