REPORT: December 1, 2020, 6:45 a.m. Fog. The moon an hour past full. Gold through silver. Each oak branch an oak tree branched through the fog, across the moon.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #9 coats coax helm ochre A captain stands at the helm in his ochre coat, coaxing the wind into the sails. The artist in her rusty coat coaxes the ochre from the leaves. Her easel is the helm of a ship sailing into the winter sky. His coat of arms: a purple coat on an ochre field, crowned with a silver helm. too many suit coats, too much ochre light, too many vying for the helm, too many trying to coax a resolution from the deep
OPEN STUDIO POEM #8 ribbons ukelele spew The sky spews rain from silver ribbons of cloud. It patters on the roof, unabating: Beethoven’s fifth symphony played by a ukelele orchestra in the park on a moonless November night.
This is inspired by Hannah Dennison's Quarry Project. The dancers float above the water, above the stone, not dancing, floating, below the dancing clouds, the unknowing clouds, above the stillness of the stone.
CAMP FIRE WOMEN
My friend Julie is a Fire Keeper.
Sometimes all night she watches,
holds the flame at the center
of the world. It is her sacred way.
And mine? To search the forest,
to gather the wood: This for kindling,
this for tinder, this for cleansing,
this for a long and steady burn.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #7
words: legs along fire
We go along and along,
our legs aching, shoulders
sore from the burdens
we bear. So many, so
heavy. But the year will
end, this terrible year
will end. It will. We will
build fires on the beaches,
fires on the hilltops,
fires in the deserts,
fires in our own backyards.
We will throw our burdens
in the fires, throw them down,
throw them down in the fires,
open our arms,
embrace our friends
We will remember
how it feels to laugh.
We will remember.
We will. We will.
My ancestors did this, so I can.
I’ve practiced for this all my life—
to be suspended between cliff edges
above a chasm filled with rapids and rocks.
Without a net.
I’ve done the high wire a zillion times.
It makes no difference
whether there’s a chasm or a sawdust floor.
The far edge is in sight.
My thin-slippered feet
move along the cable.
Cloud shadows, a bird shadow.
One foot in front of the other.
Eyes ahead, toward the edge—
where someone is bending
picking at the cable with a little knife
and no one is there to stop him.
Will it hold? Will it hold?
I can not take time to be afraid.
My ancestors did this, so I can.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
One step, one step, one step
My neck always hurts in October. All
my life. This year, also my right knee and
my left thumb. Do I mumble now or is
his hearing worse and worse? Things to expect
at my age. Some things I don’t mind so much
and the world being what it is, I don’t
expect to feel happiness too often.
This year, not a single black-and-yellow
garden spider, and I saw only two
mosquitoes all summer long. I look for
congruities all the time and wonder
if this is another. I remember
with some amusement reading all those things
about becoming a crone. Written by
women who weren’t, whose knees didn’t hurt. Who
had spiders in their gardens and lovers
who listened, enthralled, to their every word.
REPORT: OCTOBER 20, 2020
Dark clouds over Buck Mountain.
It will rain.
More sugar-maple leaves on the ground than on the trees.
The oaks and popples are turning.
Soybean fields amber, hay fields cut and green.
Luke’s old milking shed is falling apart.
It’s just a storage shed now,
with the old SURGE and AG JOURNAL signs rusting on the wall
and the little lightning rods standing bravely on the roof.
Last year, a young man took the bend in the road too fast
and the laws of physics being what they are,
he glanced off a telephone pole and ran into the shed.
And died. One of the dead
elms has fallen. Now it’s raining,
and taking pity on the dog, I turn.
Sumac is mostly red along the east side of the road.
If it were colder, I’d swear it was snowing in the mountains.
Jim’s VETERANS AGAINST TRUMP flag is up on his porch.
At the far end of her pasture, his old horse Molly crops the grass.
By nature I am vigilant.
These days, I watch everyone with extra care:
the clerks in the coöp, the pharmacy, the feedstore
where we buy food for the dog and cats and birds,
my friends. Oh, I trust my friends, but—
the friends of my friends?
Where have they been?
How can they do me harm?
This morning, walking the dog
on the sidewalk in town, pulling
my mask up whenever I saw someone coming
a block away, I found myself tired
of myself. We’re all just trying to get by,
doing what we can, what we think is right.
And what malevolence do I carry,
what contagion is concealed behind my mask?
ON MY WAY It was all so familiar—the icy road, the falling snow. The tricycle was bigger than it used to be, less embarrassing for an adult to ride. It took awhile to get across the city street, awhile to see a safe crossing under the glaze of snow. The other side was fine, and I was on my way. Home at last, but boxes all over the table. I opened them one by one, each filled with plastic things: flutophones, cheap bath toys, disposable cups and spoons. Or tin automatons: monkeys playing drums, jumping mice, walking quacking ducks. Box after box until the house was full. When I awakened, I laughed at it all. Not a nightmare, a description. How full I am, these days, of things I do not want or need. And how far must I ride my little trike, in this storm.
Listen to Sancho, Mistress.
These are only windmills.
This is an inn, that is a basin,
what you have is a computer
glitch, a mis-behaving phone,
a broken coffee grinder,
Look at the world as it is,
not as it never was.
Knights were brutal and mean.
Subsistance farming was hungry and hard.
The Enlightenment was a flash in the pan.
Father never knew best.
No country has ever been great.
If you want a romantic occupation
dangerous enough even for you,
stay home and write poems.
Maybe someone will read them
and write more.
As our creator says, turning poet
is a catching and an uncurable disease.
Words: Open Studio Poem #6 fragile pineappple audible edible Name something audible that sounds like a pineapple Name something edible that smells like a floor. Name something fragile that tastes like an apple tree. Name something fragrant that feels like a door.
Open Studio Poem #3: USE THE WHOLE PAGE
The point is growth toward beginning.
Start again—nothing flat or square—
this time learn to move in three
dimensions—cubic, spherical. Can you
write like a dancer? Paint
like an actor? Draw like—
a potter? Remember knitting—
how to turn a heel, shape
a sleeve from a strand.
DO THAT WITH WORDS.
USE THE WHOLE PAGE.
FILL IT WITH SHAPE AND
COLOR AND SOUND AND FLAVOR—
BITTER GREENS AND HOT PEPPERS
AND LEMON ZEST. WRITE
BIG AND ROUND.
USE THE WHOLE PAGE
OPEN STUDIO POEM #4
final granite light synchronize
Rilke said, “No feeling is final.”
Not even granite is permanent—
it crumbles and weathers into parts.
And isn’t it a fine thing
that nothing stays the same?
Time is after all unsynchronized space,
shifting into shapes that cannot last.
Therefore, do not fret.
Keep your touch light,
or maybe don’t touch at all.
I finally figured out that I can do a screen shot of my formatted poem and publish it as an “image.” Good grief. This poem has been in my “to blog” file for ages because the format matters so much. It’s about a wonderful film about Pina Bausch.
WORDS: THREE BOLD ATTEMPTS cricket illustrate tone pearl snap quilt THE GAME Last summer, I studied cricket. Not the insects in August, their crispy vibrations adding tone to the fading garden, but the sport. I like the langauge. Let me illustrate: Overs (six balls per), Stumps and Maidens and Leg Before Wicket. Innings, not as in baseball, is both singular and plural. That’s tea. That’s drinks. Declaring before All Out. Sixes and fours and centuries. Ducks and Golden Ducks. Silly mid-on. Test (the best) and ODI. Howzzat? I followed the World Cup in the Guardian online. They did OBO coverage. England won, to their surprise. I want to see a game someday, a whole five-day test. I want to hear the snap of leather on willow. I’ll bring a quilted vest and a thermos. I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, and pearls. I’ll wait for an umpire to Offer the Light, Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen The summer palace in Oslo. The Queen in residence, a conversation on the terrace. No birds, no crickets singing. The dining room in the palace: candles in the windows, late sun through the windows, green leaves outside the windows. Paintings on the walls—illustrations of green. No furniture but the black piano. The pianist wore striped socks. The soprano wore a green gown, no diamonds, no pearls. A silent audience on screens. No applause. The studio in New York. Monitors and clocks. Christine Goerke’s sad and gracious tone: A difficult time for singers and thank you. The program a carefully stitched quilt: Wagner and Norway’s Grieg, and Strauss, the snap of Kalman’s “Heia, Heia!” The peace of Ronald’s “O Lovely night.” Zuihitsu for the end of a terrible summer 1. Crickets drone away in the dark. I used to love them. This year, I find their rasping cricks most annoying. 2. Last night I watched a moon like a yellow pearl poke through a torn quilt of cloud and leaf. 3. My voice has taken on a querulous tone. I can’t help it. I am possessed by a tired and hot and hungry and frustrated three-year-old child. 4. The purple snap beans I grew do not snap. They are blotchy and stringy and not particularly flavorful. The purple blossoms, however, are lovely, and hummingbirds feed from them, so growing them was not a total waste of water and space. 5. The tone of this zuihitsu illustrates the way I have felt about this summer. A few times only, I have glimpsed something lovely, far away, and still.
pit sew break fan milky frail NOT A MAST YEAR--theme and variations This is not a mast year. I toss peach pits to the one frail squirrel who comes to our yard. Am I the only one who is not making masks? I’ve never liked to sew— a break with family tradition. Degenerate daughter of a great house. At least the Milky Way is a constant, fanning out from the great starry swan. pantoum This is not a mast year. I toss peach pits to the one frail squirrel who comes to our yard. Am I the only one tossing peach pits, the only one who is not making masks? Am I the only one who doesn’t like to sew, who is not making masks? A break with the family tradition— I’ve never liked to sew. Degenerate daughter— (a break in the family tradition) of a great house. I am the inconstant daughter. At least the Milky Way, great path through the heavens, is a constant, fanning out like spilled milk from the great starry swan. We need a constant: that hungry squirrel who comes to our yard under the sign of Cygnus. This is not a mast year. sestina The one squirrel in the yard is frail. She’ll eat anything—peach and plum pits. It’s not a mast year, it’s a broken one. I’ll feed the squirrel, but I will not sew. At night, Cygnus brightens in the Milky Way, his stars spread out in a simple fan. I once had a sandalwood fan— sweet scented frame, frail silk the color of milky tea. It didn’t last—a child pitted against something so fine, sewn together with invisible thread, easy to break. The squirrel keeps breaking the suet feeder, opening it like a fan. I don’t begrudge her. She is so hungry for acorns, frail- winged maple seeds, cherry pits, even the tiny seeds of the milk- weed. She breaks the stems, milky sap sticking bitter to her paws. I break stale bread for her, save pits from fruit, scatter them in a fan across the lawn. The grass too is frail, each blade a fine strand of thread sewn over the cracked soil. A summer so dry the heavens complain. The Milky Way trembles with heat. A frail moon shines through the broken trees. Not a breath of wind fans the simmering ground, pitted with dust. This is the pits. It sucks, like having to sew aprons in junior high. Fans of rebellion, unite! Milk your courage untl it breaks! I’m so tired of feeling frail.
or the alternate last verse, which I kinda like! with dust. This is the pits. It sucks, like having to sew aprons in junior high. Fans of rebellion, unite! Milk the bastards till they break! Let’s stop being so fucking frail.
tough sleeve bag wave half fire
WHAT WE CARRY
Each of us carries a bag, a tough bag,
filled with the weight of our times and years.
Each of us is half-dead these days. We wave
to one another across the firewall.
We wave, and blink our eyes. For each is still
alive, one sleeve rolled up, scrubbing along
however we can, lugging our bags,
bearing our bit of the impossible load.
rigid draw meadow peer lemon cap
(another one with those words)
SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
1. A rigid plastic lawn chair, one of four that my parents kept on the deck of their condominium. I keep it on the front step from spring till snow. I sit there at sunrise and sunset, watching the yellow light flicker like sparks between the leaves.
2. The white linen cap I bought in Traverse City in a shop that sold hats and, unexpectedly, wine-making supplies. A young friend told me that when I wear it, I remind him of Yoko Ono. I wear it often.
3. Our backyard. It was forest, then meadow, then lawn, and it is now growing up again into forest. We’ve reserved a patch of grass around the house, and bits for vegetables and flowers, but what was barren lawn is filling up with grasses and goldenrod, bramble and sumac, gray dogwood and pine and oak. Five years ago, I planted one solemn young chestnut tree as an act of defiance.
4.The drawing of a cat we had for a few months. Her name was Nanette, and she was tri-colored, and very small. The old woman who gave her to us could not keep her. “There’s something wrong with her,” she told us, and there was. In the drawing, Nanette is curled, sleeping, in a chair that once was in the living room and is now in the kitchen. The drawing was made by an artist friend who stayed with us for a summer—along with her husband and three children—in the room that once was our guest room, and is now the study where I write.
5. The lemons I always have by me. Here is a new maxim I try to live by: When in doubt, add lemon. To vegetables, to pastas, to soda water, to soup. The scent of lemon revives me and a lick of lemon opens my senses to all the good in the world that remains.
6. Ursula Le Guin wrote “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.” I treasure a company of peers—poets, artists, women who keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
cap rigid lemon peer draw meadow
SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020
Like a drawing by Van Gogh,
I stand rigid in the meadow. I wear my white cap.
I peel a lemon, and peer at the trees.
I wear my white cap
though the brim is too rigid
for me to bend against the lemon-
brightness of the sun. I stand alone, peer
into the middle distance like a drawing
by Van Gogh of a woman in a meadow.
It is August, and the earth is dry. The meadow
crackles with brown grasses capped
with seeds. The summer draws
to a close. Have we yet let go our rigid
sense of what is real? My peers
cannot guess. News sours me, like lemon.
When I was young, I wore lemon
cologne. I lay in this meadow
beside a man—my peerless
lover—who wore a Greek fishing cap.
But our bones have gone rigid
with the years. We have drawn
living water so long. Now we draw
water grown bitter, like lemon
rind, and brackish, from a rigid
bottle. A butterfly wavers over the meadow
searching for one plant to cap
with one pale egg. I peer
at her with shaded eyes, my only peer
now in this tight-drawn
season, this heated season, capped
with grasses the color of dried lemon
peel. Under my feet, the meadow
soil is hard, cracked, rigid
with the hard rigidity
of this rainless summer, a peerless
summer of an anxiety that a meadow
cannot know. The trees live on, drawing
their life from deeper water. The lemon
sun beats and beats on my white cap.
joy exhaust chorus toll appear trunk
SIX WORDS, SIX STANZAS
The steamer trunk might have been my grandfather’s,
but I don’t remember seeing it in
his dark little room that smelled like old clocks.
If I sit for a long time in this chair
the right words will appear. Like magic.
Despite the evidence, I still believe
that. Believing in anything now takes
a toll. There doesn’t seem to be a god,
for instance, who gives a shit about us.
It’s August. The dawn chorus is over
for the year. Sometimes, one dusty robin
lands on the lawn and hops around. The worms
have burrowed down under. Everyone is
exhausted by the heat, the drought, the plague,
waiting and waiting for some kind of relief.
My grandfather had a small life, and yet
he made himself a bit of joy. Magic tricks.
Walks. Old friends. Keeping all those clocks ticking.
with thanks to Kathy, David, Kathy, and Wanda
OPEN STUDIO POEM 2
Too lazy today to pay attention
to the face in the looking glass—
mirror, mirror on the wall—
Does it matter what we look like?
I’m learning lately to be
my own friend. The kind
of friend I need. A friend
with pluck. Spunk. The kind
of nerve it takes to ignore
the face and see
what’s on the other side.
Is it too late to invent America?
While the sky outside turned mauve,
Kushner’s Belize said, “I hate America. . . .
You come to room 1013 over at the hospital. .
I’ll show you America.
Terminal, crazy and mean.”
In a city rife with AIDS,
every day he did his tasks.
Compassion isn’t what you think.
Nobody knows what Jesus wrote
in the sand, but the men dropped their stones
and crept away, one by one.
No one is without sin
and it’s a commonplace to hate in others
our own grimmest angels.
I hate people who aren’t compassionate.
America has never been great
and we’ve never had a decent metaphor.
From the beginning, the pot didn’t hold us all—
why should we stew and amalgamate?
How about a braid—not of hair, but of water—
slow river moving over a delta,
living streams carrying their histories,
interlacing, winding toward one sea.
For the past few weeks, I have been the only poet in an online open studio. Instead of knitting last time, I decided to ask each of the other artists for a word, and I wrote this poem while they did their arts.
The unpruned fuchsia in its faded pot
is a mess of sticks, spotty leaves, a few stunted buds.
It is not a malleable plant;
it’s fussy about water and light.
Not like the daffodils. Every spring—
flood or freeze or April snow—
they push up through thickets of grasses
and edge the lawn with yellow and white.
I expect there is some liberty
in taking what is given, staying deep,
blooming from the settled bulb.
THE TRICKSTER IS STILL AROUND
Not Loki or Enki,
not Coyote who stole fire
or Wakjunkaga who made
himself some women’s parts
and gave birth to three sons.
This one carries his tiny penis
in a jumbo jet. His wives
and daughters are plastic dolls,
his sons the undead.
He eats honor, shits coal.
His houses are built of bones.
Make no mistake:
somewhere under our nice
we want to be like him—
possess without limit,
rule without shame.
He shows us, uncovers us.
Unless we change our lives,
he will never go away.
OBSERVATIONS ON A HOT SUMMER MORNING
I recognize my friends by the worry behind their masks.
In town, the biggest crane we’ve ever seen
looms like something in a surreal movie set.
Early this morning, I walked past a meadow
overgrown with weeds, the hopeless sticks of elm.
Raven flew close, brushed me with the shadow of her wing.
What does it mean to live these complicated days?
Have all days been this way, and ourselves
too caught up in flimsy occupation to notice?
VARIATIONS: FOUR WORDS, THREE STANZAS
The raven has been flying to and fro
over the earth. She has returned.
I think it will rain again.
Do you know the meaning of grace?
The word you say before you eat;
the way a dancer walks in her pointed shoes.
The bear has been seen again.
We say “the bear” as if there were only one
running through the woods between our houses.
It’s enough to make me believe
in Satan’s test of Job.
How much more can they bear?
The talking raven will not be silent.
Over and over she says
“What’s the point? What’s the point?’
Like Hecate preceding and following Persephone,
grace precedes and follows us.
The question remains, “When?”
Once I found a raven grazed by a car.
I set her in the grass, covered her with leaves.
The next day, in the same place,
a raven circled me three times.
The acknowledgement was almost more
than I could bear. And I’ve wondered
since if the point was not gratitude but
taunt. “You cached me in the grass,
foul human, but see! I live.”
A raven pair tumbles over the yard
and the dog will not stop barking.
A bear climbs the fence and the dog is silent.
Raven is a trickster.
Bear is a god.
Is there a difference.
Walk the shore to the farthest point,
the place where sand turns to stone.
There is no limit to grace.
It always happens when there is too much
light, too much pollen, too much
The birds sing me awake.
The leaves are closing in.
I get tired.
I can’t digest.
All my life.
While my sisters played on the porch
I hid in the meadow.
While my friends splashed in the pool,
I climbed the outcrop to be alone.
While my colleagues ate eggs and muffins,
I sat on a green bench by the river
to pull myself together.
And now, this terrible year,
when there are no parties to avoid or dread,
I’m weighted down by the heat, by the sun.
Like a bear, I could be in a cleft in the rocks,
asleep until snow,
until mornings are quiet and dark again.
Until there is nothing to eat but roots and bread.
WITHOUT EVENT—A ZUIHITSU AGAIN
~with thanks to Ray for showing me the form
Our son sent a photo of our grandson at his pre-school graduation ceremony. He’s sitting in the backseat of the car wearing a cardboard hat with “2020” painted on in glitter. He looks so happy and proud. I’ve heard there are juniors at the High School here who want to do a drive-in graduation next year, because it is so much more “personal.”
I have seen—has the world seen?—the photo of a black grandfather carrying a wounded white racist to safety. ‘I’m protecting our kids,” he said. Take up your cross and follow me.
I don’t have Big Girl Underpants—mine are all the same—so this morning I put on my Big Girl Lipstick and brushed my hair behind my ears and took the dog for a walk again.
In the late 1880s, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem in honor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. This is how it ends:
. . . . . .while there went/ Those years and years by of world without event/ That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
The prayer beads I carry in the pocket of my jeans are mostly wooden relics of my old Camp Fire Girl days. Four onyx beads. Two pewter suns salvaged from broken earrings. A tiny diary key. And an onyx cross, maybe half an inch long.
Ever since that first Gulf War I’ve had doubts about intercessory prayer. What about all those people who don’t get prayed for except in a generic way (Dear God, bless all the people in the world.)? I pray in a generic way these days. May all beings be free from suffering. At least that reminds me that I’m not alone, which may be the whole point.
As I walked this morning, I noticed a tiger swallow-tail fluttering along the roadside, parallel to my path. She seemed to be looking for flowers, which are fairly scarce along that shady stretch. She ignored a patch of spindly buttercups, landed finally on a plant I didn’t recognize, and began feeding on what I would hardly call flowers, just nubs of pale greenish white, hanging in clusters at the ends of the leaves.
ANOTHER ZUIHITSU because I have to write something
It’s as if someone is deliberately making things so bad that nobody can stand it. Almost enough to make me believe in the Beast, the AntiChrist, or something like that.
We hoard dark roasted coffee beans in little brown bags in the freezer. I think I have enough now.
I’ve been trying not to look at the news every hour, but I can’t help it. It’s the only way I can participate, living here, in this little green bowl.
Chipmunks live under the front steps. They scurry out to get food, scurry back in for fear of hawks and weasels and our dog. But they’re never safe from weasels.
A very satisfying conputer game: drag random clusters of jewels into rows and columns on a board laid out in squares. When I place a cluster, I hear a lovely “click.” When I complete a row or column, I hear a very satisfying “ping.” I can’t stop playing this game even though it makes my neck sore.
I had to get coffee beans out of the freezer last night. They were so hard that I couldn’t grind them till this morning. I know that some people don’t like to freeze beans, and some people say one should grind the beans right before brewing, but I don’t care.
I have painted a piece of cardboard with a color called “Tea Room”—one of those small samples of paint available for a dollar at the paint store. When the paint was dry, I drew square tiles with a black marker and installed it in the cardboard box castle we made to illustrate fairy tales for the grandchildren.
The Great Crested Flycatcher sits on a high perch to hunt for insects. If she misses an insect on her first pass, she pursues it in the air. Unless her nestlings object, she offers the whole insect, wings and all. If they do object, she pummels the insect until the offending wings break off.
Many twigs, new-leafed, blew off the trees last night in the wind. When I walked the dog down the driveway early this morniung, I picked them up—at least, most of them—and tossed them back among the trees so they wouldn’t have to dry and turn to dust on the driveway stones.
The people were tired
of being held down,
tired of the collusion
between the occupying power
and the religious power
too prudent—or too timid—
to stand with them and declare
enough is enough.
They’d heard him bless
the poor, the hungry,
the mourners, the persecuted.
They’d heard him curse
the rich, the sated,
the scoffers, the praised.
So when he rode into town
on a borrowed donkey,
the common people–
the ordinary people–called out
Blessing and Peace and Glory! and
Save us, please. Save us!
The powers were alarmed
and tried to silence the people.
And what did he reply?
Turn then, if you would,
to Luke 19: 40-41
and read what he said.
And read what happened next.
ZUIHITSU for a day when there should be no words
After the scanty rainfall yesterday (or was it the day before?), I planted beans. Six rows of black beans. I crawled along on my hands and knees to set them in the furrows and cover them with soil. As I patted the soil in place, I left my handprints to show that I’d been there.
On our morning walk, the dog and I noticed a red-tailed hawk watching us from a power line. As we approached, she took flight and landed in a dead elm tree beside the newly cut hayfield on the other side of the road.
Most days, I walk a bit farther than four miles. Today I was cold and wanted to get home to start the laundry. When the washing is all in the machine, perhaps I’ll vacuum the rug. That seems about all I can manage these days: walks and housework.
Tomorrow—no—the next day—tomorrow is Tuesday—my husband and I will sit in my study and wait for the computer tingle that signals our son’s weekly call. It will be good to see the children. The three-year old tries to touch us through the screen. She has skin like a bisque doll, and enormous blue eyes. There are so many things she will never have to know.
If you don’t have fairy tales, how do you live?
The Miller’s Youngest Son answers the riddles.
The Serving Girl rises from the Cinders
to marry the Prince. If you give a cup
of cold water to the woman at the well
you will receive a jeweled reward. If you don’t,
you will spit serpents for the rest of your life.
If the odds are against you, you will win—
the youngest, the fool, the poorest, outcast,
the least likely to succeed. Isn’t it
what you want to believe, you, who like me
are all those things and more? If you finish
the witch’s tasks and don’t ask for answers,
she will give you all the light you need.
I’ve known the story since second grade,
that terrible year. The teacher checking
our fingernails and handkerchiefs,
teaching nothing but tedium. Gray
and marcelled, as chained as I
to that small-town school.
The stench of hot-lunch goulash.
White bread spread thick with margarine.
The shallow patch of backlot gravel
where we tried to play.
Reading was my happiness.
Sometimes I was allowed
to sit on the windowsill with a book.
And where would I have found
such a thing in that barren place?
I can still see the drawing clearly—
the line of the girl’s dress,
the dragon’s orange flame.
And the prince—not St. George, I think—
but it was the same tale—
the monster demanding sacrifice,
the unexpected release.
1. Five beautiful things: Yarn for a blanket. A gallon of maple syrup. Ruthie’s blue eyes. The white-throated sparrow’s song. A fragment of a poem written on an old bookmark.
2. Four unusual things: A hairbrush with broken bristles. A tulip bent by the snow. A rabbit hiding under the sandbox. The tube of tomato paste moved to the vegetable bin.
3. Three things to do: Plant three ramps in the woods. Fill the watering can. Write a note to David.
4. Four unpleasant things: A hollow feeling. The smell of gasoline. A sore thumb. Horsetails in the garden.
Zuihitsu for the 51st Day
1. I have never paced when I am in distress. I stand, rooted, staring, generally out the kitchen window at whatever birds I can notice eating the suet that we hang in little wire baskets from the canopy supports on the deck. This morning, I saw a pair of white-throated sparrows and a pair of catbirds and a pair of cardinals and a single male downy woodpecker.
2. The route of my morning walk is flat for awhile, then slopes gently downhill to a worn-out barn on the brink of a gully. Jim keeps old-fashioned electric Christmas candles in the barn windows. The road then slants uphill until on the left there is an unpaved side road going farther up past an old hillfarm cemetery before connecting back to a main road. My road flattens out again to a swamp where grackles and red-winged black birds and swamp sparrows are nesting now.
3. Our granddaughter extended her hand toward the web camera to show us a book. She recited Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “The Swing Song” for me. My mother, for whom she is named, taught it to me when I was three, and our son taught it to our grandchildren.
4. I wish I could come up with an idea for a big project: a play, or a series of poems. I simply don’t have enough energy to extend myself much beyond the usual “poem a day,” and even those are getting sillier.
5. Nettles are creeping down the driveway from the little patch I planted ten years ago so I could harvest them for tea. I don’t harvest them. I’m trying to pull them up by the roots so they won’t take over the whole place. “Remember . . /the nettles that methodically overgrow /the abandoned homes of exiles.” (Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)
6. I told our grandson I heard a towhee this morning. Our son asked him if he remembered what they say. “Drink your tee hee hee hee,” he answered, smiling his slanty little smile.
7. My husband is extending his trip out into the world today—not just the usual route to the grocery store and home again, but a side trip to the pharmacy to get medicine for the cat’s hair loss and more milk thistle and vitamin D for us. He brought two pairs of gloves.
8. Linda emailed a poem to me, “the one she’s been waiting for,” she said. Nadine Anne Hura wrote it, “for Papatuanuku, Mother Earth.” She calls on the Mother to “Breathe easy and settle,” and tells her “We’ll stop, we’ll cease/We’ll slow down and stay home” It would be a change of pace—hell, it would be a change of everything these days to have a president who shares poetry with us, or who even reads poetry. Or anything, for that matter.
9. Just after sunset, I took Julie down the driveway as usual. It was clear and pleasant, so I did not hurry, but strolled along at her doggy pace. Watching her check the smells—deer? rabbits? that bear our neighbor saw?—along the way puts a fresh slant on things.
A zuihitsu is a Japanese form, consisting of loosely connected fragments written mostly in response to the writer’s surroundings. The word means “follow the brushstroke.” For more see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pillow_Book
born (or borne) or bourn, for that matter.
TO ARIADNE, WITH APOLOGIES
Winding small and smaller
into this fractaled labyrinth—
this, and this, and oh yes
this again—I know this path,
this curve, this color.
No center, only pattern,
the bourn approached
but never reached.
If Platonic, I’d re-form
the beast, Cynic, manipulate.
Stoic, I’d pay it no mind.
If there were a beast,
something here not myself,
this endless ball of string.
This morning, something— a gesture?
a word? a scrap of dream?—kindled
a yen for flight beyond
these walls of age and time
and choices made. But I remain,
grounded in every sense, rooted
in a garden of my own construction.
A robin is building her nest
outside the window of the room
where I write, shaping the sticks
and grass with her muddy breast.
In the budding lilac, her mate sings.
If fates and jays agree, nestlings shall fledge,
fragile as imagined wings.
Rearranged, and the grammar changed to protect the guilty.
LINE ONE, 2016
I have forgotten how to sleep.
I don’t do things I resist.
I do not like beets or old goat cheese.
I know what is going on below the surface.
I think I’ll save the dollhouse that my parents made.
It was late winter.
We drove all afternoon and into the night
as if the only reality was the car—
He told me he’d killed the coiled dragon
here in this country called US.
So many trees across the path.
These levers, bellows—
Tonic. Sub-dominant. Every Good Boy.
We preferred tunes in the Crixian mode.
Don’t think about walking down the stairs.
It’s bad enough falling, or being chased.
All the women in our family have affairs.
If you’re wise,
forget the damned button—
it’s so small.
You know the watering can?
It reminded me of that morning.
It’s best to pretend it never happened.
Thanks a bunch, Kari. Just what I need —to focus.
What, precisely, is the point?
Not so much the spot of blindness
I might have been.
In the beginning, I thought I’d learn
the way they forget to.
Oh, my vice, my difficulty!
Goldfinches edge the lawn.
Now, I am drawn to gray, November,
cold chłodnik* green with dill.
Sleep, little one, sleep.
When I was a child, I could fly.
*you say “whod-neek”
Rain, nearly snow, yet
the robin speaks of spring,
of blue eggs, of cheer.
Who am I, to let hope
and joy fizzle away?
The lilac is sprouting green,
the muskrat, seated
by her reedy lair,
is washing her face,
and in the gray dogwood,
has found a starting place.
This is an old one I just dug up.
Remember the Costa Rican cowboy?
He has returned, and was he always
a dream? He lay on the grass
and read poetry to children. He ate
caesar salad and believed in a god
who understood everything he felt.
Once upon a time, we talked
all night. He drank beer and I drank
sherry and smoked. He never smoked.
Did he kiss me by the water? Did I
marry him?And what if I didn’t?
I hear that he has learned
to play the mandolin.
ANOTHER WALK DOWN THE SAME ROAD
I don’t understand “routine.”
Something crossed the road, here.
I don’t know what, yet. I don’t know when—
yesterday at sunset, or in the dark, or at dawn—
that’s what I’m trying to discover.
If you had the sense, I’d tell you.
If you would stop pulling and walk nicely,
you would not miss countless meadow voles,
chipmunks crouching in the roadside brushpiles,
the red squirrel peering from a hole in the dead pine,
the owl lumbering through the trees.
Stop. Sit. Wait.
Even now, in the woods
at the edge of the long hay field, something stirs.
NAME THAT ROOT
Knobby, greening, hard white twists sprout in spring.
Planted, they draw stripy bugs who leave orange eggs
and thick red larvae that squash to a gooey mess.
Their poisonous leaves draw spores of blights.
They soften, slime and perish.
So basic their absence can mean famine.
Growing them is a chore, a back-breaker,
but in late summer, grabbling them
with your grandchild means a feast.
. . . it is better to speak,
we were never meant to survive.
And yet. . O yet, there are times,
this time, closed and tight together
or closed up tight alone
when it is better not to speak
to another, to ourselves,
of the distresses of mortality,
deprivation of company,
the small irritations undispelled.
Truth is speaking now—
her own voice
pushing through cracks
in the crumbling
towers and walls,
rising like magma
from the beaten ground,
spreading like water
claiming her spaces
like returning birds.
For awhile now,
it is better
not to speak.
to her voice.
To be silent,
if we would survive.
Now and then, inspired by Emily Anderson’s wonderful Bluebird Fairies (Check them out! Get a pack! Support Artists!), I draw what I call a Slip Fairy instead of writing a daily poem. Here are a couple of recent ones. (Slip Fairy because they’re drawn with the non-dominant hand.)
WORK FOR THE DAY
Your assignment: design a container
for the sea. It must embrace each whale
and fleck of plankton. Of course, you will think
of your favorite tropical fish, the rich
coral canyons, the deep kelp forests,
the sea otters and singing dolphins, but
you must must include the rest:
great white sharks and red tides,
the deadly stinging jellyfish.
Your container must hold every calm
and billow, every island and basin
and estuary and brackish backwater.
Leave nothing out. The tsunami must be
there, and the pale blue impossible calms
after the storms have passed.
We’ll sing her the birthday song
we’ve done it three times now
for that girl named after my mother,
with my mother’s profile.
Her blue eyes that stayed that way.
Feisty from the beginning—
sure of herself, surefooted, sure
of her wants. Monsters beware!
Disguised as one of them, she conquers.
From the tops of trees and towers she reigns.