TOTAL EECLIPSE OF THE SUN

Last year at this time, we were heading South. I wrote this description of the event when we returned.

 

A TOTAL EECLIPSE OF THE SUN

 

We drove to Virginia and picked up John’s sister, then drove on to North Carolina and put up in a hotel about three hours from totality, planning to get up early and drive south if the weather looked good. In the morning, reports indicated very little chance of clear skies in South Carolina, and perfectly clear skies where we were, so we opted for 100% chance of 96%.  With the blessing of the hotel clerk, John set up a sun-filtered scope in the courtyard of the inn, and we made our headquarters in the long hallway just inside. Staff people, who had seen John setting up, asked us if we were there for the “ee’-clipse.”  (We decided that we much prefer the southern pronunciation.) We said we were, and invited them to come back at 1:15, if they could, for a look.  And they came. We shared our ee-clipse glasses and John kept the scope aligned, and for the next hour people came and went and came back again to follow the progression of the moon across the sun. The manager stopped by and offered us coffee and told us that he’d studied astronomy in college. A few guests came out—one a remarkable woman whose blonde hair was piled on top of her head and decorated with plastic fruit. Two people told us that the last time there was an ee-clipse was when Jesus was crucified. We said, “Well, that’s interesting.” A young black chef who had joined us several times asked if it was okay if his mama, who had come to pick him up,  looked. “Of course,” we told him, and she joined us. She and I got to chatting after she had looked through the glasses and the scope. I found out that she was from Queens and had a sister in Poughkeepsie, near where my son and his family live. At the peak of the event, she and I agreed that the shadows were different; that the bright sunlight had changed. We were both wearing beige shirts and white caps. Her son stepped back from the scope and nudged me, then turned his head and said, “Sorry. I thought you were my mama.”  And I, a white woman in the country’s whitest state, without thinking, said the perfect thing:  “That’s okay. All of us mamas look alike.” He looked surprised for a minute, and then laughed, and nudged me again. One tall, elegant woman with silver hair stopped to look every time she passed through the hallway carrying a stack of linen, and every time, she jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Another woman, who had promised her husband that she would not look, even with eeclipse glasses, watched her and said, “I’ll just enjoy her happiness.”  After the moon started sliding away, people began thanking us and drifting away. John was packing the car, and I was in the hall, clearing the last of our things from the table, when the tall woman stopped by once more. “Thank you, honey,” she said. “Oh,” I said, “It was so much fun to share this with all of you.” And then she threw her arms around me and kissed my cheek. “I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about this,” she said. “I can’t wait to tell mine,” I said. Better than totality.

PASSAGE

PASSAGE

She went to the oracle

bringing an offering

of incense, a white pebble,

a drop of blood

on a leaf of thyme.

I am empty she said.

 

            Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But I’ve seen the crystals

growing from the floors

and ceilings, I’ve slipped

into the green waters filled 

with white salamanders

and blind fishes, 

I’ve touched the walls

covered with luminous worms

and spiders with legs

as long as my arms.

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

I’ve been all the way in,

she said, all the way

to where the walls

are covered with paintings

of antlered men

and dancing women,

of suns and moons

and disembodied hands.

I’ve tripped over the bones 

of wild bulls and giant bears. 

 

             Go deeper the oracle said.

 

But there is no door, 

no passage, 

leading beyond that deepest cave. 

The only way left

is the way back out.

 

         Ah then, said the oracle.

         Ah.

BROWN ANOLES

BROWN ANOLES

1.

Everglades in the dry season. 

Alligator tracks in mudflats, 

mangroves reaching for wet. 

A turtle with a red head, 

one swallowtail kite, 

a brown canal of white birds. 

So much itself, so damaged, 

but when we are gone 

and the river of grass 

overtakes the canals, and the sea 

takes the highrises and malls 

our bones will join the shells

on the shores.

 

2.

Beside a turquoise pool, 

lizards appear and vanish 

on the edges of sight, 

discrete motions, 

particles, not waves. 

Brown anoles, delicate 

and charming wisps of life, 

invasive killers, displacers—

so lovely, so terrible.

 

3.

What could they give me to get me to stay? 

No money, surely, no luxurious house. 

Not here, this land of traffic and noise 

where people live by selling things 

and fixing things and cleaning things—

streets and pools and lawns 

and the tops of the walls built 

to keep out people like themselves 

unless they’re cleaning or fixing.

 

4.

The plastic dinosaurs in the botanical garden 

roar above the calling birds. 

The screen house is filled with butterflies. 

Brown anoles eat them. 

Anoles eat everything—their own babies, 

their own molted skins, their broken tails. 

Anoles everywhere. 

One climbs an orchid stem, 

puffs out his orange throat in threat.

One of the dinosaurs looks like a chicken. 

T. rex’s tiny forelimbs are disturbing. 

It’s hot, too hot even for Florida in May. 

March Prompt #11: Is that Mt. Marcy?

IS THAT MT. MARCY?

March Prompt #11

 

. . . or Manford? Or Mohegan? I think it

starts with M. One of those old volcanoes,

or maybe a whatchamacallit like

in earth science. Block fault? Strip fault? Or wait—

folded up? Like something pushed it. Like a

layer cake. Anyway, it’s a mountain,

and a tall one by the looks of it, but

it’s hard to tell here, with all the mountains

everywhere and the hills leading up. Not

like at home where they just come up—POW!—out

of the flat. You can tell. You can see one

a long ways off and just look at it. For

miles. And it gets bigger the closer you

get. It doesn’t come and go like these, these—

what? Ozarks? Pocos? Andirons? One of

those, maybe, or Blue, or something like that.

Winter Prompt #25: Sand

SAND

Winter Prompt # 25

Holiday Point, South Hero,

that summer between houses.

 

Popham Beach in the fog,

the first time I met the sea.

 

Fred’s Beach, Fourth of July,

hotdogs. Fireworks over the water.

 

White Strand of the Blasket, inviting,

dangerous, like its mothering land.

 

Kitty Hawk, where the first flight paths

are measured by stones.

HOTEL POEM, 5:30 A.M.

HOTEL POEM, 5:30 A.M.

Terrible coffee from the machine in the bathroom—

it’s too early for terrible coffee from the lobby.

I can write by the bathroom light

if I sit in this chair by the door.

John still sleeps.

All night I kept waking

and drifting off again trying to remember

the words to “The Highwayman,”

who kept morphing into Paul Revere.

Romantic figures on horseback—

one all fiction, one nearly so.

Revere did not ride into Concord, for example,

and he already knew they were coming by sea.

And there were two men in the North Church tower

sending the signal in case the riders didn’t make it.

But “The Somerset, British man of war” was real,

and when they rowed across the bay, they—

he was not alone in that boat— were afraid

they would be seen “just as the moon rose.”

Who cares?

The nameless  highwayman, on the other hand—

well, the musket drives me crazy.

How could Bess reach the trigger if the musket

was beside her and her hands were behind her?

And wouldn’t the trigger be too close to the floor

for a woman “tied up to attention” to reach?

Maybe someone on some online forum

could explain, but I’d rather

think about that than a few other things

I can name, but won’t. In the meantime,

Will “the people” waken in this “hour

of darkness and peril and need”?

Or stand around “dumb as a dog”?

Except dogs are hardly ever dumb.

WHAT I DID AFTER YOU LEFT HOME

WHAT I DID AFTER YOU LEFT HOME

Went to New Orleans,

walked alone in the early morning.

They were opening windows,

washing down the streets.

Are you ready, M’am?

An old man stood on the cobblestones,

beaming in the steaming light.

He held reins in one crinkled hand,

extended the other to me.

His brown horse shook its head, bells rang.

Ready?  For what?

 

Are you ready for a buggy ride?

I had not planned to act like a tourist,

but how could I do otherwise

in this unexpected land, this place I’ve never seen?

The people sitting above the tall red wheels

were talking and laughing together

like people in a painting, or a play.

The driver cocked his head, waiting for my answer.

I asked the cost.

There was no reason to refuse.

 

I placed my damp white hand in his,

my hand with the split lifeline,

the single crack foretelling a single child.

Twenty years ago a sibyl read my palm:

You’ll live long, but two lives, different.

You’re a musician.  And try not to be so stingy.

Yes of course I’m ready, I told him.

Boost me up.

 

You, I’m afraid, would have been

disdainful, cool.  You would not

have approved of me,

sweating in my purple dress,

gawking, singing along,

leaning out behind the horse’s bobbing feathered head

above the spinning wheels

in that impressionistic light.

 

I felt a city dawn that day,

saw men in stiletto heels and black stockings 

prancing down the shining sidewalks,

artists reaching for long moist shadows,

women like statues, painted gold.

The city smelled like fresh coffee,

sour beer, things frying in lard.

On every bright wet corner

were little children, dancing.

 

 

I wrote this a long time ago, in response to the Empty Nest. It ended up being a performance piece.

 

March 24–November 16, 1999;  Jan. 30–April 20, 2001

Quatrain Chapbook:   Sing in me, Muse, Feb. 2005