Leslie Anne Mcilroy
Faith or Wings
— for Danny Morrow
You can have one or the other,
but not both, the peddler said,
dangling his bangles and trinkets —
the promise of so much for so little.
You tried on faith in the crowded square
as he turned his back, avoiding your eyes.
The fit seemed lit with some kind of demon
inside and you took it off, let it fall
shining in the sun’s temper at your feet,
filled with desire to try on the wings,
which were hard to put on over your breasts
and broad shoulders — work and bones.
But once on, they seemed lighter
than even the small grain of hope
you carried each day into the fray
to earn rent and change.
The man still refused to look
as your body rose with the slow
stretch of possibility, arms up
and then out — wide blue reach.
But you needed to pay him, give him
the money due for flight, so you
lowered your arms from the wind’s
carry and waited for the ground.
It did not rise to meet you, only the glint
of the tchotchke seller’s eyes pierced
the sky, his arms unfolding in a gesture
that said, fly, the wings are yours.
If I die today, you will eventually find
the wine bottle in the closet, half full,
half empty. You might feel this is a lie
but really, it’s just a safety net, the way
some people keep an Ativan in their pocket
in case the crowd gets hairy and close.
If I die today, you will spend blue nights
at my laptop reading poems unedited,
emails unsent in a folder called “drafts.”
You will hate me for leaving this unflattering
mess, but then maybe you will tire
of the small heart hurts and move on
to making arrangements — the house,
the dog — knowing I hid nothing worth
hiding, the line drawn like that,
boundaries just east of yours, just shy.
I give you the truth you want
in the way I know to give it,
piece by piece, one bit at a time,
not because I think you can’t take it,
but because shame is a hard thing
to live/love in and even dead, I will wish
I had believed in transparency,
stood up to soldier the half/white lies
to the prison yard, to gaze over
the fence at some kind of voiced
freedom. Even then, I will keep
a little something to myself.
Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space and the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for her chapbook Gravel. She also took first place in the 1997 Chicago Literary Awards Competition judged by Gerald Stern. Her second full-length book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008. Leslie’s poetry appears in numerous publications including Dogwood, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, New Ohio Review, Nimrod International Journal of Prose & Poetry, Pearl and is forthcoming in PANK. Leslie is Managing/Poetry Editor of HEArt — Human Equity through Art (heartjournalonline.com) — and works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her daughter Silas. View poetry & performances at lamcilroy.com.