Debra Kaufman



She was a reader
of fashion magazines.
He was a leader
of reckless young men.
Impossible her name should be Destiny.
He was called Johnny,
forever. Her mother said,
marry, him, why not,
a wedding, a home, sure, that’s life.
Her father said neither one thing
nor another. She draped herself
in layers of scarves,followed
the make-up tips of stars.
The mirror, her friend, suggested
one day you could be one of them.
Johnny wanted only her body,
which she gave as a blessing,
saving her true self for the future,
which stretched beyond this hick state
of corn and beans, corn and beans
and the smell of shit and terror and rage
that blew in from the hog farms
south of town. To board a bus and head—
where? All she needed
was a godmother who would say,

First thing, kid, go, and go now;
second, know it will be hard;
third, I have a friend
in the city who can help you.


He’s good for

He’s good for backrubs
and fastening a necklace,
she said, and paused
just long enough.
As for the other. . .
He hung down his mulish head,
felt shame’s slow burn
at the truth—her truth—
spilled like wine on the tablecloth,
her breath flickering the candlelight,
her guests caught holding
their silver aloft.
I’m teasing, she said. Ha.
Showing her neat white teeth.


Double Star

Who’d have seen destiny in Red Light, Green Light,
played in the wide yards of Cairo, Illinois?

The drift of lightning bugs and the glow
of his parents’ cigarettes drew me to him.

The river shimmered below.
Because we were brown-eyed in a land of blue,

people mistook us for brother and sister,
making us secretive and wishing it so.

Deep in the orchard we learned how
the slight touch stirred.

We counted the years until ceremony could absolve
our double wickedness.

Our fathers smiled tight from under identical gray felts
coming and going from work.

Our mothers had their own ways of driving us—
his with her coarse laugh, dark roots, red lips;

mine clinging, mistily reading,
The bride wore a princess-cut gown of diamond-white organza...

We eloped to Missouri, the show-me state.
My belly slowly swelled.

I told him I’d name her Celeste,
seeing him and me, our summer nights,

in her dusky eyes. Soon enough
there was fighting, then a splitting off.

He drives long-distance, I say,
though he hasn’t returned.

His parents blame me.
You’ll die soon enough
from all that smoking, I think, so why don’t you

shut up and just hold your grandchild?

My daughter, Celeste, of the heavens and earth.

Yesterday the wind off the river, oh, how it cut.



He stormed out
and in his wake
she felt again
her heavy, immutable,
country self, roots
spreading from her feet
through the floorboards
deep down into clay.

Then, in a breath,
something new:
a tingling in her toes,
rising up through her legs,
spreading out into
the core of her self;
she was a tree planted,

in her belly
a nest of bees humming,
honey in the making,
rich and slow-moving, flowing
upwards, saturating her heart;

her arms floated up, reached
skyward, branches swaying;
in her throat a vibration
that poured out from her mouth,
and the sound—

the spoken essence of the universe—
rang out like a bell
calling her home;
it moved up to her brow,
erasing the crease there,

up through the crown of her head
where white light streamed out
and shattered into prisms,
refracting the light that poured
in through the windows,

and she too was light, and she laughed
and thanked him for his leaving.