DETOUR

DETOUR

 

Spattering of almost-snow on the windshield.

Derelict barns, old pastures gone to brush.

A few horsey places with megahouses,

a small organic farm. I’m a Vermonter. 

I know that all back roads sooner

or later lead to somewhere I recognize.

This one—a self-selected detour

around construction on the highway

between the hospital and home—winds through

vaguely familiar land. I know I’m heading west. 

It’s still the Valley, my valley.

And here around the bend a cluster

of houses, and beneath the clouds I see

the mountains and the long lake’s gleam.

ALL SAINTS

ALL SAINTS

 

O you obscure, you once-known,

venerated in some small town

where your fingerbone rests

in a tarnished silver box

behind a screen in a dusty church

that smells of old beeswax and must–

What did you do to merit dismemberment,

the naming of this provincial shrine?

Did you cure a child? Make some rain?

Were you martyred by an ignorant prince?

Or did you, perhaps, now and then

arise from your cave when the moon was dim 

and fly over the sleeping houses,

singing an incomprehensible hymn?

IN CHORUS

IN CHORUS

When we sing, we sing. We become

the song. Notes have ceased to matter.

Our heart beats the pattern, the shape

 

of the time, the space of the spiral

where we stand.   We drink harmony

from the fountain;  we’re held

 

in the great mystery’s form. Farewell

to self-entanglement. We’re bending

like willows. The valley rejoices.

 

Unlonely, we journey through the night.  

As each stone adds its voice

to the singing of the stream,

 

even our troubles flow like love.

We are beautiful and good.

All our mouth is filled with music.

ADVICE

Write until you’re tired.

   ~Janice M. P.

Write till no more words 

come out of your pen.

Till the skin wears off your fingers.

Write through the banal, the tedium,

the common feelings every animal knows.

There are no new feelings.

Even love is old.

Write until the metaphors are used up,

until the symbols are nothing but stupid.

Write until there is nothing left.

Not a wish, not a thought, not a care.

Then start the poem.

MUSIC LESSON

MUSIC LESSON

 

Hafiz, sing with me. Do you play banjo

or hurdy-gurdy? Can you sing in Polish

or Greek? We never sang around the table, 

here in Vermont or anywhere, not even 

in Warsaw when we were all pleasantly drunk

on Jarek’s soul-cleansing vodka. What will 

it take to make us sing? Hafiz, I need 

to know your ecstasy and I can’t drink 

that much anymore and if I spin, I fall 

down dizzy and sick. I’ll have to make do 

with walking while all around me the amber 

ash leaves swirl and the maple trees bleed,

and the memory of a great-horned owl sings

from the pines in the woods across the way.

 

I’ve been rereading the poems of Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

Feb. 1904–Sept. 1998

1.

You always made me tea.

The love and sorrow of your life

tangible in your kitchen

as sunlight through the windows:

your husband dead, your son, 

barn crumbled, pastures overgrown.

 

You carried the tray yourself. 

Slow, but I always get there.  

At the table you poured Earl Grey 

from the green pot into thin cups,

gave me homemade cake, a linen napkin.

 

Outside, daffodils and appletrees,

irises, roses, blew wild in tangled beds.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to me,

here, alone in this house?  I’ll die?

Your elegant French gesture of dismissal, 

the amusement in your eyes.

 

2.

One day I said had no time for tea

but you would not let me go:

 Nonsense!  No time! 

We stood by the sink, 

nibbled date cookies from a tin.

More;  they’re so good.  

I’ve been saving them for you.  

Have more.

 

The first stroke carried you back 

to the house by the lake

where you spent seventy summers.

You laughed from the hospital bed,

your eyes open to the sky. 

Waves shimmered through your ceiling.

Can you smell the water?

Can you hear the gulls?

 

When that last boat came to carry you away 

 you shrugged and smiled again.

Home or abroad, it doesn’t really matter.

There’s goodness everywhere I go.  

 

3.

The day you died, I was picking apples,  

snapping them easy off the trees.

Above the orchard, two ravens

and a red-tailed hawk spiraled

in a kettle of rising air 

and I heard your voice.  

Acceptance, you said, remember.

Remember, to every thing a season.  

 

When the harvest was over

I drove to your house alone.

Someone had raked the leaves from your garden, 

piled pumpkins on the wide stone step.

Under the rippled clouds

a ragged scatter of snow geese

so high I could barely hear their call.

 

4.

You’d had a sheepdog years ago

who woke you one November night.

Your husband got up to open the door,

saw the heavy falling snow.

That dog went up the hill to find the sheep.

We didn’t even know it was snowing.

She put them all in the barn, 

came in, lay down like nothing had happened

Why can’t people be like that?

Pay attention to things?

 

I don’t leave my friends,

I told you, but I did.

Somehow, with all the miles between,

I could not find a time.

 

We sat one afternoon 

in your cooky-scented kitchen,

looked out at the snow falling on your garden.

You began Frost’s poem about the crow

and the hemlock, and I joined in.

We laughted to know

we loved it best.

 

I would like one more cup of tea with you,

just one more.

 

 

(It’s been 20 years, and I still miss her.)

RALPH NADING HILL CONTEST WINNER, MARCH 31, 2004

PASSAGE

PASSAGE

She went to the oracle

bringing an offering

of incense, a white pebble,

a drop of blood

on a leaf of thyme.

I am empty she said.

 

            Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But I’ve seen the crystals

growing from the floors

and ceilings, I’ve slipped

into the green waters filled 

with white salamanders

and blind fishes, 

I’ve touched the walls

covered with luminous worms

and spiders with legs

as long as my arms.

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

I’ve been all the way in,

she said, all the way

to where the walls

are covered with paintings

of antlered men

and dancing women,

of suns and moons

and disembodied hands.

I’ve tripped over the bones 

of wild bulls and giant bears. 

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But there is no door, 

no passage, 

leading beyond that deepest cave. 

The only way left

is the way back out.

 

         Ah then, said the oracle.

         Ah.

OAK AND MAPLE and FOUR LITTLE POEMS

OAK

Drop your leaves for now.

Stand alone in the cold,

squirrels sheltering

in your hollows.

 

Under your feet,

forgotten acorns already

swell, each holding

your pattern encased.

 

Length of day, 

strength of sun, 

depth of rain, 

the air, 

 

the axe,

your future 

contingent 

on the world.

 

 

MAPLE

Sweet ladies in green, 

whispering secrets, 

flirting with birds, 

drawing sugar from the sky.

 

Bold ladies in scarlet, 

throwing their favors 

profligate to the winds, 

the soils, the streets.

 

Skeletons of ladies, 

cracking 

their knuckles 

in the night.

 

Generous ladies–

oh how generous!–

filling our mouths 

with blood made of light.

 

 

4 little poems

1.

You see what is there:

the dying trees.

What can the sun do?

The wind?

 

2.

Learn to worship dirt,

to worship water.

Under your feet is

every thing you need.

 

3.

Do not waste your mind

on the future.

All you have is seed

to plant today.

 

4.

At the end, abundance

of distinction. Like human

hands, no duplication.

Every loss a loss.

HER LAST MORNING IN STONE HALL

This is a curious piece, a fiction about the old building where when I was a child I went to summer camp and where later I was a counselor and an adult staff member.The description of the building is fairly accurate–it was not in very good shape even in my childhood–but of course the character and her situation are entirely made up. The building burned down a few months before renovations were to have begun, and I often think of it. Clearly it was quite wonderful.

 

 

She awakened to the sound of rain falling on the steep slate roof, dripping from the eaves, rustling through the vines clinging to the stone walls. She lay in her bed for awhile, just listening. Rain had not always been welcome to her, in this place. When the children were here, and it rained for days and days, it had been hard to keep them occupied. But now, it didn’t matter. She liked the rain. But it was time to get up, time for prayers. She pulled the woolen blanket smooth over the thin white sheets and straightened her pillow. The small bed and the wooden chest-of-drawers were the only pieces of furniture left in the long, narrow room. All the other third-floor rooms were bare of furniture, but there was an untidy pile of fragile, leather-bound books on the floor in the room at the other end of the hall. The door of that room was closed, and she would not open it again. 

She dressed quickly in her tan slacks and soft blue shirt and padded down the hall to the bathroom, a basic room, utilitarian. Her towel and bar of soap and toothbrush were its only furnishings now. Thin, rattly metal showers had replaced the bathtubs years ago. They were rusty now, and each sink had an iron stain beneath the faucet. The toilets were only half-concealed behind cheap plastic doors. The room still smelled of toothpaste and strong soap. She rinsed and wrung out the underwear and socks that had been soaking in one of the sinks, and climbed out the window onto the fire escape where her wooden drying rack stood, sheltered under the deep eaves. It didn’t really matter now, she thought as she hung her things up. They’d dry soon enough.

She walked slowly down the two flights of the wide staircase with its comfortable bannister to the hallway that split the main floor in two. She turned right, toward the kitchen. It had been the busiest room, once. The cook had always been there before anyone, pouring juice into the the small tumblers for the children to drink before they went to prayers. The cook fried donuts on Mondays and Thursdays, and every day she made the breakfasts and lunches and dinners that sustained them, perhaps as much as the prayers did. But the kitchen was quiet. In the big, deep sink where once she’d scrubbed the huge kettles and pans, there was only a teacup. 

Nancy opened the refrigerator and took out the pitcher of juice, just enough left for this morning, just enough to fill the one small plastic tumbler that remained. She drank, put the tumbler in the sink beside the teacup, and left the kitchen. Turned right again, into the cavernous dining room with its tall, uncurtained windows and deep windowsills. The trees outside were still dripping with rain, but the clouds were beginning to show firm edges and there was a strip of blue sky in the west. It would be a sunny day. Through the dining room, she passed into the tower room, its gray floor spattered with paint from years of art projects. The easels were gone, the shelf that had held the paints was empty. But the bell rope still hung down through the hole from the sacristy above. They’d always taken turns ringing the bell on the Fourth of July, before they went out to watch the fireworks across the lake. She climbed the creaky winding back staircase as she had every morning.

A tiny landing opened into the chapel. She picked up the package of matches on the windowsill as she entered, and  lit the candle in the bowl in the center of the carved wooden altar. She stopped then, as she always did, to gaze at the Eastern window. The light was still too low to illuminate the glass, but she knew the outlines of the figures as well as she knew the outlines of her hands: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Blessed Mother, the Other Mary, and the angel before the empty tomb. Beneath their feet, the blue and white flowers that graced the forest around the Stone Hall bloomed once again, one last time. She breathed in the smell of the chapel: old wood, the ghosts of incense and beeswax and wine. 

The little sacristy was empty now except for the bare cupboard and the bell rope with its two knots, spaced to fit her hands. The old rope was rough, the knots greasy with age. She rang three times, and looked out the narrow window to watch the pigeons circle the tower as they did every day, four times a day. The bell never disturbed the bats, though now and then, in the summer, a bat had made its way down from the belfry and swooped through the chapel. She had killed one once, with a broom, because it had frightened the children. Thinking about that always made her sad. Down the road and up the hill, she could just see the cemetery where the dust of so many dear ones lay under their stones. 

Back in the chapel, she sat in the old carved chair in front of the prie-dieux. The red cushion was mended. Her prayer book was mended, too, with heavy linen tape. It opened by itself to the morning office. She sang the psalms, her strong voice echoing from the stenciled vaulting and she sensed the change in the light as the sun rose between the layered clouds. 

Once, on the wall opposite the altar, there had been a tiny pipe organ with foot-pump bellows. That had been the first thing taken away, then the pews with their carved crosses, then the old brass altar cross and candlesticks.  When they had gone and the sounds of workers’ voices and their power tools were silenced, she had placed the blue pottery bowl on the altar, and set a thick candle in its center. When there were flowers in the meadows, she arranged them around the candle. When there were not, she used bits of evergreen. In Lent, the bowl was empty of both candle and greenery. Now, in Ordinary Time, in late Spring, the candle was surrounded with a few sprigs of vetch and a precious branch of wild plum blossom.

Once, when Compline was over and the children had gone to bed and the grown-ups had gone down to the Common Room to drink wine and tell stories, she had sat alone for awhile in the chapel, in the quiet darkness. And suddenly, a sharp wind had filled the room, rattling the windows and slamming the door, and the candlewicks lighted again into pointed flame. But the children in their beds had not been alarmed, and the people in the Common Room had not heard a wind.

When she had finished the morning prayers, she blew the candle out and left the chapel through the main door, which she closed behind her, quietly. The bedrooms on the second floor, like the ones on the third floor, had been emptied long ago. The iron beds had been sold as scrap, the old mattresses taken to the dump, the dressers and little tables had been sold, too, or given away. The paint on the floors was peeling, the holes here and there in the white plaster walls the lath showed through holes in the plaster. But she had kept the windows as clean as she could, and she stepped into one of the rooms and looked out over the ragged green lawn and the trees toward the lake and the mountains. 

When she was a girl, the trees had been saplings, and she had been able to see the lake, which was now just a glimmer between the leaves.She would not go down to the lake again. It was all different. The old split-willow on the edge of the smooth stone shore had blown down, and the path to the pebbly beach was eroded by the passage of too many feet. The ashes of too many fires, and memories of too many stories told by too many people long gone: the man who had never seen fireflies, the man whose grandfather had been shot in the village square, the woman who no longer believed in the resurrection. The ghost. This was the room where once she had sung lullabies to a small homesick girl. She’d walked the hallway in the dark, quieting the restless children, comforting the sad, calming those who were afraid of the ghost. 

In the mornings, back then, they’d all arisen at the sound of the morning bell and dressed in silence, and third floor and second floor children had filed downstairs together. Juice in the dining room, up the back stairs to the chapel for prayers, back down the main stairs to the dining room for breakfast, completing the circle, all together.

But now, she made the circle alone. When everyone had left the Hall, she had said that she would stay, and no one seemed to mind. 

There was one table in the dining room—not one of the long tables where they’d sat and sung together after their meals, but the little serving table, painted green. She took her bowl and spoon from a shelf in the kitchen, and poured out her cereal—the last in the box. She sat in the only chair, eating slowly, gazing out across the little table toward the windows. 

Once, between each pair of windows, there had hung a painted shield, symbolic of a saint. The shields were gone. She did not remember what had happened to them. It had been long ago. 

Sunlight dazzled the raindrops on the trees in the forest. She would not go there again, down the wide path to the altar in the grove of trees. They had always been silent when they approached that altar, and silent around it: no jabbering or teasing, no sound but prayer, and their singing. A wild, strange wind had blown through there once, too, on a sad day, long ago. And beyond the altar, the sharp stone cliff, the sunset point, the steep drop to the lake below. She had not been there for many years, but the memory was sharp, and in her dreams the place was always shining.

When she had finished eating, she washed her bowl and spoon and the teacup in the big sink, and put them away on the shelf, though she knew it did not matter. She closed the kitchen door behind her and stepped once more into the Common Room. Above the mantlepiece, a single nail showed where another shield had hung—a painting of the rocky cliff and the single rock below it that was the symbol of Stone Hall. Sometimes, in this lovely old room, she thought she could hear voices, echoes of stories and songs tucked between the cracks in the wainscoting. But not this morning. All was empty, hollow, in order. She closed the door of the Common Room.

She opened the heavy front door and stood again on the porch. The sun had risen over the mountains, over the clouds, and the light slanted across the tops of the trees. She knew that the ripples on the lake were glinting in that new light. Everywhere she went this morning, she found a memory of music, and on the porch, too, a memory of moonlight. There were maple seedlings between the stones of the front walk. This last spring, she had not bothered to weed them away.

She left the front door open when she turned back inside. The empty library on the right still smelled like books, but all the shelves were bare. There had been charades here, once, and music lessons, and now and then people in love who wanted to be alone.

But now she must say farewell to the cellar, through the last door on the right, down the steep stairs. She did not turn on the light. No chairs, no tables now, the murals on the walls mildewed away. But in the dark, at the end of a cobwebbed passage, a low door opened to the tiny room at the center, the most secret place, named for the Joseph who had given his tomb. A stone altar, bare. A wooden cross, empty. Earthen floor. Light from a slit high in the wall, a gap in the stone foundation. Everything here was as it had always been. She stood there until the light spread across the surface of the altar, until everything she remembered grew clear and hard. She turned away, closed the door and locked it with the iron key she wore on a cord around her neck.

The hallway was filled with sunlight, coming in through the open door. Nancy opened the back door, too, and left it open, propped with a wooden wedge. In the old days, the children had always come and gone by that door. She walked down the steps quickly, lightly, and turned onto the winding road and up the hill. She did not look back.

 

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

 

I set my coffee cup on the table, 

open the book for lectio divina.

I will not light the candle today

because the north wind blows through the window. 

The white cat creeps up onto the table

and asks to be in my lap. I comply. 

I open the book. The dog, who has been

asleep on the couch, looks out the window

and sees a rabbit in the yard. She screams

to go out. I set the cat down, cover

my cup with a saucer to keep the coffee

warm, replace the bookmark, and get up to

let the dog out. My husband, who had trouble 

sleeping last night, is still asleep on the

porch, so I guide the dog past him, silent. 

I hold the dog’s collar till I’m sure 

the rabbit has escaped through a holes in

the fence, and I let the dog go. She tears

around the yard. I return to my table 

and book, listening for the dog’s call to 

come in. The cat settles back on my lap. 

I read a sentence, and there is the bark. 

I do not cover my coffee this time, 

but go through the porch to the back door 

and let the dog in without waking my

husband. I give the dog her rawhide bone

dipped in peanut butter and return to 

the table, the cat, and the lukewarm 

coffee. I read another sentence.

STREET DANCE–and the process

I wrote this last year. The finished poem, if a poem is ever “finished” is the first one. It’s followed by the rough draft and various revisions.

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

There are bears among the stones.

Everyone knows how to dance—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, 

old people and their little dogs,

the children in their wild cavort.

 

 

how I got there:

 

STREET DANCE

At sunset, young animals 

make ephemeral alliances 

and run and run.

Human children here are doing that now

while adults dance, or watch,

or play in the band.

Everyone knows how to dance,

even the people sitting in the folding chairs

chatting, eating ice cream.

Mostly it works, 

what we do. Even though

we’re too far away.

We think we’re here, 

but our brains—

those soft machines—

still live in caves of bones.

A tiger behind every tree.

We need mates, enough space

to gather and hunt and defend.

Our children.

Bands of brothers. 

A powerful sisterhood.

Sharp memory of every fear.

The gods need room 

to speak to us—

they leave spaces in our skulls.

If the gods are gone

we fill the holes ourselves.

What will become of us—

these children in their wild cavort,

the woman twirling in her short skirt

and her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, the old people

in their baseball hats, sitting

on the benches in front of the post office,

holding their little dogs 

or resting their hands on their canes.

July 17, 2017

 

STREET DANCE

Consider: our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. We need 

mates, children, enough space to gather and hunt. 

There are bears among the stones, panthers in the trees.

We remember every fear. The gods 

need room to speak to us.

If the gods are gone we fill the holes ourselves.

 

At sunset, young animals make ephemeral alliances 

and run and run. Human children 

are running together now while adults

dance, or watch, or play in the band.

Everyone knows how to dance,

even the people in the folding chairs

eating ice cream. Eating ice cream

is another way of dancing.

 

What will become of us—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, the old people on the benches 

in front of the post office, holding their little dogs 

or resting their hands on their canes.

Our children in their wild cavort.

August 28, 2017

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

There are bears among the stones.

Human children in their tribes

hunt across the green.

We all know how to dance—

the woman twirling in her short skirt,

her partner in his green shirt,

those flirting girls, 

old people holding little dogs 

or resting their hands on canes.

Young primates in their wild cavort.

undated  but with the comment: (Fairly soon, there will be no poem left.)

 

STREET DANCE

We have not come so far;

we are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

 

STREET DANCE

We are so close to home—

our brains—those soft machines— 

still live in caves of bones. 

September 14

CAVE

CAVE

 

I was in Shaw’s to buy veggie burgers,

making my way down the winding aisles

of chips and sodas, pet foods, cans and jars

and bags of this and that. I’d been annoyed

by the heat, the traffic delay on Route 

17, the new medicine added

this week to my list, because I’m growing

old. I thought of that boy in the cave who 

speaks 5 languages, told them what to bring.

A boy—at 14 more grown up than I—

without a country, and every day I

complain of mine. In the Times—his thin

face peering through the gloom. I bought my

veggie burgers, and drove the 6 miles home.

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

from a prompt

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

 

The chambered nautilus expands,

seals off each outgrown space,

and yet the empty rooms remain

as spiraled witness to the change.

 

The growing shell is not a burden

to the wanderer inside

who uses it to stay afloat,

and when it’s time, to dive.

 

And thus may we use all we’ve known

and all that we’ve believed

to navigate the sea we’re in

as long as we’re alive.

GARDEN PARTY

Garden Party

in honor of ol’ Walt Kelly

We are dancing on a dingbat 

in the fury of a gale

while a wiley alligator 

winds a kitestring on his tail,

and we do not have to worry 

if the fury can’t abate,

for the foolish old bassoon man 

has a catfish on his plate

and the streamlined fancy foremast 

casts a shadow on our fate.

 

O, the moral of the story 

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry 

is the spinning of the spool.

 

When the roses grow forgotten 

in the gardens of the moon

and the chickens all fly skyward 

on the string of the balloon, 

when the demons do their darndest 

to knock acorns from the tree

and the long-awaited pirate ship 

comes sailing from the sea,

then we’ll know it’s time to cut the cake 

and have a cup of tea.   

 

O, the moral of the story 

is the wellspring of the fool,

and the quarrel of the sorry 

is the spinning of the spool.

 

I wrote this ages ago, in imitation of the great Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” poetry.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

Meanwhile, the wrens who nest

in the wooden pole that holds up

the clothesline are feeding their hatchlings.

 

All day long, they come and go,

poke bugs into the dark hole

where the babies eat, and grow.

 

The dog barks on the porch.

A great-crested flycatcher rests

for a minute on a blooming branch

 

of dogwood. I sit on an overturned

flowerpot in the garage, watching

through a dirty window.  A chipmunk

 

squeals and runs away. A breeze

flashes through the grass. A red-eyed

vireo sings on and on.

BROWN ANOLES

BROWN ANOLES

1.

Everglades in the dry season. 

Alligator tracks in mudflats, 

mangroves reaching for wet. 

A turtle with a red head, 

one swallowtail kite, 

a brown canal of white birds. 

So much itself, so damaged, 

but when we are gone 

and the river of grass 

overtakes the canals, and the sea 

takes the highrises and malls 

our bones will join the shells

on the shores.

 

2.

Beside a turquoise pool, 

lizards appear and vanish 

on the edges of sight, 

discrete motions, 

particles, not waves. 

Brown anoles, delicate 

and charming wisps of life, 

invasive killers, displacers—

so lovely, so terrible.

 

3.

What could they give me to get me to stay? 

No money, surely, no luxurious house. 

Not here, this land of traffic and noise 

where people live by selling things 

and fixing things and cleaning things—

streets and pools and lawns 

and the tops of the walls built 

to keep out people like themselves 

unless they’re cleaning or fixing.

 

4.

The plastic dinosaurs in the botanical garden 

roar above the calling birds. 

The screen house is filled with butterflies. 

Brown anoles eat them. 

Anoles eat everything—their own babies, 

their own molted skins, their broken tails. 

Anoles everywhere. 

One climbs an orchid stem, 

puffs out his orange throat in threat.

One of the dinosaurs looks like a chicken. 

T. rex’s tiny forelimbs are disturbing. 

It’s hot, too hot even for Florida in May. 

DOUBLE DACTYLS

 

DOUBLE DACTYLS

Written over a period of several months. Try it sometime. . . 

 

1.

Hopalong Cassidy

rode into London, his

horse was worn out from the

long ocean dip.

 

Hop said “The horse is so

antediluvian

next time I’ll make it an

aeroplane trip.”

 

 

2.

Thomas Sterns Eliot

wrote lots of poetry,

most of it excellent;

much of it sold.

 

Thomas, however, was

malasartorial–

pants were too long, so he

wore the things rolled.

 

 

3.

Theodore Roosevelt

went out a-trampling in-

to the deep forest in

search of big game.

 

There by a brook sat a

parasaurolophus–

long thought extinct, and

as huge as its name.

 

 

4.

Little Red Riding Hood

minded her mother and

went to her Grandma’s a-

long the right trail.

 

Wolf never met her, so

characteristically

old Jakob Grimm had to

make up the tale.

 

 

5.

Susan B. Anthony,

activist feminist,

thought if she worked hard she’d

get things to change.

 

Who could have guessed that such

antiestablishment

patterns of thinking would

still seem so strange?

 

 

6.

Frederick Wertheimer,

great Common Causer, be-

lieves the campaign style is

wicked and wrong.

 

Most politicians, so

unsocialistically’re

happy to sell out their

souls for a song.

 

 

7.

Little Lord Fauntleroy

dressed in his Sunday best

called on Rebecca of

Sunnybrook Farm.

 

He never liked her, so

unsympathetically

twisted her elbow which

caused her great harm.

 

 

8.

Jolly St. Nicholas,

frequently flying, one

eve in December a-

bandoned his flight:

 

“I’m sick of being so

omnidirectional.

Christmas be damned, and to

all a Good Night.”

 

 

9.

Princess Elizabeth

learned about protocol,

minded her manners and

kept her nails clean.

 

Good that she did, given

heritability:

when she was grown, they sang

God save the Queen.

 

 

10.

Jacqueline Kennedy,

so very stylish–de-

signers kept busy cre-

ating her shifts.

 

When she was widowed, she

un-Cassandra-ically

didn’t beware of a

Greek bearing gifts.

 

 

11.

President Kennedy

lived in the White House and

said “For your country ask

what you can do.”

 

I think up dactyls and

hypercompulsively

save them in notebooks.  So–

how about you?

BREAKING

BREAKING

It’s what happens when you see it,

when you know it’s all free as God.

 

One day it’s all duty,

but the rope breaks,

or a bell rings far away.

You see someone else

doing the thing you could not do

and all the stars come out  

and your closet door 

blows open wide.

 

And now what do you expect?

Nothing.  Nothing, at last.

Perhaps sunrise.

When you drop a cup, it will fall.

You will not glance off Earth,

go careening into the dark.

But the rest, not a thing:

consistency least of all.

 

Even what you will do tomorrow.

Sunrise, yes, yes,

but the color of the clouds,

the way the wind moves which new leaf,

where the sparrow sings,

the pattern of the towhee’s scratch.

What treasure will disclose.

How many orange tulips,

and  asparagus from each deep root.

 

 

 

published in Ruah, 2005

THE LAST SONG

Last night, the chorus I sing in had its last practice with our long-time conductor. I wrote this this morning, thinking of her and our time together:

 

THE LAST SONG

~for Susan Borg

Every song is the last.

How can I keep from singing

that group in the church loft,

remember? and we stopped

and looked around, amazed.

No audience but ourselves.

Francois and Chuck over the rainbow,

with tears in their eyes and our eyes.

Hallelujah on New Year’s Eve

and the audience sang, too.

Hearth and Fire that last night,

all together, my voice breaking

as I met your eyes. Every song

is the last—each song, each time,

these singers, where they are,

what they carry, what they hold,

what they let go.

IT’S A WINDY DAY

IT’S A WINDY DAY

 

Mother Hölle’s coiling 

       up thin threads of whirling

             rain. Tick, I hear her reel 

click. Deer on tiptoe carve a twisty 

         path to the curving

               creek where swallows gyre

at hatching flies encircling

         boys who cast and spool

                 at trout turning

through water’s whorl.  

          In the spinning

               sky, silk  dragons entwine,

                                             their tails entangle

                                                      in the wind.

 

 

June 5, 2009

PROMISE

PROMISE

 

We keep showing you:

 

The little frogs, the birds.

Islands and mountains,

drowned rivers, 

fertile fields.

Brown leaves out of season.

 

Trees move so slowly.

 

Don’t let dread freeze you;

ice is deadly as heat.

Keep moving. 

Stay together.

Stamp your feet.

 

And promise us 

 

you’ll save something:

one sparrow, 

one sapling.

One patch 

of hallowed ground.

 

From 2015.

WALPURGIS NACHT

WALPURGIS NACHT

Last hold of winter, grip of dark and cold,

our times of gathering close by the fire.

Tomorrow the maiden will strew flowers,

tomorrow the furrow, the scattered seed.

But tonight, once more belongs to the old

who know to sit quiet and count the stars.

Blessed sameness in the passing of years—

mountain snows flowing from river to sea,

trout lily leaves poking out from the mould,

rhythm of courting and birthing and tears.

Shall we gather tonight on the mountain?

Shall we sing together the last winter hymn?

Already the children dance by the fountain.

In the light of the sun, our fire grows dim. 

Page 52: Impounding the Overflow

I think it was during National Book Week that people on facebook used to post, say, the 3rd sentence on page 52 of whatever book was closest at hand. This is a found poem from 2012, cobbled together from a bunch of those sentences.

 

IMPOUNDING THE OVERFLOW

1.

Methanogens, red paper hearts, 

white paper lace, cartoon cupids, 

grey seals, are archaea. 

The central brainstem stands up

like a fist on an arm, renowned 

for many haul-out sites

over and around it, 

dominating it both physically and mentally..

Every computer fits easily on the page

by impounding the overflow 

from the spring into a reservoir.

Besides being a theological dilemma, 

it is also a judicial one–

think about it critically.

I think it was this line of reasoning 

that roused me or maybe 

it was my desperation that made 

me unconsciously pound the door 

with the back of my head.

That was, ‘I love you.’

2.

Obtain title to “desert land” 

by irrigating twenty acres.

As you begin, understand 

that the Indians’ new homes 

are ‘settled, fixed, and permanent.’

as a product of their metabolism. 

Lounge in the sun and enjoy 

the abundance of fish

Consider the Indians friends and neighbors. 

Produce the flammable, odorless 

gas methane. Explore flash 

content on other webs.

Go to sleep now like a good child.

3.

Cooper treads through the darkness, 

enters the tent, and is asleep instantly.

BAD COLD

BAD COLD

 

Sick, and trying to remember

the grandchildren, who started this.

Sick, and thinking of refugees sick

in tents in terrible weather. Sick

and trying to be grateful for clean water,

warm blankets, my blue mug,

tea, fuel to heat the water. Grateful

for music on the radio all night,

the pressure of the dog’s sturdy body

beside me on the bed.

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK

AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

All you want to do

is touch.  It used to be easy,

while winnowing grain or stalking beasts.

Your bodies remember 

the smell of sweat in the longhouse,

gossip by the well, 

embraces under the trees.

   

Once you spoke while hanging wash

or mending nets or minding babies

or scything hay or boiling sap

or making shoes or spinning thread

or pounding nails or stitching quilts.

Now

you are scattered like chaff,

dispersed as hunted game,

 

and so are we.    

 

Oh, children, do not complain at us!

We are as exiled as you.

Like you we want to find our friends

and digging is so hard.

Disembodied

as you, we post lines 

and flickers to our tornaway tribes.  

Now the ether carries in bits

our sketchy sentences, our loneliness,

tears that this strange communication

without skin or breath can maybe begin to mend.

 

I wrote this years ago, when I first joined facebook. Now that I’ve deleted my account, I find  it intriguing that this was the original intent.

THE STORYTELLER

THE STORYTELLER

Oh, the wildness of the teller in her cave of bone!

She finds dragons in stumps, faces in every carpet—

 

how will she make it cohere?

Was it once upon a time, or ever after? 

 

Snakes and bears are real enough,

and mirrors trying to reflect what’s fair.

 

She searches her fallible senses

entwined with shadowed remembrances

 

and pieces a pattern, a dream, a tale— something

that might be true, or that someone might believe.

 

The smell of whisky, the texture of satin,

a whisper behind a half-closed door—

NO WEATHER

No weather lasts forever.

Even this craziness, this winter

that doesn’t want to end. 

 

The sun is still up there,

above the heavy clouds.

There are currants driving the winds.

 

The blackbirds have returned

and are searching for seeds

and the robins have found the sumac.

 

It is our grandson’s third birthday.

He talks all the time;

he’s trying to read.

 

Our granddaughter will be one

two days from now. She

is walking, and working on words.

 

Small plants, lettuces and pansies,

are growing in greenhouses

and the farmers are potting up tomatoes.

 

My nephew is feeding his chickens

and gathering the eggs.

There are new black calves in the pasture.

 

Sometimes I can believe

that the world doesn’t matter, 

that what matters is the earth,

 

and the people who do good work

every day, who walk their dogs

and love their friends.

 

Ten Rules for Poetry, #9

10  RULES FOR POETRY, #9

Don’t keep anything for yourself:

the scent of white iris or wild grape flowers,

the empty spaces between stars,

the russet tail of the crested flycatcher

and his raucous, tuneless voice. Don’t keep 

linnet’s wings, or the hummingbird 

who bathed this morning

under the spray of your garden hose,

or the scarlet tanager, always just

out of sight in the oak.  

 

And don’t keep uncertainty. And tell us

when you mourn. When you are afraid,

don’t hold it close. When the world

is too much with you, when darkness

comes every morning, when the center

cannot hold, when everything

you love is falling away, when dust

is rising and settling on every inch

of grass and skin, when the brief 

candle flickers, don’t keep it.

 

Tell us, tell us how we aren’t alone.

 

Honorable mention Comstock Review contest, Fall/Winter 2016

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.

~Polish aphorism

But this is my circus: 

the bareback rider dancing in perfect balance 

between the prancing horses, 

the spangled artists on the flying trapeze. 

The fire-eaters are mine, 

the jugglers,

the troupe riding unicycles across the wire.

The whole sideshow is mine.

These are my elephants, stolen from the forests;

these are my unhappy lions.

The clowns, of course, are mine,

emerging from their tiny car,

swarming around the ring, 

beeping their noses,

stumbling over their feet. But

the monkeys? 

No. 

Not the monkeys. 

This lot of monkeys

was never mine.

 

published on the facebook page “Rattle Poets Respond,” July 24, 2017

GONE

an older one:

 

GONE

A statue of the Virgin Mary,

weighing 250 pounds, has disappeared

from a shrine outside a Vermont church.

Police have searched a nearby forest

and cemetery, to no avail.

~June 15, 2012

Tired of inactivity, disgusted

by the behavior of some, infuriated 

by the treatment of others, alarmed

by heat and melting ice, bored

 

with candles and flowers,

The Blessed Mother shook her feet

loose from the cement and shed

her heavy cloak.  Police

 

will find that later, 

along with the halo,

caught on a snag 

under the bridge.

 

Where is she now?  

 

A thin woman in a white dress–

she might be anywhere.

If I were so inclined, I might

tell them to look 

 

at the Farmers’ Market.  

Or in the hospital

cafeteria.  Maybe she’s reading

in the park.  Or maybe

                                       she’s just gone

to that place where all good divinities

go, where it’s quiet,

where nobody needs anything. 

Where nobody even remembers your name.

 

INVOCATION

INVOCATION

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story

of poets in April, of twists and turns.

Driven to and fro by words and noise,

haunted, solid, cursed, concealed.  

Many things they saw:  unpeeled oracles,

flying seducers, flights of sparrows, 

long months dressed in black or gold. 

Thrumming weathers pulsed through their bones.

Even so they saved each other from disaster,

no gods or sirens seduced them.

their own wild recklessness kept them all–

children and fools, they ate the moon,

their muses leapt into their arms

and wept and laughed, and explained their lives.  

 

 

Wrote this one in 2013.

BLACK CAT ZACH

BLACK CAT ZACH

 

 

I am the only one who spells

his name correctly:  Zachariah.

He appreciates that, and rewards me

by losing hair on a patch of his belly,

by leaving half-eaten mice on the rug,

by snagging my sweaters with his claws.

He is seven years old today.

Climber, racer, shoulder-sitter, 

keyboard menace, (;ljhd )

friend of Thumbs Magee, 

destroyer of plants and china bowls.

His beauty covers his sins.

WE HAVE NO WORD

WE HAVE NO WORD

. . . for that feeling when the car pulls away

carrying the children home and the house 

is quiet again as it always is now

except when they come

with their suitcases and boxes and diaper bags

and sippy cups and potty chair,

and we take the portable crib

and the high chair out of the attic

and the blocks and wooden train and smurfs

and drum and tambourine out of the trunk,

and the three-year old takes the big metal bowls

and the measuring cups and spoons 

out of the cupboards and we

take the old picture books off the shelf

and make sure the camera batteries are charged.

And when they go, we put it all back

and get that feeling that has no name. 

LIPSTICK

LIPSTICK

I bought one for the first time in decades.

Pomegranate red.

I’m wearing it.

What possesed me?

It has suddenly become important,

like the high heels Martha wore

the day she got her general’s stars.

Those men, suited or uniformed,

slick-shaved, striding to the podium,

and the unapologetic click of Martha’s heels.

This is the sound of it, I thought.

The shift. The change.

This is what it sounds like.

Did you listen close

while Nancy defended the kids?

A powerful old woman

dancing forwards. And not

just in high heels, but stilettos.

Did you listen to Emma,

the power of her stillness,

unashamed of tears?

 

Not for men’s pleasure,

these symbols of our power:

lipstick, high heels, short skirts.

Maybe it was Eve who woke me up:

This short skirt is mine. 

I am old enought to remember

Bella’s hats, first the necessity,

then the pleasure.

Maybe it was our hats,

those cute pink hats with ears.

We grabbed the derogatory,

transformed it into strength.

What change looks like.

Even tears are power.

It’s what we’re doing now

in our leggings and boots,

and running shoes and fleece,

our torn jeans and t shirts and hoodies

our shawls and scarves,

our nursing bras and aprons.

And yes, in our lipstick and four-inch heels.

March Prompt #11: Is that Mt. Marcy?

IS THAT MT. MARCY?

March Prompt #11

 

. . . or Manford? Or Mohegan? I think it

starts with M. One of those old volcanoes,

or maybe a whatchamacallit like

in earth science. Block fault? Strip fault? Or wait—

folded up? Like something pushed it. Like a

layer cake. Anyway, it’s a mountain,

and a tall one by the looks of it, but

it’s hard to tell here, with all the mountains

everywhere and the hills leading up. Not

like at home where they just come up—POW!—out

of the flat. You can tell. You can see one

a long ways off and just look at it. For

miles. And it gets bigger the closer you

get. It doesn’t come and go like these, these—

what? Ozarks? Pocos? Andirons? One of

those, maybe, or Blue, or something like that.

March Prompt #10: The Chilean Skeleton

THE CHILEAN SKELETON

March Prompt #10

There was nothing to do but baptize it—

God forgive me—that tiny dead thing.

It was still warm, still damp with its mother’s

blood. They were afraid to wash it,

she said, afraid the water would kill it

before they could get it here, to save

its soul. The least they could do, they said.

She kept crossing herself, the grandmother

who brought it to the church. She kept

crying, afraid the girl had sinned, afraid

she herself had sinned. I did what I could.

I blessed her. I lighted candles for the girl.

I washed the little thing in clean water,

sealed it with the cross, wrapped it

in a linen cloth. I offered to bury it,

but the grandmother said they’d see to that.

It’s what women do, she said.

All Ours, II

All Ours, II

It was my grandson they shot,

though mine is three, and white,

and doesn’t live in Sacramento

and as I write is probably playing

with his sister or his toy dog.

His radiance, his embrace.

How he learned to walk.

His first words. The funny way

he said Nan-NAH. He was

mine. How you anyone forget,

how could you forget,

he was also yours.

March Prompt #9: Definitely not a Robot

DEFINITELY NOT A ROBOT

March Prompt #9

Even though, now and then,

I click and whirr. Even though,

now and then, I need to shut down,

amnd recharge. My circuits

are not logical, not digital.

The nightingale, that organ

of delight. Peanut butter

for the dog. One thing does not

lead to another. If this, then

that, but only on Fridays.

This pimple in my nose

makes me want to sneeze.

How much stage direction

do I need to put in? And

margins. Good Friday next

week. Gotta burn those palms.

Storefronts. Street signs.

iRx7*v

March Prompt #8: Art Mangling

ART MANGLING

March Prompt #8

90% of everything is crap.

   ~Sturgeon’s Law

Crumpling works for poems and stories and manuscripts,

for drawings and lighter paintings, too, perhaps.

Crumpling and tossing, with a flourish, into the basket,

and missing sometimes, so that the floor

is dramatically, artistically strewn. Later,

one’s lover can retrieve a piece, smooth

it out and say, “Why, this is genius!”

and the rest is history.

 

Burning is excellent. Oh, the notebooks and canvases

crackling in flame while one cackles

and takes long swigs from a bottle of red wine!

Bonfires are best. Small fires on the edge

of the driveway arose the suspicions of neighbors.

Is there genius feeding the fire?

Who knows? Who cares?

One can always claim that, in after years.

March Prompt #7: The Chair that was First Owned by my Great-Great Uncle Asa

THE CHAIR THAT WAS FIRST OWNED BY MY GREAT-GREAT UNCLE ASA

March Prompt #7

He wasn’t actually my uncle. He was my cousin’s uncle, on the other side of her family, you see, but we called him uncle because of that chair. It was passed on to my cousin’s Great Aunt Martha (not my great-aunt, just hers) who was his second daughter-in-law, and she passed it on to her son Freddy, who of course was my cousin’s actual uncle. He was the youngest in that family. Johnny, the middle one, married a Brady girl, and we have, at least my husband has, connections to the Bradys since his sister-in-law’s first husband was a Brady, and her oldest daughter. She didn’t marry his brother till he died. My husband’s. brother. Anyway, Freddy—my cousin’s real Uncle Freddy but we all called him that, used to come to Thanksgiving at my Aunt Bet’s. She was my cousin’s mother, Dad’s sister. So he was my uncle’s brother by marriage. He was the oldest.  Never married. No one ever said why, but we have our suspicions. And one Thanksgiving, when he sat down at the table on that rickety old chair—you know how everybody has to haul out all the chairs at Thanksgiving if there’s a big crowd and there was always a big crowd at Aunt Bet’s since she and Dad were two of seven and Uncle John—not the John who married the Brady girl—that was Freddy’s brother—my uncle who was Aunt Bet’s husband had the same name—  was one of four and by then they all had kids, except Uncle Freddy, and she always took in strays besides. People, I mean, but she did take in some cats, too, but mostly they stayed up in the barn except that orange one that everybody called Blink because it was missing an eye. But he sat on that old chair and even though he was pretty skinny it broke under him. Bumped his head on the edge of the table on his way down. We all laughed, and so did he, but he was never the same after. Neither was the chair, so Uncle John threw the chair in the fire and Uncle Freddy had to sit on a stack of apple crates they hauled in from the shed.

March Prompts #6: Snufkin

SNUFKIN

 

People who stay and people

who go, or something like,

and one must decide, and

oh, I’ve stayed and stayed,

a Moomin behind the stove,

a Fillyjonk unwilling to open

the curtains to the light.

And there are things: tassels

and white seashells, my handbag,

the equipment I need to make

pancakes and poems, things a tent

could never hold. And yet, in Spring,

in Fall, when the geese are going

or coming, sometimes I wonder

why I am staying.

 

If you don’t know Tove Jansson’s Moomintrolls, it’s time you met them.

March Prompts #5: YARN

YARN

March Prompt #5

(Especially for Maggie)

Not far from here in place or time,

there is, in a closet, a box.

A perfect place for mice

 

with yarns of purple, blue, and green,

too many colors to name.

Soft yarns, striped ones, sparkling ones,

 

neat in balls and skeins,

stacked by size in pleasing array.

But late at night—when else?—

 

when the woman of the house is asleep,

they come. Not mice because of cats,

but Tanglers,

 

a tribe of tiny folk. Who knows

where they live in the day?

Their work is simple.

 

By sunrise the box is a mare’s nest,

a gallimaufry, salmagundi.

The Tanglers will not be distracted

 

by good seeds to sort from bad.

Bowls of milk left for them would be

drunk anyway by cats, tiny garments ignored.

 

Oh, to have the focus of a Tangler,

a single-minded dedication to a task.

Any task at all.

March Prompts #4: TALK IN MARCH

TALK IN MARCH

What does one do about talk

in March? An hour

of medicines, what-he-said,

the kitchen needs paint.

When it’s March and snow

again and sidewalks and roadsides

are full of slush and one can’t

stretch out. When no one can.

When all our talk is weather

and how terrible the news

and how hard to sleep.

When minds need color

and clear space, just one

thing clean and new born.