After All Utopias Fell, Michael Oatman, MASS MoCA
1978 fell like a display of clay sculptures
onto a tile floor in a house I had yet to inhabit.
All the floors were soft when I moved in
deep pile shag carpet in blues and greens
matching formal drapes in sea foam
as if I still lived along the bay
living room walls covered in antique
white flocked wallpaper in a fleur-de-lis pattern
over paneling that barely adhered to the plaster
the entry black and gold flocked
the upstairs bedroom red and gold.
Built in 1902, the house fell down around the longest owner
was rehabbed in the 60s with echoes
of its earlier use where single women cohabited.
One family after another left for better accommodations
as their incomes increased.
It became a way station.
It was reported to be haunted
but that was more the inhabitants than the walls.
Like those before, it was one of the Victorians we could afford
not a bungalow, but a story and a half
curved oak staircase with stained glass at the bottom.
Our furniture did not match it—
white leather as if boots worn to a disco
before you could dance alone, still needing a partner.
I did not know any better—
married because that was what a woman did
so sex would not be illicit, no thought to that meant
a family with children. Just surrounded myself
with accoutrements of acceptability
and created what I could.
It took six years before I was found out
exposed like the tread on stairs under carpet
gorged by each move of furniture on its way in
and its way out.
I was a woman who had entered a revolving door
to a Horn and Hardart about to close
because no one wanted sandwiches behind glass doors.
They had gone back to aluminum-clad diners
that had been railcars with a skirt
so you could not see the mobility.
Airstream took the model and gave it wheels again
only not for rails but for the new roads
across America in the 50s.
I too wore a skirt to disguise my mobility, a restlessness.
I took off with a tent in the back of my car
when the clay all fell to the floor.
I was going to release myself in a new model.
My first stop was a KOA campground in Taos, NM.
In the middle of the night, the tent collapsed
and I put it back up to a flashlight
pounded the stakes in with a rock
slept on the ground, a cot too much to carry
in the trunk of the 1971 Mercury Comet
name left from the race to space.
It had three on the column I was used to
and the original lime green from the year I graduated
the year I left New Jersey for Colorado the first time
returning five years later.
Utopia had not yet fallen.
It took an elevation of 4,500 feet to do that
breathless when I tried to climb higher.
There was another 10,000 feet I could go.
I never made it to the top on foot
only by tram or motor car
carburetor needing to be adjusted once I arrived.
Marguerite Porete, 14th Century Mystic Burned at the Stake
Flames conquer her veil in strips as if dreadlocks.
She can’t help but look down, hands behind her back
so she can’t bring them up into prayer.
Priests don’t want onlookers’ last image of her to be holy.
A few in the crowd have read her book in Old French,
not the Latin of clergy—ecstasy of a union with God
possible by viewing sacred images for the most ardent of faith.
Is the cleric necessary? they worry.
Coarse cloth at shoulders fastened with a fleur-de-lis,
she is covered in ash as the wind whips up
and drops of rain fall down her nose leaving a streak
that widens across her nostrils into a cross.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.