Martha Phelan Hayes


For Joanna 1949-2000

It’s probably best
we didn’t know
the significance of the date,
as we hunted Manhattan
for fishnet stockings
and the long impish skirts
that would let a bit
of sexy ankle flash
when we stepped
out of a cab or floated
up a fight of stairs,

that exactly one year later
you would be
caught so suddenly,
the way a black, silk,
cocktail dress
might slip
from a hanger
and land in an
form—a puddle
at the bottom
of a dark
closet floor.

Published in Theodate: The Poetry Journal of Hill-Stead Museum. Spring, 2013.



Satin and Lace

Decades since she’s rinsed blood
or semen out of marital sheets,
my mother picks up the lace-trimmed
satin panties, brushes the back of her hand
across their silky fabric. Her eyes wander,
though not to the price tag because she has
already started walking towards
the cashier, past the faux Christmas
tree, the white lights creating a
quickly vanishing galaxy on her humped
back, her free hand fumbling
in her bag for her wallet.

Perhaps, then, back
to a dark-haired boy. A dance
maybe, his hand pressed
into the small of her back. Or possibly
more, in a bed as narrow as her young world,
his clumsy fingers finding the lace border,
sliding beneath it like the sun when it appears
to sink into the depths of the opaque ocean,
into miles of the vast unknown. His thumb
on her hip bone, breath on her neck,
satin and lace discarded, tossed
onto the wooden floor, lying
alone in the penumbral light.

Published in Fresh Ink Literary Journal. Spring, 2011.



War Games
(At the entrance to the U. S. Naval Academy)

When I see you standing guard,
marine cap shading your face
from an immaculate Annapolis sky
and its autumn-toasted sun,
I recall the same sun
that set on my childhood,
the war games we played.

Aping miniature soldiers
we had dumped out of clear bags,
we would line up on the small
embankment we called a hill,
run and hide behind cold plastic
guns and young forsythia.

Inside our houses, brand new ranches
carved into an apple orchard
the builders named MacIntosh Road,
our mothers heard our cries
through open windows and café curtains
as we shot each other dead on new green lawns.

We’d have the killing done before they called us in for dinner,

into a clean house,
into a kitchen that smelled
of meat and vegetables and spilled
milk from our baby siblings,
in from the hunger we dropped
outside with our bayonets and nurses’ kits,
in from the dark that landed on our lawns
and seemed to light the warm lamps
in our small bedrooms.

“What kind of gun is that?” my friend asks.

Though you clutch it a bit, you answer,
unsure of him, the Shakespeare scholar,
the writer, the almost a Viet Nam vet.
As if he would have any use for a gun.

“Your age?” we ask.
“Your likelihood of going to Iraqi?”
“Not until next year.”

Your mother, I imagine.
Her kitchen, her meat,
and her vegetables, waiting
on the table for you.

Published in Poets Against War. V2N1 Summer, 2013.

© Martha Phelan Hayes

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