Roxanne Cardona was born in New York City. She has had poems published or forthcoming in One Art, Pine Hills Review, Mason Street, Constellations, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Poetic Medicine, and elsewhere. She has a BA/MS from Hunter College, MS from College of New Rochelle. She was an elementary school teacher and principal in the South Bronx. Roxanne resides in Teaneck, NJ, USA with her husband.
Lit on Fire
I scrape off the hard bits of burnt
chicken stuck to our pink dinner plates.
My husband hands me his, says dinner’s
good, kisses my neck, rubs his face all over
my hair. We laugh. After, I can’t help but think
about Mildred, not yet ten, already mother
to her own mother, to sister, brother,
and Sherry, the German Shepard. Her mama’s
brain lit up on epileptic fire, too sick to make
even scrambled eggs. Mildred told me she cooks
now. I picture a charred stovetop, small hands
stirring a meat-filled stew till it’s as thick as a chocolate
milkshake. Mildred said she cleans for everyone.
Maybe, she stands in those salmon-colored skips
she sometimes wears to class; hands deep in water
rinsing off soapy bubbles from stew-soiled plates,
shines each glass. She said last Wednesday
that she sleeps with her arms across mama’s breast
because Mama might wake in a terrible shaking.
Last month, before her mama’s fits, Mildred brushed tempera
paint in tints of nectarine, cinnamon, and early dawn
across a paper pad. Hurried home, her arms filled with colors.
At Night, I have a Dream about Noah
Noah, 15, former student, went missing one September
Between wake and sleep I slip,
through late October, I tumble
as leaves twist in tornados
colored with the stench of decay,
clotted in hues of maroon and orange.
Someone must have seen him, his flight
through the old train, his high five
as he leapt to tap the ceiling
of the dining car, his back, unfurled in red
and white stripes. Have you seen Noah?
He must be so hungry. When I find him,
I’ll give him pretzels, thick as cigars,
salted. I’ll offer juice. Water
for his thirst. Children with purple masks
shout Trick or Treat into the next car.
A boy, maybe fifteen, moves
down the aisles. Noah,
is that you? The waiter tenders
a drink, the color of pale turquoise.
Have you seen Noah? I lost him.
A dead fly floats in my glass. Fifty-two days—
the early news cracks my bedroom silence,
—still missing, wearing a striped shirt,
blue shorts. If someone has seen
this young man—I turn the radio low.
Outside a hurting chill. I hope
it doesn’t haunt me into November.
Noah, February 12TH
I let the rain fall this morning
against my cheek. Icy palms give
me comfort lately, against the stiff
wind of walking. Your mother sits
in my office, the tips of her hair burnt
with grief. She picks up a pile of papers
on my desk done by our second graders,
glued with cut-out hearts, crayon-colored
people, houses with smoke filled chimneys
and pop-up flowers. Noah, you would think
this sentimental. She sifts through them one after
another. Nothing but air sits next to both of us,
rooted in the hope of finding you, your body
alive, thick with breath. Then, our unspoken dread
of another day and another and another —