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POETRY THE HOME OF THE BRAVE Feel free to leave those Christmas lights up as long as you wishMarch, April, May, it’s nice to see them getting out into the year as if each cool pill of color held the record of the whole neighborhood’s months old wishes and wounds, unchecked to-do lists, checked not-to-do lists and yours is the home where they’ve come to be tallied up and if not forgotten at least forgiven, so that for all its joylessness and all its joy, the year could somehow be saved as a thin strand of bulbs in the highest leaves against the memory of leaves so that we’re reminded there must have been a first arrival, a first time for everythingone green shoot, a splash of bluish water, a few red cells. Evenings, they wink at us as if they knew what they were for, and we walk by saying yes, yes as if we did, too. But late night they’re left to call out their own tiny names to the large, uninterested sky, we are all alone, they cry and the sky answers back by not moving an inch. OFF She is just learning to walk through department stores with her mother so that it looks like they aren’t together, there’s a technique to it which involves browsing and yawning, her hesitant body led from rack to rack by the bored points of her hips and the drone of the air conditionerthe only proof of a universechurning just above the ceiling. She can’t be more than fourteen, her thin fingers working nimbly through the piles as her mother waits, lips pursed and at a distance, for her to choose something, anything: Today Only the signs read, Half-Off Everything! What would it take for this girl to, say, touch her mother’s hand as they stand in front of the elevator, or as they step inside it, or as it takes them to the next level where the girl will get lost again, as soon as she can, among branches of your halfdead tree, stored even as the live branches come back sprouting its relentless the shoes and scarves and gowns and umbrellas? More than she has. Her whole body says, please don’t expect much, when later her mother comes to her with a dress sewn almost purely of pearls and silver thread, holds it up to her awkward frame asking, “wouldn’t you look beautiful in this one?” Beautiful: a word so poorly built. How does it work? The woman’s face surrenders, her mouth goes soft and slack. I won’t tell you what the girl says back. Carrie Fountain CARRIE FOUNTAIN is a poet and freelance writer living in Austin. Originally from Mesilla, New Mexico, she recently finished her MFA as a James Michener Fellow in Creative Writing at the UT-Austin. One of her poems is the title poem for the new anthology Is This Forever or What?/Poems and Paintings from Texas edited by yours truly. Naomi Shihab Nye 5/21/04THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21