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

March Prompt #10: The Chilean Skeleton

THE CHILEAN SKELETON

March Prompt #10

There was nothing to do but baptize it—

God forgive me—that tiny dead thing.

It was still warm, still damp with its mother’s

blood. They were afraid to wash it,

she said, afraid the water would kill it

before they could get it here, to save

its soul. The least they could do, they said.

She kept crossing herself, the grandmother

who brought it to the church. She kept

crying, afraid the girl had sinned, afraid

she herself had sinned. I did what I could.

I blessed her. I lighted candles for the girl.

I washed the little thing in clean water,

sealed it with the cross, wrapped it

in a linen cloth. I offered to bury it,

but the grandmother said they’d see to that.

It’s what women do, she said.

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.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part VII

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part VII

 

7. O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

With us—where else would you be

except everywhere?

Those galaxies, universes

bubbling into being,

stretching out and letting go.

Photons, quarks in their crazy flavors.

Magma flow, the frozen layers.

White shells and bones.

All the acorns buried under leaves.

The burning horses, stray dogs.

The toddler with brain cancer.

The addict under the bridge

staring at the river.

The black man, shot dead

even as I write these words.

With us.

The woman grinding the last of the grain,

drawing the last bucket of water.

If you’re not with us,

where are we?

And if you are with us,

where are we?

Where?

Emmanuel.

O Come.

TO MY SISTER SUE

TO MY SISTER SUE

November 29, 1955—June 27, 1993

After you died, I determined to live

more worthy, left work I was not

sure about, took up my pen.

 

It’s been twenty-four years.

I’ve spiraled back toward something

maybe like god, but not

 

the one I thought I knew,

for how could that one

have let you die despite

 

our prayers. How could it

allow so damned much pain.

The pottery monk you gave me

 

stands with his folded hands,

beautific smile, next to a jade tree

in a green pot. Your photo hangs

 

on my study wall, your face

pensive, dark eyes gazing

toward something I cannot see.

 

June 27, 2017