They Can't Take That Away From Me


by Gail Mazur

The way the blue car spun tonight
on imperceptible ice -- that stop-
time: bare pocked sycamores, the river's
black sheen, the football stadium
empty of Romans, the oblivious sky-
line shining like a festivity --
and, shaken, I could still straighten
the formidable blue invention,
slide the delinquent wheels to a curb;

the way in South China, the car radio
says, believers crowd closetlike shops
to purchase tiny packets of Bear Bile,
a favorite cure-all, while bears go mad
in their abscessing bodies, in cages
barely their height, hurling themselves,
banging their agonized heads at the bars --
lifetimes of pain only, for the dubious
sake of an ancient "medicinal harvest";

the way a mother, stirring sweet batter
in a well-lit kitchen, feels the Pyrex
bowl slip to the floor, and it breaks,
and seeing there'll be no upside-down cake
for dinner, shrieks at her little boy
cowering in the doorway, Look what
you made me do!
and lunges to smack him,
the way she'd struck yesterday and last week,
though he's as still as a stalled truck;

the way I felt last night when she hung up
on me. I knew I'd hurt her because her mind
's gone, and I refused for my life
to let mine follow again; the way I held
the dead phone, relieved to be not
listening at last -- the memory of all that,
no no
-- relieved, selfish, and empty:
wouldn't I choose if I could not to be human,
or any other mammal programmed for cruelty?

Gail Mazur is the poet-in-residence of the Emerson College M.F.A. program. She is the author of (1986) and (1995).

The Atlantic Monthly; March 1998; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Volume 281, No. 3; page 70.

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