words: WHAT WE CARRY

tough   sleeve   bag    wave    half    fire

l.

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.

words: SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU

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.

words: SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020

 

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. 

words: Open Studio Poem #2

with thanks to Kathy, David, Kathy, and Wanda

 

lazy

looking glass

friend

pluck

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.

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE

 

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE

It always happens when there is too much 

light, too much pollen, too much 

of everything. 

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.

words: Nesting

NESTING

 

wall

kindle

fragile

flight

 

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.

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.  

 

 

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.

 

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.