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

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

MEDITATION WITH ANIMALS

 

I set my coffee cup on the table, 

open the book for lectio divina.

I will not light the candle today

because the north wind blows through the window. 

The white cat creeps up onto the table

and asks to be in my lap. I comply. 

I open the book. The dog, who has been

asleep on the couch, looks out the window

and sees a rabbit in the yard. She screams

to go out. I set the cat down, cover

my cup with a saucer to keep the coffee

warm, replace the bookmark, and get up to

let the dog out. My husband, who had trouble 

sleeping last night, is still asleep on the

porch, so I guide the dog past him, silent. 

I hold the dog’s collar till I’m sure 

the rabbit has escaped through a holes in

the fence, and I let the dog go. She tears

around the yard. I return to my table 

and book, listening for the dog’s call to 

come in. The cat settles back on my lap. 

I read a sentence, and there is the bark. 

I do not cover my coffee this time, 

but go through the porch to the back door 

and let the dog in without waking my

husband. I give the dog her rawhide bone

dipped in peanut butter and return to 

the table, the cat, and the lukewarm 

coffee. I read another sentence.

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

from a prompt

THE SHELL OF BELIEFS

 

The chambered nautilus expands,

seals off each outgrown space,

and yet the empty rooms remain

as spiraled witness to the change.

 

The growing shell is not a burden

to the wanderer inside

who uses it to stay afloat,

and when it’s time, to dive.

 

And thus may we use all we’ve known

and all that we’ve believed

to navigate the sea we’re in

as long as we’re alive.

PROMISE

PROMISE

 

We keep showing you:

 

The little frogs, the birds.

Islands and mountains,

drowned rivers, 

fertile fields.

Brown leaves out of season.

 

Trees move so slowly.

 

Don’t let dread freeze you;

ice is deadly as heat.

Keep moving. 

Stay together.

Stamp your feet.

 

And promise us 

 

you’ll save something:

one sparrow, 

one sapling.

One patch 

of hallowed ground.

 

From 2015.

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

THE OLD LADY DISCOVERS FACEBOOK

AND OFFERS A SORT OF APOLOGY

All you want to do

is touch.  It used to be easy,

while winnowing grain or stalking beasts.

Your bodies remember 

the smell of sweat in the longhouse,

gossip by the well, 

embraces under the trees.

   

Once you spoke while hanging wash

or mending nets or minding babies

or scything hay or boiling sap

or making shoes or spinning thread

or pounding nails or stitching quilts.

Now

you are scattered like chaff,

dispersed as hunted game,

 

and so are we.    

 

Oh, children, do not complain at us!

We are as exiled as you.

Like you we want to find our friends

and digging is so hard.

Disembodied

as you, we post lines 

and flickers to our tornaway tribes.  

Now the ether carries in bits

our sketchy sentences, our loneliness,

tears that this strange communication

without skin or breath can maybe begin to mend.

 

I wrote this years ago, when I first joined facebook. Now that I’ve deleted my account, I find  it intriguing that this was the original intent.

NO WEATHER

No weather lasts forever.

Even this craziness, this winter

that doesn’t want to end. 

 

The sun is still up there,

above the heavy clouds.

There are currants driving the winds.

 

The blackbirds have returned

and are searching for seeds

and the robins have found the sumac.

 

It is our grandson’s third birthday.

He talks all the time;

he’s trying to read.

 

Our granddaughter will be one

two days from now. She

is walking, and working on words.

 

Small plants, lettuces and pansies,

are growing in greenhouses

and the farmers are potting up tomatoes.

 

My nephew is feeding his chickens

and gathering the eggs.

There are new black calves in the pasture.

 

Sometimes I can believe

that the world doesn’t matter, 

that what matters is the earth,

 

and the people who do good work

every day, who walk their dogs

and love their friends.

 

March Prompt #9: Definitely not a Robot

DEFINITELY NOT A ROBOT

March Prompt #9

Even though, now and then,

I click and whirr. Even though,

now and then, I need to shut down,

amnd recharge. My circuits

are not logical, not digital.

The nightingale, that organ

of delight. Peanut butter

for the dog. One thing does not

lead to another. If this, then

that, but only on Fridays.

This pimple in my nose

makes me want to sneeze.

How much stage direction

do I need to put in? And

margins. Good Friday next

week. Gotta burn those palms.

Storefronts. Street signs.

iRx7*v