Picture This and other poems

by Cynthia Atkins

Picture This


Three sisters just from swimming,

bathing caps, fresh cut bangs—

sitting at the pool’s edge. This safe notch

in time hailed like a taxicab in the rain,

and memory makes it sedate

as a lawn chair, quelled

and awash in Technicolor.

Think picket fences. Think polka-dot sundresses.

Smiles and lemonade implied

for later the same day. Imagine the mother

in tortoise-shell glasses. She never gets wet

above the waist, keeps her petite figure

like a secret thing at the back

of the drawer—for future reference.

Imagine the lens, one pupil behind

the lens. At home, two muddy shoes

depressed or manic at the back door?

Life offers possibilities—a kiss with

a fist or a salesman’s pitch? Now tinctured,

with time, bereft of manners.

Viewer, if we knew then what

we know now, would we have kept a safe

distance, nulled time and space?

Would we have considered the mood,

lighting, TV channels, sofa positions?

Aperture, pathos and frame.

The automatic pairing of depth and perception.

The shadows are able to steal

a moment and lie, easy to snap

as Tupperware. Viewer, as long as

you’re here, recall the ride home,

hot vinyl sticking to thighs, a fly buzzing

around the silence

between the noise. Viewer, it’s uncanny,

how illness can be unseen, unnoticed

as a snag in the upholstery. Later the same day,

in matching sundresses, imagine

these sisters winching

the knots into tightly

woven nests of macramé.






Risking everything, they awaken you to

to the night’s unfinished business—Ear-worming

the dew with a quiet fury. Weary hitch-hikers snubbing

a ride to your hit-and-run childhood.

Teeth grinding tin-cans,

or like a lone harp plucked, we were shirtless

and naughty in the back of his Mustang—Jailbait

is a word in a song that will haunt you

at lunch-time. Static radio of love gone wrong.

The natal waiting room

was a loud jiggling of keys—then silent

as a kibbutz of prayers.

All the necessary evils were there.

A cough in another room, a nascent noise lifting

the fog like scraped paint from a door.

Your empty bed gone dark

and cold, a winter potluck. The trees make no apology.

Only the sympathy of wind-chimes, a child crying

on a swing. That dog you want to hold is hiding

in the cushions of memory—

Restless dog, still not housebroken.

(Someone impaling the upholstery.)

Wave it now as your passport

to the old country— (the way home by heart,

the broken bracelet left on the dresser

of your girlhood)—Loss and ache like the rain

falling from a pen and ink drawing you found,

someone else had crinkled

into sound and tossed away.






Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

—Martin Luther King


Suitcases packed, the dog carted off —We piled in the paneled Station Wagon holding tight toourdream pillows.  A week-long life-style.  The open road stretched out, warm as comfort food. Rid us our ruts, our tangled roots—A whole system concocted for consoling our wounds.  No seat-belts, giddy with candy wrappers, car games.  Then  wishes were hushed on stars.  Miles of roads, gas stations, Vacancy signs—all pin-pointing the emptiness we left at home.  It’s hot. The singing has stopped. The Wonder bread sandwiches sweat in the Frigidaire cooler. Tomorrow, my sisters and I will rummage seashells to find the hidden secrets inside something so small. O Technicolor, O Camera, please give us back our posed snapshots of happiness and calm. We came to this inosculate horizon to find smiles frozen in time—water lapping at our ankles, like the dogs we left behind.


On the way home, a girl in pig-tails shows her tan line on a billboard. (It’s 1968, no seat-belts, no pedophiles?).  The smudge of soot on her buff cheek, like a scorch left on an ironed shirt. Tonight at the Holiday Inn, we will be doodling on the bed when the flickering black and white TV wallows in muted grains of eidos: “Martin Luther King was shot on a balcony at 6:01 pm, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.”  We will pack our souvenirs of grief for a sound older than dinner—At home, the dog bellows a long, bluesy howl, the ache springing forth like cotton balls from the bottle.



CYNTHIA ATKINS received an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her first collection of poems, “Psyche’s Weathers” (Wordtech, 2007) was recently featured on Verse Daily. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Letters & Commentary, BigCityLit, BOMB,  Caketrain, Cold Mountain Review, Del Sol Review, Denver Quarterly,Harpur Palate, Inertia, The Journal, North American Review, Sou’wester, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily,. She holds residencies from the VCCA and Breadloaf Writer’s Conference and currently teaches creative writing at Roanoke College, and lives in Rockbridge County, VA on the Maury River with her family.


Art by Mel Blossom


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