Saturday, November 6, 2010

Looking For That Five-Dollar-Bill

Father was an artist
painting undressed women
up the stairs
in a hidden part of
the museum
where every Saturday
entrusted with my
little brother my
seven year old self
would see a Childrens' Show
and then wander through
the hall of mummies I
quickly in dread, my brother fascinated
by dry lifeless artifacts
walk through the dim lit display
hall to the bright cafeteria
for a snack and a meet up with
my father who was an artist
painting undressed women,
models, upstairs somewhere

One time a model came
wrapped in a soft brown robe
touching the tops of worn brown
sandals - her toenails shining
her long hair falling
in waves down her back
She sat by the window
alone drinking hot chocolate
a living painting off canvas
now probably cold from standing
around artists and their paints

On that Saturday he handed
me that five-dollar-bill
and I held it tightly in
my hand ... as he walked up
those metal studio steps and
we together pulled open
the metal door back into
the polished marble echoes
of our footsteps... down the
corridors passing paintings
not half as good as his
peeping down from the top floor
through the winding spinning
staircase down to the Childrens' Theatre
and three black screens that all
said nothing more than
Closed Today.

The time passed quickly I started
us back at the top staircase to
look at each painting in their turn
My brother happy as long as he got
to stand for a time at the top
of the spiral staircase and throw pieces of paper
from the sign I hadn't seen him tear
mesmerized he rolled and watched his tiny
paper spheres floating down through seven levels
imagining he could "kill someone"
if they should get hit...POW, he whispered
remembering his museum voice for his murderous musing

By the hand, I pulled him with me after a few
minutes of his little boy nonsense
my contained, mature seven-year-old
and came upon some watery impressions
thin, clear colors shimmering in
white light bouncing from bright
marble, situated safely at the corner
where my brother could sit happily in sight
punching the air in some imaginary fight
with his always available bad guys

I stood lost in one particular
painting, water-colored water
flowers, floating into a
forever horizon

"I'm hungry," said my brother and
on my nurse's watch I could see
that it was time
I opened my hand to him
and jolted, spine iced, heart fast
felt his hot hand already so big it almost
filled big, hot, damp and heavy in my one hand
and my other hand,
my five-dollar-bill hand
swinging open, clean, dry
and empty

"I'm hungry"...he said my little brother
entrusted to my care as
my father who was an artist
painted undressed women, models
somewhere, far away and up high
with other painters
"I'm hungry."
"I'm looking for something first"
and we walked
those marble museum floors
empty on that cold December
Saturday... walked them
our footsteps mocking us,
as we quick-stepped, remembering
not to run
until colors ran and the
Mummy corridor beckoned
rictus grins unfrightening
blinded now to anything but
white marble tiles
retracing steps again
and again expecting
at any moment
to see a flash of
green waiting
where it had slipped
waiting, my five-dollar-bill
entrusted to my hand
each finger closed by
my father who was
an artist painting
undressed women, models,
far away and above

And then, sweet relief
running uncaring now
time shortening,
to the reception desk
on tiptoe gripping the
black marble counter with
one five-dollar-empty hand
and the other hanging onto
my brother
I asked, relief sweetly flowing
as water-colored water
flowers... "Did anyone
turn in a five-dollar-bill?"
Waiting for her certain smile
seeing her ready reach under the counter
feeling the crease of the paper
already in my palm - tasting the
cold chocolate milk in a carton
and then
she looked
down, eye to eye
and blank as black marble

Just "No."
Nothing else.
My father is an artist painting
undressed women,
models...I mouthed soundless
Stunned in the monumental
marble museum -
alone and suddenly smalled
in the pooling echoe of her
mummifying marginalization


  1. I read this poem out loud to my 12 year old daughter and she loved it. She's asked me to print it for her to share with her homeschool literature class this week. Is that okay with you? Thanks- really enjoying everyone's work on PAD.

  2. PKP, my 12 year old daughter loved this poem when I read it aloud to her. She wants me to print it so she can share it with her homeschool literature class. May I? I am enjoying your work, and the work of all the PAD poets. Thank you.

  3. Dear Cybele.... Please tell your daughter that as a former English teacher (before I pulbished and then became a psychoanalyst) and as a former 12 year-old who enjoyed reading and writing poetry, I would be MOST honored to have her share my poem with her homeschool literature class. I would be delighted to hear any of their comments as well, and would be happy to publish them on my blog.

    I am unsure whether to welcome you or welcome you back to PA or The Street as I and others have come to call it... In either event it is a pleasure to enjoy your work.