On Linda Ann Trenton Her waist had always been a dainty thing, a little bell that rang out as she swayed over her children’s cribs with slumber songs. But after they were grown she wanted lace and silk and bone all bound with French stitching into a corset so that she could train herself to shrink, becomingly. And with such practice as the years and straps allowed she whittled herself to an hourglass and farther still, so that her husband’s hands could meet around her waist. It made him swoon. When she became well-known, they posed like this for magazines that touted elegance of bygone years. Now she is sixty-eight, still cinched into a twelve-inch black corset, adored by men and girls alike who pine for stalwart femininity. Oh bowels and lungs, oh liver, stomach, pancreas. Oh soft muscles, pushed in some other cage, and breath that can’t support a solid voice. Linda Ann, I want to hold your body. At the International Dairy Championships I’m most proud of the six pounds of parmesan cheese I ate in four minutes, in Nice. I’m not cocky, though. Sitting next to me is Manny, hot dog King, who stares me down, then turns to the flan piled to our foreheads, flanked by extras in their tin pans. When the whistle blows, I go nose-first, each clot of custard sucked down mightily. Manny swats up the next pan. My potential rule, next to this khan, is failing. I’m not a quitter, though. Self-control is my best feature. With prayer, I double efforts, inhale platefuls like mountain air, until I hear the crowd screaming my name, tongues unrolled and maybe jealous. Victory is mine. The pert whistle docks back in. My fists shoot up, cavalier. From the Casebooks of Dr. Gerardo Lozada It is true, she was only five the first time she gave birth. Her spindle body’s curious girth scared her mother enough to drive a neighbor’s car to the bright hive of Lima. Tight hospital berths. It is true she was only five the first time she gave birth. A six pound boy was thriving, getting ready to unearth himself. Together, they were worth the knife. They both survived. It is true, she was only five. On Completing the Smallest Painting in the Western Hemisphere My hand is a giant next to the fine brush tip, the thumb- nail-sized canvas on which a girl opens a door in the middle of the sky, looks down on a field: poppies. You can only see her with a magnifying glass and strong light, her world always moving away, blooming inside itself, the common eye passing over, poorer. In Response to His Feat of Pulling a 2-Ton Car for 10 Meters by Ropes Attached to His Lower Eyelids Because they would not buy me a drum set Because even sailors need entertainers Because they would not hand over the keys Because (no pun intended) I am facing my fear of being torn open Because my field of vision has grown considerably Because you don’t want to know what’s done to me in my dreams Because pushing known limits is what we were born for Because it makes my mother proud and terrified Most Vows The first time we met, my hair was bobbed and banged, it was below zero, I was leaving the grocery, hatless, swearing holy Mary into the knife-air. Blue was the color of the stranger’s Toyota, expired state tags, just closing his truck full of groceries. Yes is what I said when he offered a lift. Saying yes always puts you right where you are. The engine bobbed to life. State your name, I nudged myself, and leaving the lot together I scanned him, found him beautiful: blue- black hair like the movies and a twisted nose. Mary, he said, is the best of names. If I were a Mary Alice I’d monogram things. And yes is what he said when I asked him in for a piece of blue- berry pie and a bob of whiskey. When I sat on his lap, he didn’t leave, as a frightened man would, but spoke of his stint in the state penitentiary, and I told him about my mother’s state at 16, how she ran away with a carnival that came to town, gave birth to me on a merry- go-round and cracked a gold pole. I told him two free birds like us should travel, leave the U.S. for some Yes country like Spain, with its bobbing toreadors, or the quince trees of Portugal, or India’s Blue City. Then I undid my blue- stitched heart and guided his fine, stately hand in. When I bobbed my face down to his, we soldered, made merry under the kitchen table. We sang yes as if it was the only word. That night, instead of leaving he brought his groceries in. The next time we ventured out, leaves still under snow, was to the courthouse. We wed again in Jersey for my blue mother. Then bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and said yes again in each country we wound through. What state could help but recognize our twin flames? We’ve married sixty-two times now. If you hadn’t had that bob, he says, if I’d left five minutes early. His favorite statements are questions. One forelock of blue-black dips as we dock at Corfu. We marry and marry. We yes and yes. Our linked hunger bobs. Harry Varnekee, 84, Grows the World’s Widest Apple I am always loving my wife. That year, especially, we would go out to the fruit trees, like some afterlife, but with blossoms. In that pink snow we were passionate. Later, we would walk in grass-sweet silence until the air got low with rain. I would recite poetry to her: Unlock your heart, yellow bird and We are filled with dance even after our children have left us and our clocks wind down. Some nights we drank tea with anise and mint in the orchard when the moon was high and summer too hot to sleep. We must have glanced at every bough and upturned root by July. It was our attention that made them swell. After the experts of produce visited, verified that the largest was big as a hen and smelled like roses, after the photos, we cut into its blue- veined whiteness. What we ate tasted like bells.
Laurel Bastian has work in or forthcoming from Margie, Puerto del Sol, Tar River Poetry, Cream City Review, and Nimrod among others. She was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, is on the faculty at Madison College, and runs a creative writing program in a men’s correctional facility near Madison, Wisconsin.
Acknowledgment: “On Completing the Smallest Painting in the Western Hemisphere,” which appears here as one of Laurel Bastian’s Broken Records, originally appeared in Anderbo.