Lisa Shirley has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Sarah Lawrence College.  She has been published in several places, included Sidewalks, The Carleton Miscellany and The Interlochen Review.  She is sansei (third generation Japanese American) — her mother’s family came from Kyushu in the early 1900s.  She currently lives just outside New York City and works as a librarian to support her poetry habit.



Reunion Blues

There is something boring about me.
I mean, I have no idea how to get a gun and I have never
bought crack ­­– is there a brochure I can pick up?
People on the street never approach me if their business is the least unseemly,
but my friends come back from a walk in the park
with flyers for  “Big Daddy’s Piercing Parlor – bifurcation a specialty.”

I’m good with directions though,
I know how to drive from Minneapolis to Albuquerque without getting lost:
take 35W south to Texas, turn right. 

Maybe this is just mid-life kicking –
I am 38 . . . but I don’t smoke.

So I’m 38,
never married, no kids,
don’t have a job or a PhD.,
don’t have Siamese cats and live in the Berkeley Hills with a lover.

No money for a Porsche, even at 38,
so I’ll have to be satisfied with my first leather coat,
black and buttery smooth with a scent so delicate
it catches me only when I move.
Satisfied with the red hair dyed
to make me look like the woman I never was,
but someone passing might think, just perhaps, that I am.


After Chemo

                 for my mother, Hana Sonoda

She wears her skin lightly,
just covering the brightness of her bones.
As she walks towards the altar,
her skull gleams through a halo of hair
like the relics encased in candlelight.

Alabaster Wednesday – ashes
lowered onto her forehead shining with sweat.

Later, awake while the moon sleeps,
she lies coiled in the heavy night,
she traces the swell,
the rise under her skin, still growing.

And she dreams
her fingernails longer,

sharper – she has the strength
to reach in and tear it all out.

This Lent she will give up everything.


An Almost Perfect Day

My mother lies still on the sofa – not really
a sofa, a futon on a wooden frame that folds
into a bed.  My mother lies still on the futon.  From Kyushu,
she brought these padded cotton mats, the covers spread
with peonies.  My mother lies so still 
on the futon.  The Japanese don’t have a real “F”,
more “H” mixed with “F” – “Huhfah” – “futon:”
(my mother lies still) difficult to say –
a futile huff.  And I’m waiting
for my sisters.  I called Susan.  No,
Laura, my real sister, biological sister. 
Laura will pick up Susan.  If they each drove alone,
they’d be here so much
sooner.  My mother unmoving
and unmovable behind me
while the sky begins
to lighten.  It’s clear, I can tell, even without
a lot of sun, even though the moon
has gone down.  The sky is clear
and I think it will be . . . – my mother –
the first time in two weeks – clear,
no snow, warm
for December, – the futon 
an almost perfect day:
mother –  a day for winter coats left
unzipped,  a day for thin
gloves, a day for scarves draped
just for the look, a day
for anything.



I hate fall.  It has nothing to do with changing leaves,
      the wind sharpening from the North, or the short days or the coming snow.

No, I hate fall because three years ago, from September on,
I watched my mother die – I saw her skin loosen and her body shrink
until she was no longer my fat, round-faced mother,
until she was no longer my fat mother watching TV while we eat dill pickles,  pepperoni and
       barely-cooked steaks smothered in garlic salt,
until she became shaky and frail, slapping her legs when they wouldn’t carry her, saying,
      “Stupid, stupid!” as if her body were a child to be shamed into working,
until she became like a chick, eating the painkillers and the vitamins, the shark cartilage and
      the papaya enzymes I held out to her.

I hated all of this: I hated being alone and not knowing what to do,
and I hated that whatever I did, she continued dying,
and I hated her because she continued dying,
and I hate myself because I think she finally chose death when she saw her dying was too hard
       on me,
and I hate myself because I wish she had died earlier, before I quit my job and moved home,
and I hate her because she smoked and maybe brought this on us both,
and I hate that it was me – that I couldn’t disappear and let my sisters, or my brother, take over,
and I hate myself because I wish that she had just continued growing thinner and thinner, never
      quite reaching the vanishing point, that the pain continued in her forever because, in the
      end, her dying wasn’t too hard on me,
and I hate her because she couldn’t continue dying. 

And this is why I hate fall
because every day I remember the last night –
sitting in the dark – 4 am – waiting for the paramedics –
listening to her breathing and every day I remember
that I never thought to cover her bare feet –
even after she said, “I’m cold.  I’m so cold.”