FIRST LIGHT

~in astronomy, the first use of a telescope

1.

A wall is not a bad thing

when one is ten years old and afraid.

Imagination is a good wall:

the goddesses of ancient Greece,

the stories in the stars, the fairies

living under the grasses and in the trees.

And girls in books,

their strength like stone:

Jo and Meg, Velvet Brown, Anne.

 

God makes a good wall, the sturdy one

I met at St. Luke’s, who spoke Elizabethan

in Father Pickard’s imitation British,

who smiled down on pious children.

Hymns made a sure foundation, 

the blue choir robe a kind of armor. 

And when one came of age,

the flat dissolve of the wafer, 

the strange warmth of wine.

 

2. 

Hadrian built this wall 

to keep wild blue people out. 

On our side, sanitation, hot baths,

birthday parties and socks.

On their side, the gods only know.

Dirt-floored huts, animal skins,

raw meat eaten with the hands?

Superstition. Barbaric sacrifices.

Look over the wall, if you dare.

What is hiding behind those stones?

 

3. 

Shall I list the things I fear,

what the walls keep out?

If I give them names,

will that give me power?

Can I clothe them,

give them form,

and seeing their weaknesses,

laugh them into oblivion?

Are they nothing 

but shadows after all?

Bears under the bed?

Barbarians painted blue?

 

4.

Sixty years ago

I could not stand

in front of Mother and say

Daddy is drunk and I hate it.

I’m going out into the field

to pull myself together

and then I’ll come back

and get on with my life.

I want you and Daddy

to solve this. 

Without my help.

 

5.

When my little grandson is afraid,

I can tell him:

This is what’s happening.

This will happen.

The mower is noisy

but we’re safe if we stand here.

The big truck will drive away.

The bird will not bite you.

Mommy will come back.

The shot will hurt and then

the hurt will stop. 

 

I can tell myself:

This story is mine.

The barbarians

are my grandmothers.

Nothing lasts forever.

I can open any door.

Advertisements

BACK TO THE EDGES OF ODDNESS

BACK TO THE EDGES OF ODDNESS

 

Since midsummer, fairies with green wings 

twinkle around my eyes all night long. 

They beg me to be invisible, 

offer me fernseed and a cap woven 

of milkweed and thistle fluff. 

The dog is restless when they are in the house, 

and my husband can’t sleep, 

and I can’t explain. The cats 

don’t seem to mind.

 

Whatever shall we do with realism, 

reason, logic, the sciences that deny 

the way things are? A cloud of demons, 

their sharp laughter, the steadfast angels 

raising their lavender shields. 

Every tree has a soul;  early in the morning

you can hear them singing to the sun. 

Their music wakes the birds. 

Angels are stars, balls of flaming gas. 

Everything is real, but more or less 

than anyone can imagine. 

God is everything. 

Nothing is mutually exclusive.

TRANSFIGURATION

TRANSFIGURATION

 

We knew the answers then, 

how it could be. Remember

that the old folks mostly hung back,

looked on kindly and amused. 

They knew as I know now

that everything would pass 

like those flickers on a cave wall. 

The community would shrink

and scatter. Ambition, death,

families—would do what they do. 

We’d wake up, sad, 

because the good dream was over.

We’d come down the mountain

twisting our ankles, sliding on scree,

bumping our heads on low branches. 

We’d be bitten by ticks and bears.

And after awhile, like those old 

mountaineers who went before,

we’d arrive at home,

sweep out our houses, 

get back to work.

EVEN NOW

EVEN NOW

 

Magic can still find a place, you know.

There is a corner behind the sofa

where no dog hair can collect;

you have one spoon

that always makes everything

taste like honey. The third

moth who bumps herself

on the screen door at midnight

has a calm and gentle face.

If you carry a white stone

in your left front pocket

you will remember

to breathe. Or maybe

you’ll just remember.

IMAGINARY PAINTING

IMAGINARY PAINTING

 

There is no painting here.

No artist prepared

a palette, a canvas.

No ecstasy or agony

of creation.

Nothing was lugged

to a gallery. 

No one returned,

disappointed, to a garret.

It was never displayed

in hallway, drawing room,

library, museum.

It is not real, except

as silence, out 

of the reach of sense,

a whim, a dream.

END OF SPRING, 1930

END OF SPRING, 1930

~Mary Cassatt

 

The white-gowned girl is running away

from you. She has curly blonde hair.

Her feet are bare. Her pink sash

is untied and trails behind.

In her left hand she carries a yellow

basket, filled with a blur of green.

To her right, a lilac in full bloom,

each blossom rendered with careful

detail. You can hear her mother

calling on the hilltop behind you, 

but there’s something about the way

the child is moving. You know

she will not turn back.

THE FEAST OF ST. WALPURGA

THE FEAST OF ST. WALPURGA

 

I have just returned

but before I sleep

I must record.

 

The moon was dark,

the sky was clouded.

Earthscent was rising

 

up from the valley

into the cold air

along the ridge.

 

We came in our silence,

lit the fire in silence. 

When they arrived,

 

we sang the words

to set them free.

While we waited then

 

for the flames to die,

while we waited

in our silence

 

with the long darkness

around us, a pair

of owls called 

 

from the forest

down in the trees.

A good omen

 

for the season to come.

The flight home

was uneventful.