EAST OWL

EAST OWL

. . . . she must speak

to men in the language of men with a man’s tongue,

and then they will not hear her

because they understand her.

     ~Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘While the Old Men Make Ready to Kill” 

 

Aunt, I miss you.

Not many here

speak Woman.

 

Aunt, an owl keeps flying over me.

She wants me to learn to sit still,

hunt words. Wants me to focus,

lock on. I’ve seen her

dive for frogs, sit on a branch

with a green leg dangling

from her beak. I’ve found

marks of her wings in the snow.

I’ve found the blood of rabbit.

I’ve heard her singing in the dark.

 

Aunt, my hills are covered with snow.

The men still aren’t listening

but the women keep singing

for ourselves and our nieces.

Aunt, we are learning to hunt.

We are still learning to fly.

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THIS IS THE POEM I’LL NEVER WRITE

THIS IS THE POEM I’LL NEVER WRITE

–about how they kept me

under the bed

and sang songs to make me cry and then laughed 

at me until I learned to stop. 

 

About how

the only safe place was a castle where 

every evening we watched the sun go down

while we sang Gregorian Chant and ate 

burnt marshmallows. 

 

About the teacher who 

wouldn’t let me read beyond and the teacher 

who stole my arrowheads and the teacher 

who slapped me when I played the wrong notes and 

the teacher who made a pass at everyone 

but me. 

 

About the horrible gray skirt, 

the stubby brown oxfords, the home-made prom 

dress in a shade of peach that made me look 

dead. 

 

About how

I gave birth on a ferris 

wheel while my boyfriend ate cotton candy 

and drank Coke and promised to marry me 

anyway, and didn’t. 

 

About how later 

I married for love but the next day ran 

away with a Costa Rican cowboy 

who recited poetry and really, 

truly believed in God. 

 

About how I 

grew old in the rainforest, how I lived 

on plantains and beef, and bore five daughters 

who died and one son who lived. 

   

About how we 

finally gave up making love and

the cattle ran away and the forest 

burned around us and now the only things 

that make me cry are the deaths of dogs.

DOUBLE SIGHT

DOUBLE SIGHT

An aberration in my eyeglasses

gives me a tiny bright star next to Venus,

down and to her right, as if

her hand is curled in a fist,

slightly raised.

 

I like to think of Venus

with a fist—a soft

Tai Chi fist with all the strength

of exquisite balance behind it.

Love-and-Beauty smiling a lazy smile,

knowing that hate-and-ugliness

is nothing but a nattering nuisance,

a foolish foe with no notion at all

of her power.

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.

PRACTICE

 

PRACTICE

Let there be no routine.

Let the white cat disturb

your meditation,

the black cat interfere

with your tai chi.

May the dog demand

to go out while you’re trying

to pray. 

May your husband knock

on your study door 

because he cannot find 

his glasses. 

Your old friend will call

while you are chopping onions

in a mindful way.

Answer the phone.

YOUR TURN

YOUR TURN

You locked the door,

put your hand over our mouth,

ground against us.

 

Now we have many doors,

and they are all open.

We have a voice

 

and we are not ashamed.

You thought to grind us small

but together we are bigger

 

than you can imagine.

Truth does not need bluster and shout.

It is your turn to be afraid.

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