Friday, February 4, 2011

Portrait: Woman


Water drips in the kitchen.

She slow-sips ice tea and inhales
deep on the butt-end of a cigarette.

Two fingertips pressed to her lips,
she sucks on slow suicide, counts
her days, square patterns on wall paper
curling and unglued at the edges.

The laundry’s undone, dishes in the sink,
the stinking trash holds scraps,
leftover from last week.

She seeks redemption from the summer heat
sticking to her skin, the sweat of dreams
melting ice cubes in her half-empty glass.


If you bothered to ask, she’d say,
I’m fine, hon’, and light another
cigarette, smoke twisting from the tip,
dispersing into yesterdays.

She unwinds in the hard-back chair,
mumbling prayers at the kitchen table,
its varnish-worn wood, scarred and
scratched, a road map of where she’s been,
its jagged curves and dead-ends.

Was there ever really a choice?

Was the direction of her days hell-bent somehow?

Inevitable marks and roadways upon her skin,
pulling her to this table, to this hot
pressing space where the predictable drip,
drip, drip reminds her of a clock, and
every so often she empties the bucket.

© Ami Mattison, 2011


  1. Ami, this causes such emotion to arise. The portrait, without the image, is so visual.

    One suggestion, in stanza 2, "she sucks on slow suicide", I would suggest not using "suicide" but let your images carry the implications you've created, maybe something like "she slow-sucks the stub..." The reader already knows tobacco kills. Such a wonderful contrast you create with the smoking vs that "I'm fine, hon', and light another".

    Great use of details.

  2. Great eye, Maureen! And an astute suggestion. I'll work on it. Thanks!

  3. Grim. Must be my mood this morning, FB! ;)

  4. Wow this is GORGEOUS. I really reacted to it, and it's so complete. Awesome awesome writing.

  5. Dante's damned burn and turn forever in the holes they dug in life; the ditch-digger's here, for sure ... But the poem also allows a lot of sympathy for way people are ground down by the limited roads they end up walking out of choice or bad luck. Nicely done. It's like a sepia photograph. - Brendan

  6. Thanks, Amy and Brendan for you kind words!