POETRY by Maria Dikcis
Woman at Her Toilette
My grandmother collects used tea bags to dye her hair. She does not smell like tea, but her hands are the same shade of brown as oxidized chamomile. I walked in on her once, barefooted and with a towel around her shoulders in the bathroom, vigorously rubbing the wet leaves into her head. The sight of old women’s feet makes me dream about a brain rolling back and forth on a bed of up-turned needles. I wanted to walk away, but something about the way she was humming and flicking off the leaves that fell onto her face made me stay to witness how the routine would end. So standing in the doorway, I thought of our favorite Teppanyaki chef scoring his grill top down with a metal sponge to remove the leftover grime of a family who ate there before us. My grandmother was there that day, whistling and clapping for the steaming onion volcano with a single piece of rice stuck in the whiskers on her chin. Everyone noticed this, but could not find a good reason to mention it. They talked about the smoke that would settle into their clothes for weeks instead. When the tea leaves had given up all their color, my grandmother returned her glasses to her face as she backed away from the sink. She said the words, “Hey kiddo,” waving to herself in the mirror. I had never noticed before how much her voice sounds like a howl.
* * *
Station Briefly, the Seasons
I peel the pink and white skin
off the horizon. Lay its slow heat
onto the field under your boots.
Two tablespoons baking soda. One cup milk.
The lemon soap scent
of my grandmother’s house
pricked its way into my nose.
Can it open? This blister of spaces
tucked into a corner of memory
with the sleeping cat. The rough brick
of the fireplace that crumbled
when we scratched it.
The stitches on your forehead.
I counted them for you.
We lit tea candles
and put them out
for guests who did not show up.
The first lovesick pain was littered
with the memory of moth-bitten tights.
My grandmother hemmed the seam
I tore while looking for you
in the lemon tree.
I did not find you.
What is this bird offering its own skull
in my palm?
A photo album wore at the spine.
It’s still raining in that photo
of us on the sheep farm.
You looked down to find your own hands
braiding wet corn silk,
unexpectedly. My shoe slipped off
and I watched as you picked it up
from the ground.
Tripping into an echo of the backyard well
where I met you, reflected
on the water’s surface with tree
branches like damaged veins.
We could not recognize
each other’s faces in the wood pile
and stacks of old newspapers then.
I loved you on the front lawn,
looking up the road, eyelashes quiet
against the sun. Our backbones
wedged between two fence posts.
I locked the gate, you sharpened the ax.
* * *
Sorry I forgot to bring the cake
I made, five-layer hummingbird
with no frosting—your favorite
since the days you collected
insects and pinned their wings
onto a series of corkboards.
I’m coming to see you
in my dress made of silk
that feels like doll hair, but
I wonder what it means
when you have two different
shoes on in a dream, as I did
last night in my own.
When I come, we’ll bring the glass
chessboard out and wonder
which piece will be the first
to crack, our spilled milk rims scarring
the grain of the table, as grey light
from the TV makes our faces soft
as ghosts on alkaline diets.
The wind drooping through the curtains
will be a bowed lip, sweet and agonizing,
hiding serrated teeth that bite
into our throats craning stiffly
over the stuffed leg of lamb.
I do believe dying is just like
picking out the right tie.
You’ll know when you see it.
Maria Dikcis (MAPH ’13) was born and raised in the Chicago area. After MAPH, she hopes to enter a PhD program where she can focus her studies on modern and contemporary poetry and poetics. Outside of the academy, her main interests include drinking exotic teas, taking winding strolls with friends, and unearthing as many food establishments in Chicago as she can.