LaWanda Walters – Hotel Eden

Walters LE P&W March 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2024.

Hotel Eden, poems by LaWand Walters.

Hotel Eden

to Karen Friedland
I wish you a Joseph Cornell box, one he made himself
from secondhand stores or the five and dime.
With postcards sent from old vacations, cursive letters
in faded blue ink, children’s rubber balls
and mirrors, jacks, magazine pictures
and a fishing cork, somehow he’d devise
the celestial. “White magic,” he called it, the opposite
of the surrealists’ work. A marble in each
of five clear aperitif glasses, set upon one shelf,
a photo of a parrot for Juan Gris.
He finagled in universes and miles of air
and impenetrable secrets, placed them
just exactly right in his basement workshop—
the air, the small compartments painted white
like walls in the tropics, the parakeet in “Hotel Eden”
like a concierge trying to arrange a connection for someone,
holding the end of a coil of wire in its upraised beak,
a regular telephone operator—
Only connect only connect
covered them with glass, made them immortal.
Outside, on the back lawn of the house where he took care
of his brother and mother,
he was cavorting with his true love,
the artist who painted red dots everywhere, Yayoi Kusama,
(there are photographs of them together)
until his strict mother, who liked spying
from her bedroom window, dumped
a pail of water down on their earthly delights.

White-Hearted Water

Her head on the pillow looked something like Beethoven’s—
square-jawed, a beauty once, a flirt, a true musician.
Now her mouth was open for what little oxygen she accepted
as if she were being polite, trying petit-fours at a reception.

She was already far from us, in spite of the brave, raspy
breathings in. And that is why I could not see the dying.
That awful nurse was still there, refusing, in her waspish
rightness, to give her more morphine, looking wide-eyed

at our sinfulness. It sounds like she’s drowning, I pleaded,
and she told us that’s what it was, the lungs filling
with water—and so we sat there as needlessly
as people on a ship watching a flailing mermaid.

Perhaps she was caught on the knot of some wide net,
her arms cool and fattened as flippers, her eyes shut to us.
I touched her gently, afraid I would hurt her,
but she didn’t complain. She’s “still staying,”

my sister said, and we couldn’t believe the nurse’s
statement that “she wasn’t uncomfortable.”
I tried to breathe at that unearthly rate—
like a dolphin’s deciding to stop her own heart.

I couldn’t stand it and went home to bed.
My father and sister saw the final breath.
Though I missed my mama’s dying, they said
she looked the same, her mouth still open

when they took the mask off. She got whiter,
and that was all there was to know. Anne Sexton wrote
that the dead are worse than stone—and it’s true,
there was no way, then, to break through

to the brave, temperamental mother we’d known,
telling us that death, too, would be an amazing
experience, but sharing nothing of it, now, with children,
as she stopped her breathing by the sea at St. Simon’s.


Winslow Homer, Red Shirt, Homosassa, Florida (1904)
Those palm trees Winslow Homer painted, like women
tossing their blue, wild hair just after a shampoo.
On that paper it is always wet, everything is clean
and misty, the result of a tropical rain. Or, no—
the metaphor should be made of paper,
how blue seeps into green, colors
too transparent for forgiveness
and so the foliage blurs. The accident
coincides with the fisherman’s boat.
The smears muddy the turquoise sky
and the painter must hurry to blot
the scene and quit, hang it like laundry,
something caught there with just the time he had
before the colors set and the water dried.

© LaWand Walters

LaWanda Walters earned her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her first book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, was published in 2016 by Press 53 in its Silver Concho Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Georgia Review, Nine Mile, Radar Poetry, Antioch Review, Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The American Journal of Poetry, Laurel Review, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Alligator Juniper, and several anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2015, Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century, and I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe. She received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2020. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, poet John Philip Drury.

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