Susan Steger Welsh: Two Poems
In Which the Poet Defends Her Right to Paint Her Nails | Blessing of the Animals
In Which the Poet Defends
This is for the one who scoffed, How serious
Her Right to Paint Her Nails
can she be? She wears nail polish!
as though nail polish were somehow to blame
for corporate greed, urban sprawl, action movies,
over-fertilized lawns, stressed-out parents
who slap their children in grocery stores.
Perhaps you had a mean teacher
with lacquered nails. Or is it
your position that true poets are above
this kind of frivolous gesture, these small
vanities? I call as witness Mark Doty,
who writes, Every sequin's
an act of praise. Rita Dove,
ex-poet laureate, seen in public with painted nails.
The quirky classicist Anne Carson,
her alternating fingers tipped
with iridescent green, purple, blue
described in New York Times Magazine.
Please study the weapons
of the accused, a row of small bottles:
Number 91, Skinlight; Number 8,
Rosewine; Number 6, Rococo Mocha.
Your honor, I was seduced.
Please enter into evidence this picture
from the delivery room
the wizened little face of my firstborn,
mine astonished, shining,
my hand with bright red nails
curved around the pale
blanket. Did you know the Chinese
consider red the color of good fortune?
Under cross examination I will also admit
the cotton candy color
I painted our dining room walls.
But lookwhen the candles are lit,
how it flatters all the faces, makes them glow.
Even yours. Sit down. Join us.
There's pesto from the garden,
red tulips in a vase.
And when the dishes are cleared
and we're waiting for coffee to brew,
my daughter will play Haydn's Concerto
in F Major, her fingers a blur
on the keyboard, her sparkling
blue nail polish a river of joy.
Blessing of the Animals
Has this ever happened to you?
My friend's voice on the machine.
You're pouring a cup of coffee
and look down to see a tree frog at your feet,
trying to make itself the color of the kitchen floor.
Well, no. Not exactly.
I get dead June bugs on the porch,
promptly on the first. A stray feather
on the sidewalk. Once, a headless Monarch butterfly,
wings spread as if in flight,
its survival strategy of tasting bad
not working quite fast enough.
It seems I am meant to do something with all this,
but what? Growing up, we had a mother who said,
If you get a dog, you'd better get one that can cook
and clean, because I'm leaving. We never did,
but she left anyway, dying on the feast day
of St. Francis of Assisi, when the church fills with cats
and dogs barking, their toenails slipping
on the polished stone floor. A rabbit named Oreo,
some turtles, a gerbil, all carried in
to be blessed. Who is it that needs
blessing? They say half-frozen bees
crawled toward St. Anthony to be fed in winter,
but I find it's me who freezes, like the time
I was reading James Wright aloud
from the back seat, and my friends' car hit a squirrel.
I felt the small thump, saw the driver wince
from the corner of my eye, but I didn't stop.
I kept going, bearing down on the line where he breaks
Susan Steger Welsh is the author of Rafting on the Water Table, a New Rivers Press Minnesota Voices Project winner that was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award in 2000. She has been awarded a SASE/Jerome Fellowship, a 2000 Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship, and the first place poetry prize in the 1999 Lake Superior Writers contest. She lives in a 90-year-old house with her husband and two children in St. Paul, where she works as a writer.