by Amy Small-McKinney
Beauty was hard for me to find on a spare cot or in the back
of a truck, when I had no home. & then I did,
when beauty had bars on its windows & a Coleus sat on my sill
with its purple hearts & old Tony sold me necessities
& came to know my name & the butcher without a thumb brought a Thanksgiving turkey
to my front door & young Tony upstairs lost a finger in some war, or so he said.
I was happy to hike the flight of stairs to sit with him and talk.
He borrowed a glass vase, nothing more, &
at the nearby market, startled pigs & cheeses hung on racks,
women peddled chestnuts & nutmeg, their voices ancient pigeons promising no hunger.
A Vietnamese restaurant, the place for cheap soup with long noodles & airy leaves floating.
A boat, I could sit for hours & row away from loneliness.
No one knew what they meant to me then.
The green leafy soup stars or the nine-fingered butcher,
his attentiveness filled me like a luxurious meal.
To tell you I was hungry is beside the point, very young,
left home, no choice, love rationed like air.
Now I think I know beauty,
look up at stars, some have names,
are gifts for birthdays.
What I want to say: how little I know of anyone’s life.
We are a country, a world, a universe of division.
We imagine this must be beauty:
Doesn’t everyone love Evie’s homemade Nduja, her hair pulled back in a chignon?
Or this: A woman drinks morning coffee, mistrusts newly leveled fields,
worries for her seed beds.
Or: Summer & a man sits beside the stoop of his sweltering house playing checkers, waits
at least five minutes to move his piece.
& I have found it, at times, when the train rumbles under my window,
its constancy a parliament of beautiful owls, returning.
Amy Small-McKinney won The Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press) for her second full-length collection of poems, Walking Toward Cranes. Most recently, her poems have appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact and are forthcoming in The Indianapolis Review. She facilitates poetry workshops and offers independent study in Philadelphia.