VISITING THE GRANDCHILDREN

VISITING THE GRANDCHILDREN

Books. Markers and tape.

Blocks go together or not. 

From this height, piles of leaves

look too small for jumping

but they are fine.

The trail by the river is inviting

but too long for feet and too

embarrassing for the stroller. 

Were we ever so busy?

We don’t remember.

The house is filled 

with scampers, changes, babble. 

Firefighter hats and a monster cape. 

Harmonicas and a little tin drum. 

What’s in the closet

and who knows the words?

What we want and don’t:

peanut butter, another story,

a good night’s sleep. 

To be the first one found, or

the last one lost.  

 

 

Imaginary Paintings: Poet in Garret, November

POET IN GARRET, NOVEMBER

~attributed to Jan Vermeer, 1703

You see at once that she’s cold,

the way she hunches

over the table in the fireless

room. Light from one small

window slants across her page.

She is half-turned toward you,

her lips are parted, her eyes

focused on a word appearing

just above your right shoulder.

Imaginary Paintings: All Souls’, The Witch

ALL SOULS:  THE WITCH

~The Kilkenny Book of Hours, c. 1410

Outside, a half moon, waning.

Inside she sits by the fire, 

gray cat on her lap.

Her clothes are unremarkable

and her long gray hair is unbound

and mingles with the cat’s fur.

On the plain table, a wooden

bowl of apples. Garlic

and onions hang on pegs. 

A single dove shelters

on a rafter. A sudden wind

blows open the door.

 

 

This was originally for Pentecost, but I think it works for All Souls, too.

DRAWING LESSON

I wrote this years ago for my friend Maggie, who at age 80 started modeling for art students, because, she said, “They need to know what old people look like.”  She liked the poem, and recorded herself reading it back to me. She died a couple of years ago, in her 90s. I miss her.

 

DRAWING LESSON

—in memory of Maggie Miller

 

Here you are, most with a world ahead,

some with half a world behind,

come to draw the human form.

And here I am naked before you

so comfortable, easy

in my eighty year old skin.

 

I love my folds,

metamorphosed mountains.

You think you can draw 

an old woman, dear babies?

Lean in, look hard.

It will cost you all your life.

 

I have been down deep, 

through muscle, sinew, bone.

Loved long a man long dead,

borne a son and let him go.

I am learning how to pray

and I laugh when you ask me to tell.

 

In my time I have come

to the heart’s solid core–

heat of life and more–

Now over you I pour 

my fire like water.

From where I lie I see

the place the stars will rise.

 

COMMUNION

COMMUNION

 

All morning we cleaned the shed beside the church—

one of those places all over America

where the hungry poor come to stand in line

for day-old bread and canned beans,

for commodity tubes of hamburger,

bags of shredded orange cheese,

MRE-style pouches of beef stew.

We hauled out the cardboard and the plastic 

from the cases of cans of corn 

and mac-and-cheese and fruit cocktail.

We scrubbed down the rusty metal shelves;

we vacuumed up the dust, tidied the refrigerators.

We made room in the freezers 

for the dated meats and donuts and pies 

another crew pickes up from the market.

 

We didn’t talk much. 

We know each other well enough 

to work in silence— 

four women, the Tuesday volunteers,

each of us old enough to have a few scars.

At noon, Phyllis handed out some 

blueberry muffins she’d baked. 

We took a break, ate 

standing outside in the parking lot

in the late September sunshine.

Then we got back to work.

FELL SWOOP

 

 

FELL SWOOP

 

Tired at last of myself, 

the way I’ve been for seventy years—

tight and worried, wanting my perfect way—

in a swoop—and was it fell?—I laughed. 

Laughed at the coiled clay vase that wanted 

to be a fish, laughed at the poems 

that wouldn’t be printed in little magazines 

and at my past earnestness 

about the importance of that, laughed 

at my belief that those pants would

make me leggy like the model in the catalogue, 

that this diet or pill or “spiritual practice” 

would fix my — everything. 

And last night I split a bottle of Switchback

with Jean and we laughed at our husbands’ old jokes 

during what would once have been 

a nervous attempt at “dinner party” 

and we made spontaneous 

ice cream sandwiches for dessert 

from crispy brownies and ice cream 

straight from the carton, and I’m still laughing.

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.