“Femme Fatale”

Listen to Averill Curdy reading this poem. Be mysterious, she’d say to our reflection. Beneath her hands, my head would nod As she tugged the rat’s-tail comb herky-jerky, Disciplining curls. I wondered what she thought For sixteen years she’d raised? I’d droop My eyelids, toss my hair, practice looking Heartless. Je refuse. I don’t know how Cliches could feel like the very reach And tendon of love. As if with sunbleached eyes, On swollen, bloodied feet, she’d survived— Deserts spread beneath the sky’s denunciation; Rhododendron groves of Himalaya— To bring her message back to our Suburban bathroom. Too late to ask What in her woman’s past those words Might save me from. Another sixteen years, At least, were spent before I learned to be Not act, turning from the mirror to rinse her hair Emerging from the scalp like winter grass. Even days famined by our austere routines Held their germ of beauty, or joy, caught through Our bleached reflections in the window. A woman shrugged polkas from her accordion, Spilling music like coarse sugar; commuters idled In exhaust-borne billows of cottonwood seed, The stubborn evangelists for streams buried by the city. A summons, or permission, a suggestion From the only afterlife we’re given: be mysterious.