MORNING AFTER

(tempera, glitter, found objects on cardboard)

~after Linda Shere

Those splashes of color—

pink, green, yellow—

represent, I believe,

pajamas. Or

sleeping bags.

There’s a plate of—

cookies—on

the table.

Chocolate chip.

Or—possibly—

blueberry muffins?

No. Cookies. 

Art supplies everywhere–

paint, brushes, glue, clay.

Art everywhere.

There’s glitter on everything.

Well, almost everything.

Not on the muffins.

Cookies, I mean.

Feathers.

Coffee filters.

Small plastic animals.

3 hair ties 

or whatever

they’re called. 

Those elastic things.

I’ve never had a daughter,

so I really don’t know.

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

It’s about being lost.

Really, really lost.

Squandering half the family fortune

and eating pig food and crawling home 

without even a name to call your own.

And it’s about saving and working hard

and being responsible

and no one notices or cares.

It’s about getting paid the same.

It’s about being meek and poor

and hungry and sad.

It’s about being left for dead

then rescued by someone

you’d cross the street

or maybe the ocean

to avoid.

It’s about a wedding reception

with all the wrong sorts of people

but you’re there, too.

What’s that about?

 

It certainly isn’t about the rules.

It isn’t about going to church

and potlucks and biblestudies

and committee meetings.

It isn’t about being good

so you’ll go to heaven when

you die. It’s not

about saving 

your little 

soul.

 

It’s about letting everything go—

every flying buttress and rose window,

every pipe organ and bible

and prayer book and linen cloth

and silver cup—

every attitude,

every certainty,

everything you think you know—

in order to buy

one pearl.

 

It’s about bread and salt.

It’s about a lighted lamp.

CONSIGNMENT

 

 

CONSIGNMENT

One day you finally

got tired of thinking

about dying. About 

your body and its little

woes. You understood

there’s a world 

out there beyond

your skin that doesn’t

care a fig or a thistle

what you’re thinking,

where you go,

whether you live

or not.

That was the day

you consigned yourself

to your dust,

and, like Job,

declared yourself

content.

CANDLEMAS, VERMONT

CANDLEMAS, VERMONT

Clear out the Christmas clutter

so no one will die this year.

Count the candles and say a prayer.

We don’t bless the herds

or let lambs out in the cold.

It is not spring here.

Half the woodpile should remain;

half the potatoes, half the grain.

Your breath-cloud echoes

a shadow of smoke crossing

and recrossing the snow.

RESPONSE: A WOMEN’S PANTOUM

RESPONSE: A WOMEN’S PANTOUM

This was put together from a collection of emails exchanged by a group of older women after the synagogue shooting.

 

 

Let us be rivulets forming in the rain—

not a road that horrors walk upon.

We melt, we sink, our face slides off our bones.

We have no words, only tears and silent prayer.

 

We cannot become the road the horrors walk upon.

Remember: the magnitude of solidarity is a resurrection of massacred faith.

There are no words, only tears and silent prayer

for that temple, the store, the church, another school.

 

Solidarity is a kind of resurrection of faith

in rain on the windows and little girls playing

around a temple, a grocery store, a church, a school.

Let us not collapse to the ground. Look—

 

rain on the windows and little girls playing,

yellow chrysanthemums in the grey light.

We  must not collapse to the ground;

we must move vibrant through this year of dying.

 

Yellow chrysanthemums shine in the gray light,

a flock of crows flies against the gray sky,

vibrant, through the dying of the year

the way a leaf is picked up by the wind.

 

A flock of crows against the gray sky

melts and sinks. We rise on our bones

the way leaves are picked up by the wind,

the way rivulets form in the rain.

WARNING

WARNING

Dear ones,

Beware of the tiny gods frightened men

Create

          ~Hafiz, “Tiny Gods”

Beware of tiny gods,

so easily displeased

when humans break

the rules. The ones 

who are obsessed

with doom, allow 

no room for breath 

or ease. The tiny gods

who make the fear 

of life and death, 

who mistrust peace,

who are themselves,

and made by, fools.

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