Two Poems by Laurel Benjamin

To the Man Who Photographed Nothing But His Wife

You switch to ravens, wings developing
extra vision. You see beyond mundane feathers,

and in the apartment, overcome the dusty stacks
of prints and slides, towers knocked over at night,

plaid robe torn from stumbles into the table
holding five Nikons. Dead on snow,

you position one bird like your wife
when you told her, outstretch your arms,

open your mouth as in sleep. She grew no feathers
to form a V shaped tail, but you tried. When she left

for good you lied to anyone who would listen,
though we all knew how many times

you freeze-framed her. And now, beak steering
outwards, you study the inkwell, black

upon black, winter dotted until you double-vision
the living into the dead. Day not enough,

at night you find their beaks, effervescent,
and their bodies, outlines of women.

*

The Department Store

If you curve around the counters
you can return to your department store—
doors beveled glass, dark metal framed,

gloves folded inside cases, shaped wool hats
on stands. Mothers and daughters hushed
between curtains. You are the one

trying on dresses with your mother.
Hers a velveteen bodice, and yours, you trace
the raised lines of red & green plaid.

Across the aisle a curtain moves aside, folds
of a woman changing her skin,
different than your mother’s pink roses.

A yellow skirt falls onto the floor revealing
lace panties. Who owns it all,
belts tethered to tightened waists.

And your mother. She’s a librarian
who memorizes the plans of your family
as picture books. You’re in her stomach,

then you’re born into these tile-floored rooms
where counter after counter, where
rustled silk, sear sucker.

I have wrung my eyes trying to bring back
the store, wishing I had her metal-tight memory,
yet all I see is how I pushed her aside

then pulled her back from beyond
like we were in a lost world, just the two of us.
Everyone sees me as a hero, and I tried,

but I failed. Thought I could keep her,
could keep myself from submitting to
off-key songs, taking singing classes,

learning Leider because I couldn’t contain
her opera. Maybe that killed her, my not believing
in the heavy voices, the thick velvet.

*

Laurel Benjamin is a San Francisco Bay Area native, where she invented a secret language with her brother. She has work published in Lily Poetry Review, Burningword, Eunoia, South Florida Poetry Journal, Fourth River, among others. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and Ekphrastic Writers, she is a reader for Common Ground Review and has featured in the Lily Poetry Review Salon. She was nominated for Best of the Net by Flapper Press in fall 2022.