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Helen lives in Oakland, California, and worked for many years as a psychotherapist. In 2002 she received an M.F.A. from Bennington College. Her first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Helen’s poems can be read and heard online at From The Fishouse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI Online, Amarillo Bay, Arroyo Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Confrontation, Corium Magazine, Crack The Spine, Eclipse, Evansville Review, RiverSedge, Sanskrit, South Dakota Review, Stand, Talking River, TriQuarterly, Runes, ZYZZYVA, Zone 3, and the anthology Best of the Web 2009.

Strategies in Pink | Medicine Chest


Strategies in Pink

They all tell you red is the color
of rage, of primordial anger, but
they’re wrong. The purest,
cleanest flame of razor-brilliant,
quick-slicing rage, it is scentless,
has no image, no sound, nor echo,
it’s pink, sometimes a freezing tone,
sometimes burning, no matter;
there it lives, a small, indefatigable
place in your brain. You’ve been there,
you know it well.


You leaned into those lovely pink scrunched bells
because they demanded attention,
dared you to imagine an evocative, spicy scent,
to name it with precision. You let yourself go,
sucked in— sucker—not to paradise—
but through untold realms of odor—an unclean house,
illness, dying, filthy clothing, rancid smoke, wet dog,
rotten food left in the fridge for seven years,
the sour breath of a red-eyed drunk
unforgotten, leaning in for the kiss.


An old man with two gold teeth digs
through his mountain of shells to find
the biggest, rosiest conch,
the outside rough as bark, the inside
luminous, smooth as porcelain.
Draws his fingers along the flange—
asking, lady, all you want is an empty shell?
Eases his hand deep into the pink spirals
toward the salty, sour home of its animal,
which he ate this morning for breakfast.
Pounded its toughness, soaked it in goat milk,
rolled it in corn flakes, fried in palm oil—
Should have been here, sweet and juicy,
mm-mm-mmm, he says.


Cancerlandia is not a pink regime.
The anthem is not sung in pink.
There are no pink ribbons, balloons,
T-shirts, roses, thoughts, or songs
in the land of cancerlandia.
In fact there are no festivities,
but if there are, you’re not invited.
Roll up your parades and floats,
silence your cheerleaders, take your pink,
every drop of it, and go away.


All verbs now:

Make holes with a pointed instrument
Pierce with a sword
Hit with a missile
Wound with the weapons of irony,
        criticism or ridicule
Cut or perforate
Make a tingling or pinging noise


OOOh, aphids on the pink rose. A seething green
colony of them. Ferocious tiny bodies, vibrant
with passion, passionately sucking.
I pinch them off, an entire village, a county,
a slimy, chartreuse, liquid handful. How easily they yield
their bodies to fingers. The black ants, efficient masters
who farmed, milked, shepherded their aphid kine
from one meaty rose to the next, will they miss
their little cattle? Oh, no, they’ll raise another herd.

First he wanted the tutu, the tights,
and satin slippers, insisted on nail polish
and lipstick, preferred strawberry sherbet,
small carnations, demanded the tiara, the sparkles,
begged for the light flush of rouge, later it was
tunes in A minor, steak medium rare, scent
of Easter lilies, a glass of rosé, flamingos
on the lawn, several ceramic piglets, all things
pink, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.


So yes, I brought home the dress—quivering
in its tissue paper—I was exuberant, and fumbled
the buttons, snagged my zipper. Face-to-face now
in the mirror, it was Oh, again Oh, I’m head to foot
in the hot pink of an overripe watermelon,
my raucous dress spidered with tiny black roses,
and oh Lord, the ruffled pockets, frothy sash,
what was I thinking, a neckline plunging
straight to my old, bony, freckled chest.


Don’t let anyone fool you. The palest pink?
Considering delicate petals, hidden body
crevices, intricate lace, feathers, cashmere,
seashells, swirled icing on the cake,
no, the most fragile pink is the color
that fills the mind, that breath
of relief after a bout of terror seizes,
tightens its grip, stifles breath,
and then lets go. Take my word.


After sunset over the Pacific Ocean, a huge sea
of radiant pink cloud that spills over the horizon
is a languid odalisque of rounded arms, torso,
belly, thighs, and she is uncurling her body
with lazy pleasure,

pillowed between day
and darkness, endlessly reconfiguring her pose

above the sturdy, all-forgiving ocean,
twisting sheets, and dropping hairpins,
hoping for someone, anyone,
to notice

before she’s restored,
diminished, to ordinary cloud mass, going,
going gray, going night.


Medicine Chest

        To Lure the Muse
My mother set saucers of milk and cookies
on the cellar steps for leprechauns, fairies,
the dead, didn’t matter who got there first,
they could squabble for the grub as they pleased.

        Insomnia Cure
These little pills are guaranteed to close
your eyes or your money back, your life
back too, all the riven hours, the spilled
and the spoiled, dumped out at your feet.

        For the Blues
No cure—no matter if they are a them, an it,
or a he; ask them for the next dance, then
the next one and a ride home with the top down.

        Spell Against Rage
Here’s a very fine stopwatch and here’s a mountain
where you must linger until the granite
has been ground to sediment beneath your feet.

        Recipe for Nirvana
A lot of standing around and remembering
morning dew, pillow of stone, green feathers, and how,
if it chooses, heaven will appear any minute now.