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

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. 

Winter Prompt #20: Bivouac

BIVOUAC

Winter Prompt #20

Whenever I look, I see you twice.

The tent in the forest by Texas Falls

and the couch where you go

those nights you can’t sleep.

The rocky lake shore

in the moonlight and wind

and the chair where you doze with the cat.

This double vision is a peculiar

blessing to the old,

living as we do in many places

with so much behind

and so much less ahead.

 

Winter Prompts #2: How love is different now

HOW LOVE IS DIFFERENT NOW

Winter Prompt #2

For a baby, love is a breast,

for an old cat, a sunny soft chair.

A dog wants to know

what you want her to do,

a teenager, just that you’re there.

 

And then, when you’re old—

an old person, that is—

love’s more than excitement and sex.

It’s a laugh and a tear and a good hand to hold

while waiting for what’s coming next.

MOONS

MOONS

 

1.

New moon at sunset,

caught in the branches of the oak—

Full moon at midnight

dazzling the skin of snow—

Thin moon before dawn

rising in Earth’s darkest sky—

you are the sign

of every woman growing old.

 

2.

All myths repeat themselves

in vision and in dream—

Now that I am waning

into the crescent C—

Cry, Crone, Crypt—

I am convinced:

every myth is true.

 

3.

Artemis, moon-bow of my youth

bends back into the winter dawn

and comes to me where three ways meet.

Her lamp casts shadows on the way.

She gives me one of her hounds—

a small yellow dog who watches crows,

wild dog who understands what death is for,

who wakes to foxes barking in the dark.

REUNION

REUNION

Was it spring of 67 or 68 when we cut

class to bottle Phil’s beer? 68 because

you were out of the dorm, into that house

with the blacklight bathroom. The artist

who made all those death masks only

we were still alive. Our faces done in

plaster tape. We drank it all, didn’t we,

before graduation, the night we played

charades in the park. Phil sang so

loud the cops came and sent us home.

He married her—the artist, I can’t

remember her name. Somewhere

on the Cape. All those masks. Remember

the bonfire? Masks and class notes.

Hundreds of masks, or at least dozens.

Hanging in that bathroom. I’d like

to have one now, that plain white.

The plaster heated up after awhile.

Trusting somebody so you could breathe.

Phil was at some museum last I heard.

Maura. He and Maura didn’t last,

but we all knew they wouldn’t the way

she fooled around. The pink dotted-

swiss bridesmaid’s dress I tossed after

the wedding, and she was an artist.

Empire waists so we all looked

pregnant. I guess some of us were.

Funny you can be someone’s brides-

maid and lose touch and even forget

her name. Maura. Funny to be

with old friends and know, all

of a sudden, that we’re old.

BIRTHDAY

BIRTHDAY

I wasn’t born yesterday.

~The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite, T. Pratchett

 

I was born years ago in a snowstorm,

butt first, which explains my perspectives:

right is left, north is south, and so on.

There’s something, too, about winter,

blowing snow that blew itself

into my bones. There are things

you won’t understand

until you are so old

that no one alive calls you children.

The patterns, strangeness of passages,

the way the long corridor winds,

edged with fewer doors.