Poems by Laura Boss

Family Promises

When I was sixteen,
my mother made me promise
not to tell my father
he was dying of pancreatic cancer.
She made me promise
not to tell my thirteen-year-old brother.
She asked me to care for my father
while she was teaching since
I was home by 12:30 from
my double session high school
while she didn’t get home
from Public School 11 until after four.
My father had a naturally sweet disposition
and I learned how pain could change even
the sunniest of natures.
I learned to lie that fall
I lied to my father who wanted to believe
he’d recover from painful “pancreatitis.”
I lied to my brother.
I learned to lie by omission.
I smiled and lied to
my best friend, my teachers,
my friends on the school paper
when they asked me if I were all right .
I even lied to my mother and told
her I was not depressed as
she managed to teach and do lesson
plans and spend nights with my
father as the tiny black and white tv droned
on — mostly Yankee games that he couldn’t
focus on as we all waited for the nurse who
lived next door to arrive with the morphine shot
prescribed by her husband a resident at
Memorial Hospital in Manhattan.
After my father died ,
my mother spiraled into depression
though she continued to teach.
My brother turned atheist.
I learned to keep smiling
and lying and for years saying I was fine
no matter what random disaster
plummeted toward me
and those I loved.

“Family Promises” first appeared in Shrew Literary Magazine


I think how three weeks before surgery
I thought (as I cleaned my apartment in case I
didn’t make it so my mother wouldn’t have a
stroke when she first saw my place) how one of the
first things my first husband’s
second wife did after their marriage was to
get two places in a mausoleum so they would be
“together forever”(though in the traditional Jewish
religion I’m still married to him since we never had
a Jewish divorce—just the usual civil one)

And I think how I don’t have a place to be buried—
no plot way out in Long Island  by my grandparents—
No plot nearer in Queens where my father and his parents
and his sisters are buried with only room left for my mother

What a pain for my kids at the time of grieving to
have to find some plot of dirt to dig me into—
How civilized if I am cremated and save them the
time and effort as well as cemetery trip—
lights on all the cars way out to Long Island
but the air conditioners probably off since the
cars are overheating from the ten-mile an hour
funeral procession—No, perhaps a plot closer
to their apartments –but then so costly for them—

Yes, better and cheaper to be burnt up and my
ashes given to them in a tasteful urn in brown clay—
or perhaps pink enamel with little rosebuds with
daisies if they want to spring for it—
to be placed on a mantel

But whose mantel
Will my sons fight over who will get my ashes—
Will the fight be over who has to keep this depressing urn
on their mantel ( neither has a mantel)—
And how will their wives feel to have their mother-in-law
forever parked in their living room seeing the
dust or unvacuumed floors, a constant recrimination to
them—though she was never a housekeeper—

And perhaps my lover of ten years will want the urn—
After all, he is such a collector of cardboard boxes that
his VCR or an electric fan came in—
Will my ashes be fought over—
Will they third me up
So that one might have the ashes of my legs
with their slight varicose veins—or my head—
or breasts—

My younger son who kept his bottle until
he was five probably would get my breasts
No, I see my lover with these—
He always admired them—
Now he can have their ashes—
buy me a pretty black bra from Victoria’s Secret
catalogue and throw it in—take out the bra
when he yearns for me—
No, the ashes on the bra would mess up
his place and he hates all dust with a passion—

No, I see him taking my ashes –to the relief
of both my sons—and especially their wives—

I see him putting my ashes in a matching urn
that he selected so carefully for his cat Kate—
I see our twin urns on his mantel—
My fate to be there next to this cat I was so
allergic to in life—seeing some new lover of his in a jealous
fit after he tearfully tells her how much he loved
me after making love to her, this new lover
spitefully moving these two urns on the
bedroom mantel so that he is actually talking
to the cat when he remembers me—
and tenderly pats her urn and calls her Laura

(from ARMS: New and  Selected Poems)


The best teacher I ever had
told me I was the best student  he’d  ever had

The best lover I ever had
told me I was the best lover he’d ever had

The man I loved most
didn’t  love me most when I loved him
needed  me when I didn’t need him

I used to use a compass in school
could never make perfect circles

(from On the Edge of the Hudson)

for Michael Benedikt

At 13, you traveled from one junior high to another reading your paper on astronomy
that caused your teachers to want other students in the City to hear your paper
they considered so brilliant from someone your age, or any age—
You tell me this after lovemaking years later, tell me that giving that “lecture” gave
you even more pleasure than  reading your poems at the Library of Congress

Tonight, five months after your death that I am still recovering from
(and obviously you never will),
I look at the night sky and wonder, my love, if your inquisitive spirit
is soaring through the planets like the mind astronaut you always were.

(from Flashlight)

For Gregory Corso

I lived with Gregory for a year
or rather he lived with me
And though it was only a year,
it seemed like twenty
At night on my brown velvet sofa
he would write in his Chinese red silk
embroidered covered journal
with his brown ink Mont Blanc pen
that he had asked me to buy for him
and to get one for myself (though I never did)
The TV would be on and in memory always
tuned to a baseball game–
In the mornings we would make the run to Christie Street
for him to pick up what he needed to survive the day–
At this point, I was on a hopeless mission to get him to stop
to get rid of his years of bad habits
I was wearing my invisible Wonder Woman cape
but I was never successful like Wonder Woman
Sometimes we would go out to Maxwell Plum’s but
he could never sit for more than half the lunch
He took me to see the movie Napoleon but we only
stayed for half(it was incredibly long)
He stayed in my apartment and painted a self-portrait of himself
He kept changing the face–even once made himself black–
He had the skyline of San Francisco behind him
He painted a portrait of his friend Kerouac–
He painted a portrait of me and my eyes turquoise though
they are green and even made the sky turquoise
He made me look like a bitch—but the colors were beautiful
We went to San Francisco to find an apartment
but came back to New York when we were called that Ted Berrigan had died–
There was never I realize a chance that we would make it
We were like a fragile, fragrant homemade candle—
Its slight flickering wick
just waiting for the oncoming tsunami wave to blow it out.

(Published in the Connecticut River Review)