Winter Prompts #29: Credo

CREDO

I. Unum Deum

Nothing bursts into being.

Universes bruise together.

Where did the surface scatter first?

What if every what if is real?

The word we need is Emanuel.

 

II. Et incarnatus est

Comprehension: the whole

with its layers of gravity, darkness

at the center beyond the constant light.

 

Every fragment gathered.

One bread, one cup. Water

is wine, enemies beloved.

 

Every anxiety, every wound

of every small being wound

back into the singular dark where

 

division fails, the powers fall.

At the intersection of love and pain

all coheres, and is raised.

 

 

III. Vivificantem

It’s fire we breathe,

the gas of burning

cooked out from the deaths of stars.

Brood across our chaos,

flame through our loss,

singing our every tongue.

Fear not. We will conceive.

 

Cheating. I wrote this a long time ago.

EARLY MORNING TAI CHI

EARLY MORNING TAI CHI

 

Slow, the Jade Lady works the shuttle.

There was a dream about the dead cat

who did Tai Chi whenever she moved,

stepped with great care, raised one paw

in graceful greeting.

                                     Just because

he can’t move slowly doesn’t mean

I have to hurry all the time. The coffee

makes a sound going into the blue cup,

the pen whispers words on the page.

The breath.

There is no hurry.  The grave

will still be there.

 

 

 

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.

Winter Prompt #27: Something left behind in a place you’ve never been

SOMETHING LEFT BEHIND IN A PLACE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN

Winter Prompt #27

I left two novels.

I left five collections of poems

and scripts for six plays. I left

an article about conodonts

and a treatise on the rights of women.

I left them on that island in Maine—

I can never remember its name—

it was a two hour ferry ride—

where I didn’t live

in a small, low house in a meadow.

Not right on the shore since I couldn’t

afford it, but a short walk to the rocks

where I didn’t sit with my notebook

and my thermos of coffee

early every morning

whenever the weather permitted.

I left a few pottery bowls there, too,

a cello, a field of daffodils,

and in the shallow soil the buried bones

of a couple of dogs I loved.

Oh, and a little lilac bush that didn’t

amount to much because of the wind.

Winter Prompt #26: Ripped Paper

RIPPED PAPER

In memory of Ursula K. Le Guin

Winter Prompt #26

Tear it all up—

old bills and tax returns, bank

statements, stock certificates,

manuals and guarantees.

            But don’t stop

there. Tear up all the useless

books: archaic sciences, outdated

histories, smug theologies,

the whole thick body

of masculine pronoun,

life as battle,

possession as the highest good.

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.

Winter Prompt #23: The First To

 THE FIRST TO

Winter Prompt #23

We were always doomed,

we pioneer women, plodding,

we thought, toward a new land

while the residents of the old one

were sliding grumbling into their graves.

 

The lightless caves

were full of bears,

the forests wild with tigers.

Eagles screamed and fell

from the startling sky.

Nothing was easy.

 

The young ones have not followed.

How can we blame them?

The roads we made ended,

not in the City of God

but in the broken place we started from.

 

Some of us are still here

in our Gothic stonepiles,

wrapped in albs and stoles

tending a dying fire.

 

Some of us look sideways,

step into small houses

with open doors and warm beds,

with gently lighted windows.

We are making bread, sharing wine.

 

And some of us are climbing peaks

we could not imagine

when we started our long walk.

Our music drifts down

into the cities, shakes the towers,

rings the ancient bells.

Winter Prompt #22: Crust

CRUST

Winter Prompt #22

I used to study this stuff:

mantle, crust and core.

The mantle and core poetic,

metaphor:

                  Mantle

the thin dark covering

of protection, something

a goddess might wear,

or a saint.

         Core

the golden heat—at least

golden in the texts—

at the center. The wobble,

the weight.  But

          crust

recalls chicken pox blisters,

chapped lips, skinned knees,

burnt toast on school-day

mornings. Shiftiness,

instablility. Not poetic,

only metaphorical.

ALL YOU CAN HEAR

 

 

ALL YOU CAN HEAR

“All you can hear is the wind and the stars and the fog and the snow.”

~Arthur, age 2 3/4

He can hear the stars.

His father did not ask

the sound they make.

It is too solemn a sound,

too private to describe.

Have you heard it?

After the soft snowing stops,

and Orion comes striding

through a gap in the clouds

with his dogs at his heels?

Winter Prompt #21: A Country-Western Song

 

A COUNTRY-WESTERN SONG

Winter Prompt #21

Refrain:

He came through the night,

runnin’ all alone.

All he’d had to eat

was a thrown-out chicken bone.

 

 

This old cat has seen a lot of years

From the night I saw him first—

A streak of white across the drive,

Just fur and bones, but real alive,

All hunger, fight and thirst.

 

Refrain

 

We trapped and took him to the vet

We thought we’d set him free

When he was fixed and had his shots,

But it turned out he liked us lots—

My good old man and me.

 

Refrain

 

So now he’s sleeping on the chair

All full of fish and cream.

It goes to show that any stray

Just needs a hand along the way

To realize his dream.

 

Refrain, fading. . . .

Winter Prompt #20: Bivouac

BIVOUAC

Winter Prompt #20

Whenever I look, I see you twice.

The tent in the forest by Texas Falls

and the couch where you go

those nights you can’t sleep.

The rocky lake shore

in the moonlight and wind

and the chair where you doze with the cat.

This double vision is a peculiar

blessing to the old,

living as we do in many places

with so much behind

and so much less ahead.

 

Winter Prompt #19: Forget Matilda

FORGET MATILDA

Winter Prompt #19

No problem. I never, ever

remember her. Waking at 4 a.m.,

that old fear clutching—I am not

remembering Matilda. Walking

by the sea, filling my pocket

with white pebbles, admiring

the pair of osprey hovering

beyond the tide-line, I do not

think of Matilda. Stretching

my ice-cleats over my boots,

clipping the leash on the dogs’ collar,

following the ways of rabbits

through the snow—no Matilda.

Singing lonesome madrigals,

buying onions and soap,

drinking coffee with my husband,

feeding the cats,

reading to our grandson—

Matilda never enters my mind.

I have long list of sorrows,

but the one thing I do not regret —

I never remember Matilda.

Winter Prompts #17 & #18

GRASS

Winter Prompt #17

Once there was grass,

dandelion and clover,

gill-over-the ground.

Once there was green.

 

It’s there, still,

under the frozen slush,

the snow. Under

the deep puddles,

the shallow ice lakes

that cover the pastures.

 

It will turn again;

it will grow green.

The commonplace

miracle.

Resiliance is reality.

 

EARWORMS

Winter Prompt #18

I slept well with no dreams I can recall.

When I awoke, I noticed first

the light on the ceiling

of the hotel room—or rather a light

and its dimmer double, down

and to the left—an alarm or sensor

blinking orange every half-minute.

I closed my right eye to make the double

disappear. My eye is not single,

I thought. I hardly remember

what that was like.  The light is one

though the lamps be many.  Then One light

ascending through four notes

and The light is one though the lamps be many

in a dominant chord

over the sitar, after the wandering

verses  I can’t remember. One light,

The light is one though the lamps be many.

That simple chorus like a child’s song.

Of course—O brilliant!—the Incredible

String Band’s search—scattered lights

of many lamps, patterns that don’t stick,

chordless rifts resolving into One light.

The light is one though the lamps be many.

Of course. ’Tis the gift to be simple.

Winter Prompt #16: Imaginary Landscape

IMAGINARY LANDSCAPE
Winter Prompt #16

In this place, you cannot get lost.
The birds are kindly. If
there are bears, they stay far away.

In this place, no one is needy
because there is no misfortune,
only a long gentle motion.

Here, all the edges are round.
Every step falls in its place.
Every night is full of stars,
and every dream is sweet.

Winter Prompt #15: DOTE

(and then this happened)

 

DOTE

Winter Prompt #15

Today, the given word is “dote.”

Perhaps I’ll write about a goat?

Or something I wrote about before?

A Dr. Suessy sort of note?

 

I will not write about a goat.

I will not write about a stoat

or a note in Dr. Suess’s style.

How about a winter coat?

 

Is a stoat anything like a weasel?

Do weasels eat oats?

People make winter coats from weasel fur,

but only when it’s white.  In winter.

 

Maybe weasels eat groats?

This is ridiculous. A kind of compote

of rhyming words on this white page.

Don’t quote me, please.

 

Compote, compose, compost. . .

Take the mote out of my eye,

and don’t quote me, unless to say,

“It’s all she wrote.”

 

With the mote removed, I can see!

Do you know that anecdote?

Anyhow, “It’s all she wrote.”

I’ll end this with an antidote.

 

This needs work.

Winter Prompt #14: Climb Something

CLIMB SOMETHING

Winter Prompt #14

(for Janice)

Katahdin, behind my husband and our fifteen-year old son,

leapers both. Up from the pleasant green, the sunshine,

up above the treeline, up to the gravel steeps.

The knife edge.

(Just close your eyes and take my hand.)

The boulders.

Thirty miles of boulders, or was it one hundred miles?

John and Henry leaped from man-sized rock

to man-sized rock while I picked my way around

or crept up and over like a semi-torporous lizard.

Two goats and a lizard climb Katahdin.

The summit was in cloud.

There was no “view,” only miles and miles of cairns

marking the trail, or perhaps the hundreds of lizards’ graves.

Winter Prompt #13: PRONGS

PRONGS

Winter Prompt #13

We raised our wands and remembered—happiness.

Not easy for us, whose families were marked,

who could do things sometimes with a careless word.

 

The time Mother made me a chocolate cake

for no reason? Fetching firewood in the forest

with Dad, and he taught me to drive the tractor?

 

Making love on the stony hilltop, with hawks

floating above us on their way to warmer lands?

I raised my wand again, and again.

 

All around me those beings of light springing:

deer, otter, fox, crow.  Don’t get mad.  (Easy for you

to say, who can summon the dead.)  Keep trying.

 

Late that summer night, climbing over the locked gate,

crossing the railroad bridge, silence everywhere,

rounding the darkest corner, fine rain

 

clinging to the pines, then the circle of light

around the lamp in the parking lot.  Exspecto

again, and from the tip of my brittle pine wand—

 

(Ah!  That’s why it chose me!)—

a meadow vole rises, carries me

to safety under the long wet grass.

Winter Prompt #12: Aroma

AROMA

Winter Prompts #12

 

Between the gift shop and the archive,

the museum dining room wafts—

yes, wafts—me across times

beyond another dining room

to the tower room.

Paint-spotted floor,

a crooked ping-pong table,

the long bell rope hanging.

Rickety stairs in the corner—

first landing to the sacristy door,

second to the ladder to the belfry

with its bats and the bell

I was the last, with human hands, to ring

Winter Prompt #11: Spells

SPELLS

Winter Prompt #11

1.

Great spider, untangle

the threads you’ve spun.

Turn to dust the husks of bees

and flies sucked dry.

Bits of leaf and fur let fall

and in the dark a new web weave

so in the dawn’s light

we may see the shining shape

of all set free.

2.

Audmula lick us from the ice,

Skadi, hunt up the sun,

free us from this Niflheim.

Bragi, loosen my tongue.

Winter Prompts #10: Prophecy

PROPHECY

Winter Prompt #10

The same thing as always, saith the Lord.

You people (O my people) will never learn

You rich loll—not on ivory couches—but still you loll.  

Still you sell my poor.

Wars and rumors.

Every mountain and hill made low,  but—

and this is important—not by me.

It’s not odd

that so many of you don’t believe.

Everything I can do, you can do better.

So this is official, saith the Lord.

I give up.

You’re on your own.

I’m the one whose faith

is gone.

Winter Prompt #9: Ice Jam

ICE JAM

Winter Prompt # 9

I like it for texture—

gravels, the chunks of rock

like glacial rock carried

from the hills,

from the cold sources.

And twigs broken

by autumn winds

or winter winds.

Some years—this year—

limbs and trees, too—

the old overhanging willows

that couldn’t hold on

and fell and were carried.

Dead things have been

dissolved, or mostly

dissolved into nothing

but a tang, a crunch of bone.

Winter Prompts #7: Gear I Can’t Live Without

GEAR I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?

Winter Prompt #7

It’s six a.m., an easy time to answer.

This pen—silver, with a gold arrow clip,

a gold nib. My real godmother (not

my official one) gave it to me.

It was her mother’s. I cannot

write in my notebook without it.

 

This coffee mug—the blue one,

made by a local potter whose name

I keep forgetting. Jim somebody?

It’s pear-shaped, textured,

with a pattern around the top,

an underglaze and interior

of honey-color. I can fit all

of my big fingers through the handle,

and either hold the handle itself

or wrap my hand around the cup.

 

A notebook—this one is spiral bound.

And unlined. Always, always unlined.

There’s something about lines on pages—

perhaps it has to do with school,

with blue-books. But lines on pages,

like ball-point pens and cups

with delicate handles, tighten my hands,

pinch my nerve, keep me in.

Winter Prompt #6: Someone Else’s Shoes

SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES

Winter Prompt #6

I would be someone else

in those lucite heels

with steam-punk gears

and holy cards; someone

else in orange stilettos.

 

Who would I be

in red leather dancing boots

like the ones on my Polish doll,

or in brown brogues or yellow clogs?

 

I was someone else, for awhile,

in the wellies I wore for apple-picking,

in the black flats that went with my robes.

 

Come to think of it,

who am I now

in these purple oxfords

or rusty hiking boots?

The sheepskin slippers I wear

when I prowl around the house

with the cats, at night.

Winter Prompts #5: The Postman

THE POSTMAN

Winter Prompt #5

 

He called himself Havenor Greene

when he wrote poems.

The rest of the time he was

Mr. Barry, the R.F.D. postman

who every morning drove up

to our mailbox on High St.,

leaned way over the passenger seat,

and delivered the mail.  Mother,

who talked all the time

and got to know everybody—

who knew how she knew

about Mr. Barry’s secret name?—

told him her eleven-year old daughter

wrote poems, and the next thing

I knew, I was reading

to the Poetry Society of Vermont

in the upstairs room of some building

in St. Albans.  The older poets

were deeply respectful of me

and my convoluted rhymes.

After that, if I chanced to meet him

at the mailbox, Havenor Greene

talked to me as if I were a colleague,

as if what I was doing was real.

Winter Prompts #4: Another Cup of Coffee

ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE

Winter Prompt #4

 

But this is my first—unless you count all

the cups I’ve had, starting when I was sixteen,

at church camp, tired because I’d been up late

making out with another counselor.

Then almost every morning for the rest

of high school—Dad’s strong stuff—A & P’s Bokar

was it?—made in a cheap percolator.

Then bad college dining hall coffee, and

during exams, instant made with tap water.

The last cup I had with Tom, in “The Den.”

The first cup I had with John, in “The Den.”

The coffee I made in the Corningware

percolator we got as a wedding gift.

Later, we got  a Melita, because

some cool friends had one. We drank their coffee

while we plotted the revolution that

never came. And then my dear French press.

How many cups in how many coffee

shops with friends, or alone with a notebook?

How many in diners and restaurants?

How many, early mornings, in camp grounds?

So yes. Another one, this morning. Blue mug,

dark roast. The old white cat, my silver pen,

the glass-topped table desk, the brass lamp. . .

Jan. 23, 2018

Winter Prompts #2: How love is different now

HOW LOVE IS DIFFERENT NOW

Winter Prompt #2

For a baby, love is a breast,

for an old cat, a sunny soft chair.

A dog wants to know

what you want her to do,

a teenager, just that you’re there.

 

And then, when you’re old—

an old person, that is—

love’s more than excitement and sex.

It’s a laugh and a tear and a good hand to hold

while waiting for what’s coming next.

Winter Prompts #1: Write a Proverb

A PROVERB

Proverbs 31  King James Version (KJV)

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

 

This woman is worth her weight in rubies, all right—

she rises while it is yet night and makes the coffee,

feeds the cats and gives them medicines.

No matter how cold, she takes the dog out in the snow.

She sits then, or tries to, while her husband sleeps,

and she attempts to write and meditate.

The white cat climbs on her desk past the candle

trying to catch his tail on fire, and settles down

on her lap. The dog yelps to go out again

because the rabbits have come to feed.

Her children—her child, really, since she has

just the one—does not rise up to call her blessed.

No one rises up before she does, to call her

blessed, or anything else, for that matter.

 

January 20, 2018

The Spring St. Poets have decided to use prompts as a way of getting ready for a reading we’re doing in late February. This is one of mine. Mos of these will be rather raw, to put it mildly.

MOONS

MOONS

 

1.

New moon at sunset,

caught in the branches of the oak—

Full moon at midnight

dazzling the skin of snow—

Thin moon before dawn

rising in Earth’s darkest sky—

you are the sign

of every woman growing old.

 

2.

All myths repeat themselves

in vision and in dream—

Now that I am waning

into the crescent C—

Cry, Crone, Crypt—

I am convinced:

every myth is true.

 

3.

Artemis, moon-bow of my youth

bends back into the winter dawn

and comes to me where three ways meet.

Her lamp casts shadows on the way.

She gives me one of her hounds—

a small yellow dog who watches crows,

wild dog who understands what death is for,

who wakes to foxes barking in the dark.

CLOSETS

CLOSETS

. . . open every closet in the future and evict

all the mind’s ghosts. . .

~Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky

Some closets are full

of sentimental things that mattered once:

toys and photographs, letters, old poems.

The ghosts tiptoe around the dusty boxes;

their bony toes rattle on the floor.

The ghosts moon over a ragged doll,

caress a tattered book.

Other closets are stuffed with

things of the mind, things of the heart:

things I might have done,

things I might have made,

people I might have loved.

The ghosts shake their powdery heads.

Ah, they whisper, your precious past.,

so sad, so sweet, so—passing.

 

The ghosts are not so easy to evict.

They cajole, they whine,

touch all my soft spots.

They look like my mother,

my dead sister,

the men who came so close.

They say they remember

all the stories I have to tell,

so how can I send them away?

When I look fierce at them,

they weep.

 

You are future ghosts!  I scream,

You are not the past,

you are not even memory, 

but fear of memory and its distortion.

You are not keepsakes, but anticipation of loss.

You are anxieties of times to come, 

you cover my pasts with corruption,

you haunt my futures with regret.

Be gone!

 

The ghosts whimper, they cringe.

I stamp my feet, wave my broom.

They diminish.

They flutter away like ragged moths.

The future becomes nothing but itself

and all my things, nothing but things.

RESOLUTION

RESOLUTION

 

 

Why resolve again? Past resolutions

have dissolved so easy,

like Sanka crystals into a weak

and bitter brew. Is change

even possible? I am not

an artist. Daily cooking

is tiresome. Under the calm,

a temper like a geyser.

Under the black sweater,

the heart of a nasty little judge.

This year I won’t attempt

anything new.

This coming year I will

accept myself the way I am.

Resolved.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part VII

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part VII

 

7. O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

With us—where else would you be

except everywhere?

Those galaxies, universes

bubbling into being,

stretching out and letting go.

Photons, quarks in their crazy flavors.

Magma flow, the frozen layers.

White shells and bones.

All the acorns buried under leaves.

The burning horses, stray dogs.

The toddler with brain cancer.

The addict under the bridge

staring at the river.

The black man, shot dead

even as I write these words.

With us.

The woman grinding the last of the grain,

drawing the last bucket of water.

If you’re not with us,

where are we?

And if you are with us,

where are we?

Where?

Emmanuel.

O Come.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part VI

O:  The Magnificat Antiphons, part VI

6. O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire,

the cornerstone making both one:

Come and save the human race,

which you fashioned from clay.

The angels of the nations are tired.

They yearn for rest.  They don’t want

 

to fight one another. They want

to make love. While they would

 

settle for rest, for quiet,

for occasional rapture—

 

it’s been so long—what they desire

most is oblivion, the joy

 

of dissolution. Come, Desire.

Come Cornerstone.  Scatter them

 

into the unimaginable energies

they were before the nations

 

molded them into shapes of clay

and iron and bronze and gold.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, Part V

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, Part V

5. O Oriens

O Morning Star,

splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:

Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Sun is our morning star,

up today, here, North,

as late as it goes,

down as early.

Like Rain, Sun

doesn’t care who we are,

even if we’re righteous,

even terrible.

Risen with healing in its wings—

see the wings?—

it drives the darkness out.

So they say.

Come then, Dayspring.

Come Sun, Yellow Star.

Come Enlightening.

Come back.

Wake us up.

Make us new.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part IV

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part IV

 

4. O Clavis David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;

you open and no one can shut;

you shut and no one can open:

Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,

those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Enough keys.

We have a ringful on our belts.

They rattle when we walk.

They weigh us down as we proceed

once again down the long hallway

past the doors.

A few have opened.

It took years

to find the right combination

of twist and force,

to learn the Magic Words.

We’re tired.

Our feet hurt.

And still they make barricades

on the other sides.

Set bars.

Change the locks.

We have so many heavy keys,

skeleton keys.

Put flesh on them.

Put your shoulder to the doors.

Beat them down.

Nobody answers when you knock.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part III

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, part III

3. O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings will shut their mouths,

to you the nations will make their prayer:

Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

What we need is fruit.

Come, Bathesheba’s soft sweet apricots,

Come seedful figs of David’s Mom.

Come, O come, barley from Ruth’s basket.

Be scattered and tossed,

carried by birds to God-knows-where.

Choke the thorns,

cover the highways with green,

bear and bear your million-fold.

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, parts I & II

O: The Magnificat Antiphons, parts I & II1.

 

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other,

mightily and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Come, Sophia,

encircle us with your long arms,

convict us with your smile.

Teach us to watch the fox

and the owl; show us the terror

of the rabbit and the vole.

Frosted grass blackens

under our heavy feet.

Show us a gentler way.

 

2. O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,

who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush

and gave him the law on Sinai:

Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

 

O Come, Lord of might,

Great Lady of the stern face,

punisher of sinners. Come

and seize us by the scruffs,

knock our heads together,

make us sit in hard chairs

on either side of the battered

kitchen table. Set the timer

for five minutes, and when it rings,

make us say “We will love

one another” as if

we mean it.

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.

ANSWERING

ANSWERING

 

If someone says

You didn’t see that,

say But I did. 

And I heard it, too.

 

If someone says

Surely that’s not

what you think, say

That’s what you think.

 

If they say  

You shouldn’t feel

that way,

say Ha!

should has nothing 

to do with it.

 

If they say

You shouldn’t say

things like that,

say Just listen.

OMEGA

OMEGA

. . .that which is sought transcends all knowledge, 

being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility 

as by a kind of darkness

~Gregory of Nyssa

 

Light through the grisaille illuminates

Omega on the shabby wooden altar.

What we’ve called “God”

or something like, is disappearing

into a cloud of galaxies

and unanswered prayer, or devolving

into fire and air and trees.

 

Some of us are here, bound in ritual.

Who knows what we believe?

Some of us have been around outside

and turned, or turned back,

hearing the echo of a name.

We murmur the ancient creed.

The psalms are full of mercy and blood.

 

Angels have descended and grown small,

their voices turned to syrup, or tin.

Shall we yet fear not?

A dead Jesus hangs on his cross,

between the guttering candles.

The cup is emptied and filled.

We make our humble offerings to the dark.

OLD GODS

OLD GODS

Eventually everyone abandons

old gods. The Romans did, the Greeks, the Goths.

Poor Jupiter, sad Gaut— swallowed like Metis,

or like Persephone, exiled underground.

Great Pan is dead. There is nothing new under

Helios, or Ra, or any ball

of burning gas. Old gods, all gods, are

nothing but constructions of finitude.

What is, defies each attempt. Even

the atheists fail, their ridicule grasping

straw. But still, transcending all the light

of each imagined form, outlying limits

of sense, that surface of last scattering—

there is nothing but a kindlier dark.

WRITERS’ BLOCKS

 

WRITER’S BLOCKS

1.

Mile high glass mountain.

Enthroned on the peak

the jeering Muse in her Unattainable Princess mode.

She is eating a melon, spitting out the seeds.

 

2.

Basaltic monolith set down by an alien god

in the middle of the narrow way

between the abyss and the infinite seething swamp

 

3.

Fierce dark angel with a sword thin as a laser

darting to and fro, to and fro,

severing all connections

the strands of the web

synapses in my brain

sinews in my hand

 

4.

Little wooden cubes

painted with apples, balls, clowns,

letters upper and lower case

A

B

C

 

The Kept Writer, July, 2002

ALTERNATIVES

ALTERNATIVES

1.

I ate the fish,

though it offered me anything I wanted.

I wanted something to eat,

so I snapped its neck and brought it home.

My wife made soup with a few wild greens.

If she’d known, she would have fussed.

She wants more.

I want less.

Enough to eat,

a roof over my head.

My little boat,

and the water, and the air.

 

2.

I was Vasilisa the fair, destined

to marry the tzar.

I carried Mother’s blessing

like a little doll in my pocket.

I did all the witch required.

I was on the edge of safety,

but I did not heed the doll’s trembling

and I asked about the hands.

Now the doll lies at the bottom of a well

and those disembodied hands are mine,

and the white bones in the fence,

the mortar and pestle,

the chest of wonders.

The skull above the door.

 

3.

When they left for the ball

and the house was quiet,

I went into the garden

and stood beneath the tree

on Mother’s grave.

Stars, a thin moon—

the sky all silver and blue.

Through the silence,

my Mother spoke,

gentle, like a dove.

She told me what to take,

where to go.

Now I’m old,

in my cottage with my cat,

content as any queen.

Why would I want

to be queen, when I have

a gown of moonlight,

a crown of stars?

 

4.

Here, my dear,

is the little hood I wore

when I was a girl.

And here is the little basket

I carried when I went

to see my granny.

I’ve put some cookies

in the basket.

Don’t eat them all

on your way home.

 

5.

It was difficult at first,

that other woman’s daughter,

so lovely and so spoiled.

She resented me, though I told her

I would never try

to take her mother’s place.

(I’d had a stepmother, too,

and I knew how it was.)

When she ran away,

her father and I searched everywhere.

We found her in the forest

with those little men—

you can imagine what he thought

though she insisted all was well.

She would not come home,

though her father pleaded,

offered her dresses, jewels, a prince,

anything she desired.

I told him to let her be.

She was old enough

to make her own way,

strong enough to survive.

When we left her there,

her father said it was like

leaving her in a coffin.

I told him to wait,

and I was right.

She came home

not long afterwards.

It was easier then,

as if we’d become allies,

which, I suppose, we were.

 

6.

On my sixteenth birthday

I climbed the stairs into the west tower.

There was an old woman there,

turning a wheel.

A thin thread formed under her hand,

like magic. She invited me to try,

but I don’t believe in magic,

so I thanked her,

and went back down to the party.

 

7.

Every day, I am thankful

for this generous goose.

Without her, all of us here

would still be poor.

THINGS SHE DID

THINGS SHE DID

Once I was a fisherman

until I caught the talking fish

and ate it—against its objections—

and now I cannot speak

of anything but blue.

 

Once I was a bookbinder

until I bound a volume

of verses about flowers.

Now I am trapped by fragrances

and the lullabies of bees.

 

I was a grave-digger

alone among the stones

with the cool earth around me

until all I could do was

sing to the shovel, and the clay.

 

Once I was a weaver

but one day my fingers tangled

in the web and pulled me in.

Now I go on and on,

a tapestry of knot and scrap.

REUNION

REUNION

Was it spring of 67 or 68 when we cut

class to bottle Phil’s beer? 68 because

you were out of the dorm, into that house

with the blacklight bathroom. The artist

who made all those death masks only

we were still alive. Our faces done in

plaster tape. We drank it all, didn’t we,

before graduation, the night we played

charades in the park. Phil sang so

loud the cops came and sent us home.

He married her—the artist, I can’t

remember her name. Somewhere

on the Cape. All those masks. Remember

the bonfire? Masks and class notes.

Hundreds of masks, or at least dozens.

Hanging in that bathroom. I’d like

to have one now, that plain white.

The plaster heated up after awhile.

Trusting somebody so you could breathe.

Phil was at some museum last I heard.

Maura. He and Maura didn’t last,

but we all knew they wouldn’t the way

she fooled around. The pink dotted-

swiss bridesmaid’s dress I tossed after

the wedding, and she was an artist.

Empire waists so we all looked

pregnant. I guess some of us were.

Funny you can be someone’s brides-

maid and lose touch and even forget

her name. Maura. Funny to be

with old friends and know, all

of a sudden, that we’re old.

ON THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS

ON THE ABSENCE OF ANGELS

~after seeing Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” for perhaps the seventh time

Where did all the angels go

who used to descend,

used to declare.

They can’t comprehend,

bound to heaven.

 

There’s nothing left of them

but scattered feathers.

Nothing celestial cares.

Heaven’s tethers

long ago dissolved.

 

Accusing god is fine,

whose matters have evolved,

or who isn’t even there,

or resolved,

no matter what, to make us care.

ARRIVAL:  on quitting facebook, part III

ARRIVAL:  on quitting facebook, part III

The Muses come in silence.

You must sit still and wait.

For a long time, you must sit.

They come in your grief

when the world is cracking open,

when you wake in the moonlight

and your heart is afraid.

They come in your solitude

when all your doors are closed

and even the cats are asleep.

After a long time they come,

and make music from the tears.

BIRTHDAY

BIRTHDAY

I wasn’t born yesterday.

~The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite, T. Pratchett

 

I was born years ago in a snowstorm,

butt first, which explains my perspectives:

right is left, north is south, and so on.

There’s something, too, about winter,

blowing snow that blew itself

into my bones. There are things

you won’t understand

until you are so old

that no one alive calls you children.

The patterns, strangeness of passages,

the way the long corridor winds,

edged with fewer doors.

“Leisure”

“Leisure”

What is this life if busy as hell

We have no time to sit and smell?

No time to sit beside the bogs

And smell as long as cats or dogs,

No time to scent when fields we pass

Where some one stopped to drag his ass,

No time to find, as though alone,

Where someone chucked a chicken bone,

No time to ponder every track

Of each deer passing onward, back,

To use your nose to best avail

To search the neighbor’s garbage pail,

No time to sit and contemplate

What each and every neighbor ate.

A poor life this, if busy as hell

We have no time to sit and smell.

 

 

I wrote this somewhat iffy poem ages ago—a parody of one of my favorite old poems, “Leisure,” by William Henry Davies— when we had an airedale. We have another dog now, and it still applies.

ON LEAVING FACEBOOK: part II

 

ON LEAVING FACEBOOK:  part II

I went there

when I was lonely or bored.

There.

As if it were a place

like the back porch of my house

where I sit with the dog

or The Bakery where people I know

go to drink their coffee

or the yarn shop full of color and light.

 

I liked

things there so casually,

not the way I like

a cat on my lap

or a walk in the field with the dog

or sitting beside my husband on the sofa,

each with a book and a mug of tea.

 

I could share

things there mindlessly,

not the way I share

worries and joys with Meg

when go for our morning walk

or the way I share with my Real Godmother

Eleanor when we email every morning,

or the way I share recipes and rants about the news

with my old friend Kathy

or the way I share time on the phone

with my sister or my son or my grandson

or lunch with Linda or Megaera or Carol

or pie with Jean and Mel

or energy with the Tai Chi class

or books with the Heretics

or life with the Spring St. Poets

or music with Encanto.

 

They said it was always free

but not as free as making music

or knitting socks or reading Proust

or weeding the garden.

Not free

like the smell of bread or apples,

like sunset across the meadow

and sunrise through the branches of the gingko tree.

Winter Prompt #24: Lid off a Jar

LID OFF A JAR

Winter Prompt #24

Rusted on. The bail jar is full

of round black balls. Plums? How long

have they been here in the dust,

on this webby shelf?

She’s been dead how many years—

the woman whose house this was,

whose name I’ll never know.

A plum tree in the garden,

sheep in the pasture long grown up

to houses and lawns. New houses

not like this crazy one, layers

of wallpaper peeling, wide chestnut

floorboards, the space against the wall

where the kitchen stove used to stand.