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 LAST SONG

Last night, the chorus I sing in had its last practice with our long-time conductor. I wrote this this morning, thinking of her and our time together:

 

THE LAST SONG

~for Susan Borg

Every song is the last.

How can I keep from singing

that group in the church loft,

remember? and we stopped

and looked around, amazed.

No audience but ourselves.

Francois and Chuck over the rainbow,

with tears in their eyes and our eyes.

Hallelujah on New Year’s Eve

and the audience sang, too.

Hearth and Fire that last night,

all together, my voice breaking

as I met your eyes. Every song

is the last—each song, each time,

these singers, where they are,

what they carry, what they hold,

what they let go.

GONE

an older one:

 

GONE

A statue of the Virgin Mary,

weighing 250 pounds, has disappeared

from a shrine outside a Vermont church.

Police have searched a nearby forest

and cemetery, to no avail.

~June 15, 2012

Tired of inactivity, disgusted

by the behavior of some, infuriated 

by the treatment of others, alarmed

by heat and melting ice, bored

 

with candles and flowers,

The Blessed Mother shook her feet

loose from the cement and shed

her heavy cloak.  Police

 

will find that later, 

along with the halo,

caught on a snag 

under the bridge.

 

Where is she now?  

 

A thin woman in a white dress–

she might be anywhere.

If I were so inclined, I might

tell them to look 

 

at the Farmers’ Market.  

Or in the hospital

cafeteria.  Maybe she’s reading

in the park.  Or maybe

                                       she’s just gone

to that place where all good divinities

go, where it’s quiet,

where nobody needs anything. 

Where nobody even remembers your name.

 

LIPSTICK

LIPSTICK

I bought one for the first time in decades.

Pomegranate red.

I’m wearing it.

What possesed me?

It has suddenly become important,

like the high heels Martha wore

the day she got her general’s stars.

Those men, suited or uniformed,

slick-shaved, striding to the podium,

and the unapologetic click of Martha’s heels.

This is the sound of it, I thought.

The shift. The change.

This is what it sounds like.

Did you listen close

while Nancy defended the kids?

A powerful old woman

dancing forwards. And not

just in high heels, but stilettos.

Did you listen to Emma,

the power of her stillness,

unashamed of tears?

 

Not for men’s pleasure,

these symbols of our power:

lipstick, high heels, short skirts.

Maybe it was Eve who woke me up:

This short skirt is mine. 

I am old enought to remember

Bella’s hats, first the necessity,

then the pleasure.

Maybe it was our hats,

those cute pink hats with ears.

We grabbed the derogatory,

transformed it into strength.

What change looks like.

Even tears are power.

It’s what we’re doing now

in our leggings and boots,

and running shoes and fleece,

our torn jeans and t shirts and hoodies

our shawls and scarves,

our nursing bras and aprons.

And yes, in our lipstick and four-inch heels.

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.

Winter Prompt #28: Finding Toys on the Street

FINDING TOYS ON THE STREET

Winter Prompt # 28 

He’s on the second shelf between

the first doll I made and the bricks

I use as bookends. I suppose

he once was plush with brown velvet

paws. I never knew him plush.

One amber eye is nearly blinded

with the straggle. His joints

are still good. Maybe his mouth

and nose were embroidered

by Mother, who found him

in a trash can in front of Veterans’ Row

when she was pregnant with me

and had no money for toys.

She was learning how to live

with a husband with PTSD,

the farm boy she married—

and Mother all the way from Cleveland—

waking screaming with flashbacks

of the crashing planes, the burning

friends. Later the bear—I named

him Pooh—taught me

about steadfastness and make-believe.

About comfort and the importance

of a second chance.