Between the yin and yang, the line.
Between the dark and light, the dusk.
Between birth and death, the life.
Around the hazelnut, the husk.
Between the yin and yang, the line.
Between the dark and light, the dusk.
Between birth and death, the life.
Around the hazelnut, the husk.
ON MY HONOR
I will try.
Stand on the moon
and show me a country.
Falling rain is real.
Down by the rivers
it is killing people.
Fire is real.
Show me a country.
Death is real.
All over the landscapes
and the loneliness is real.
Duty has an unpleasant sound,
not something I would choose.
Stand on the moon.
What if you’re the shepherd,
not the lost sheep. What if
you’ve lost one thing,
the one thing that matters.
What if it’s your coin
so you sweep and sweep.
What if you’re the sower
casting the seed carelessly,
assuming that somewhere
some of it will grow.
Our grandchildren found a baby bird
in the driveway.
What is it?
Where is its Mommy?
In this hazy time
when every little sorrow strikes a blow,
when the news pummels and pounds,
what is Daddy to do with this scrap of life
gasping in his hand?
The mouth of the dark tunnel
has narrowed again.
So many mommies, daddies,
so many lost, so much is lost,
and what sense can we make?
I used to tell myself I was a poet.
It’s a little turkey.
Let’s put it in the long grass by the brook
where sometimes we see them pass.
We’ll put some corn around for them to find.
Now wave bye-bye.
One way or another, this will resolve.
We saw them the next day
he told me. A parade.
Two hens with six poults
and a tom and a hen with one poult
scurrying between them.
The kids agreed that it all worked out fine.
We can tell ourselves stories, can’t we?
They all lived happily. . .
Can’t we tell ourselves stories like that?
Art is one—Oh yes.
We do not dream in vain.
Do not hurry. There is no need.
Tune your fiddle to the canvas,
chisel a marble dance.
Dress your singers in peaches,
and tremble in the shadow of a word.
The arch is wide; the road is wide.
Out doors is all, there is no in.
We who make art bind bone to bone
by sinew after sinew.
We do not dream in vain.
A child crouches
in a sunlit field.
A fighter pilot’s wife can’t sleep.
A new mother cannot walk.
I am a whirlpool—
an eddy of identity
where a complexity
of currents meet.
I am a layer-cake of scars:
Wry neck and fumbly fingers.
Knees marked with gravel.
Nose repelled by the scent of booze.
As the pummeled moon
still glows in our shadow,
I am eclipsed but whole.
I am pleasing to topsoil and stones,
to bears and birds and trees.
I have been released
by every disappointed god.
First day on the job alone,
he had to keep calling the sergeant.
Good-humored, she was,
joking about new machinery
that made the work harder.
Typical military we all agreed.
I voted for Bernie.
I’m all about peace,
and eliminating fossil fuels
and reducing my carbon footprint.
I drive a Prius, for Christ’s sake.
The new fighters they’ve got—
we couldn’t believe
they’d be louder than the F-4s
but they are. We can hear them
all the way from the Adirondacks.
And they’re expensive, useless.
Can’t dogfight, so what’s the point?
Three took off. We waited
for the fourth, like clockwork.
Shit, they are noisy suckers.
But fuck it. I’m a
fighter pilot’s wife.
My man used to fly machines
like those. I’ve stood on the flightline,
watched him take off,
seen him loop and hammerhead,
do the Memorial Day flyby.
I gave birth on the eve
of drill weekend, kept house
that winter he trained in Witchita
when he was DCM, that ice-storm winter
our son was in second grade
and we had a funky woodstove.
I watched my pregnant friend
watching the Missing Man
formation over her husband’s
grave. What can I say?
What can I say?
I make no apologies
for my life. Love is a funny thing.
So now this new improved i.d.
is good another three years.
We stopped on the way out the gate
to look at the old F-4
on static display.
Not Miss Piggy, my husband said.
It’s got Rich’s name on the door.
Some Dialogue from a play-in-progress
Well, I have no idea how my way of being will help because you and I are as different as a pea in a pod and a rhinoceros, but okay. Here goes— I don’t work. I’ve never worked, and I never will work. The day I start to work will be the day they put me in a home. There is absolutely no separation between, among, within, whatever the word is, the art I make and everything else I do. Getting up in the morning is art. Taking a shit is art. Reading while I eat breakfast. Arguing with Jim about whose turn it is to buy groceries. Making dinner with the kids. Walking the dog. Teaching. All of it. It’s all art. It’s all making something out of something, or out of nothing, but usually it’s something. Remaking, unmaking, starting over, turning around. Everything is raw material and everything is already finished before I begin.
Well, okay. I guess that works for sculpture and conceptual stuff, but not for poetry.
It’s words. They have to be right.
Oh, well. I get that. Finished stuff, sure, like if you want it in a magazine or something. That’s gotta take a little tweaking. But the first burst of a poem, and the second and maybe the third? The energy of it? The way it flits around and settles? Is that work?
Oak and Ash and Birch breathe their gold.
It sifts through their twigs and branches
over our cars and lawn furniture.
Oaks and ashes and birches think
life is worth continuing. They want
to make acorns and winged seeds
and tiny cones. They want to make
food for turkeys and squirrels and jays.
If they told you the Council of Trees
had decided to fill this year with abundance,
if they told you they had decided
this was a good year to cover the wounded
Earth with their love, to spread their gold;
if they told you that you, too, could participate,
wouldn’t you say Yes? And here you are!
Every sneeze, every dribble, every gasp,
they tell you, is a price you can pay.
before the comfort of book and bed,
I stood in the yard and worshiped
the highest moon.
Soft-edged shadows spread
across the frosted grass.
The darkest month gives
the brightest night—
not an insignificant grace.
Before I begin my celebration of Poetry Month, which this year will involve going on strike for better working conditions, here’s a poem.
WHAT WE’VE LOST
I was shopping this morning, double-masked
because my second shot is days away.
Young women working the check-out counters
were waiting for customers and laughing,
laughing loud at some private check-out joke.
And I found my anger surge up at them:
young women, masked, trapped behind plastic shields.
Being human, sharing humor. And anger
at myself for fearing the sound of delight.
What have we lost? What have I lost?
I hope someday no one will understand
double masks, plastic shields, second shots.
With a frisk of rambunctiousness,
a Pomeranian energy,
the March wind like a red-rubber ball
is bouncing away the long cold dark.
The book cover shines gold
in the lamplight.
Small birds irrupted from the north
cluster around the feeders.
I’m an old woman now
and none the wiser, but
at least I can define
emotion with precision.
The landscape of exploration
Forty years but surely not wasted.
Are we between wars
or is there simply one war.
Was there ever only one?
OPEN STUDIO POEM #18
Under snow, under solid ground,
earth knits a fabric of mycelium,
bulb, the roots of chrysanthemum
and rose. The February landscape
shapes a shifting collage
of branch and cloud,
a splash of of jay-blue.
We stay secluded, painting
our lives with aplomb.
Open Studio Poem #17
Fairies shelter behind the disco ball
hung in the portal to the kingdom of odd.
After sunset, they emerge lickety-split,
and all night they dance through the city,
their magenta wings flashing splendid
in the lights of streets, and traffic, and stars.
The other occupants of the Open Studio are out to get me, as you can see. But I know where that disco ball hangs, and I know the fairies, too.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #16
I’m going back to makeup.
Not the kerfuffle of my youth,
with eyeliner cattywumpus
to each brow,
not a sad attempt to erase
my decades on the road.
Just a streak of red on the lip,
a little taupe along the lid.
Since July, I’ve been attending an online Open Studio with four artists, who are now my friends. Most weeks, they give me words to use as prompts so I can practice my art while they do theirs. This week, I think they were out to get me.
REPORT: February 2, 2021
No shadows this year, no light sharpening shapes.
Instead, tracks of a fox bounding
through belly-deep snow across the unplowed drive
into the pinewoods edged with bramble
where the rabbits hide. West wind drifts the snow.
Sun and moon rise and set behind the clouds.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #15
When the days lengthen,
the cold strengthens
but the light too grows strong—
apricity on a frozen day.
Last fall the young oak kept
its leaves. It stood, susurrating
in the shadow of its mother,
collected light feeding the roots.
We live these days
in a haven of possibility.
Every day I walk with the yellow dog who understands human language but can not yet speak. Every day, or nearly every day, we saw the hawk in the dead elm trees between the hay fields or on the power line. In early spring, two hawks circled the fields. In late summer, one young hawk called hunger from the elms while one adult watched from the wire. The dog was disturbed by the hawk’s wheeling or calling, and she raised the orange ridge on her back and growled and barked. And in November, when the hay in the fields was cut short and the living oaks and the dead elms stood as outlines against the sky, on a November morning when the yellow dog and I walked down the road with the mountains on the east and the hills on the west, I found the hawk on the ground, beneath the wire, not far from the elms. The hawk’s red tail was spread, the dark and speckled wings were folded, claws curled, the sharp eyes flat, the neck broken. What shall we do? I cried, and the yellow dog answered. —Carry the hawk to the row of elms and lay it down there. And weep awhile, and I will weep with you. But only for awhile, for you shall see.— So I lifted the hawk and carried it close to my heart and I walked with the dog to where the grasses and goldenrod stalks grew tall under the trees. And there I placed the hawk. And the dog said —Good—. And for awhile we wept. And that night, the hawk came to me while I slept. Her red tail was spread acorss the Earth and her wings opened east and west as far as I could see. Her great head touched the sun. And she spoke. —You see, she said, who I am. Now you see. Your eyes open to my flight, your ears open to my cry, your heart open to my life.— And with a shout the hawk rose up, then up, beyond the sun. And when I woke, the yellow dog was curled beside me and looked at me through her brown eyes, and said —Yes. That’s how it is.—
MATTER: A Pantoum
What gods do is make and let the pieces fall.
Billions of clocks on billions of beaches
turning as our hands move however they
move or our four legs or six or eight.
Billions of eyes in billions of deserts
move through their times or none and
we move our two legs or four or six or eight and
our hearts and chloroplasts, mycelium,
our many eyes or none.
Our structures crystalize, the plates
and hearts and chloroplasts and mycelium
subduct and bump as we rise and fall.
The structure of our crystals, how the plates
and all we do is an echo of clapping hands as we
subduct and bump and rise and fall.
With voices, silences, wavings of branches
we echo with our hands
and twigs and whatever anemones use
for voices: silences? wavings of branches?
We’re all made of one matter.
Twigs and anemones
turn while our hands move however they
move because we’re all the matter
and making matter and falling is what we do.
Life goes on. Really.
We keep vigil together .
It is possible to be friends
on a screen. David
mutes to tune. Kathy C’s
computer is down
but she’s here, there,
and we know she is,
making art. Kathy H
in a parking lot
and reports that,
as we suspected,
she is three-dimensional.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #13
POEM FOR THE LAST DAY OF 2020
With smiles and nods, thumbs up
and applauses, with bright baubles
of technologies—our new necessities—
we’ve bobbled through this hardest time.
We have more courage than we knew,
our loves are stronger than we thought.
Now, let us begin a celebration, now,
as we tiptoe toward the clarity of light
at the far side of this dark passageway.
We are beginning to know
how tender we are; beginning
to know how gentle we can be.
With thanks to Wanda, Kathy H, David and Kathy C for their words.
MAGI, GOING HOME Go home another way, it told us in a dream. Another way? What would an angel know about ways? We had to sell the camels and the slaves. Another way meant bad roads, no roads. We were not accustomed to walk, but walk we did till we bought a donkey. It was old and lame. We rode in turns. We were not accustomed to taking turns, nor to buying food ourselves. Now and then we begged, and more than once we slept in stables, in the straw— the only lodgings we could find after we were robbed of everything. But that’s another tale.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #12
patience silent ricochet hibernate Have patience, my friends. There is no need to run, to roar, to ricochet from hard place to rock. Practice being silent instead. Sit still, hibernate your mind. Go stand in the snow. Listen to the stars.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #11 zoom sure pattern How hard to see the pattern: new friends who zoom past for an hour. How tall are they? Do they wear shoes? And who were they before— before I knew them in this peculiar way, both tentative and sure.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #10 riff-raff heart glue synchronicity SYNCHRONICITY I dream of unmasked riff-raff. Anxiety is collaging my heart: scraps torn from memory, the flattened faces of my friends, a quarter of my granddaughter’s life. Will I ever have glue enough to paste it together? Emergency. Emergence. Emerge. Resurge.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #9 coats coax helm ochre A captain stands at the helm in his ochre coat, coaxing the wind into the sails. The artist in her rusty coat coaxes the ochre from the leaves. Her easel is the helm of a ship sailing into the winter sky. His coat of arms: a purple coat on an ochre field, crowned with a silver helm. too many suit coats, too much ochre light, too many vying for the helm, too many trying to coax a resolution from the deep
OPEN STUDIO POEM #8 ribbons ukelele spew The sky spews rain from silver ribbons of cloud. It patters on the roof, unabating: Beethoven’s fifth symphony played by a ukelele orchestra in the park on a moonless November night.
This is inspired by Hannah Dennison's Quarry Project. The dancers float above the water, above the stone, not dancing, floating, below the dancing clouds, the unknowing clouds, above the stillness of the stone.
CAMP FIRE WOMEN
My friend Julie is a Fire Keeper.
Sometimes all night she watches,
holds the flame at the center
of the world. It is her sacred way.
And mine? To search the forest,
to gather the wood: This for kindling,
this for tinder, this for cleansing,
this for a long and steady burn.
OPEN STUDIO POEM #7
words: legs along fire
We go along and along,
our legs aching, shoulders
sore from the burdens
we bear. So many, so
heavy. But the year will
end, this terrible year
will end. It will. We will
build fires on the beaches,
fires on the hilltops,
fires in the deserts,
fires in our own backyards.
We will throw our burdens
in the fires, throw them down,
throw them down in the fires,
open our arms,
embrace our friends
We will remember
how it feels to laugh.
We will remember.
We will. We will.
My ancestors did this, so I can.
I’ve practiced for this all my life—
to be suspended between cliff edges
above a chasm filled with rapids and rocks.
Without a net.
I’ve done the high wire a zillion times.
It makes no difference
whether there’s a chasm or a sawdust floor.
The far edge is in sight.
My thin-slippered feet
move along the cable.
Cloud shadows, a bird shadow.
One foot in front of the other.
Eyes ahead, toward the edge—
where someone is bending
picking at the cable with a little knife
and no one is there to stop him.
Will it hold? Will it hold?
I can not take time to be afraid.
My ancestors did this, so I can.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
One step, one step, one step
REPORT: OCTOBER 20, 2020
Dark clouds over Buck Mountain.
It will rain.
More sugar-maple leaves on the ground than on the trees.
The oaks and popples are turning.
Soybean fields amber, hay fields cut and green.
Luke’s old milking shed is falling apart.
It’s just a storage shed now,
with the old SURGE and AG JOURNAL signs rusting on the wall
and the little lightning rods standing bravely on the roof.
Last year, a young man took the bend in the road too fast
and the laws of physics being what they are,
he glanced off a telephone pole and ran into the shed.
And died. One of the dead
elms has fallen. Now it’s raining,
and taking pity on the dog, I turn.
Sumac is mostly red along the east side of the road.
If it were colder, I’d swear it was snowing in the mountains.
Jim’s VETERANS AGAINST TRUMP flag is up on his porch.
At the far end of her pasture, his old horse Molly crops the grass.
ON MY WAY It was all so familiar—the icy road, the falling snow. The tricycle was bigger than it used to be, less embarrassing for an adult to ride. It took awhile to get across the city street, awhile to see a safe crossing under the glaze of snow. The other side was fine, and I was on my way. Home at last, but boxes all over the table. I opened them one by one, each filled with plastic things: flutophones, cheap bath toys, disposable cups and spoons. Or tin automatons: monkeys playing drums, jumping mice, walking quacking ducks. Box after box until the house was full. When I awakened, I laughed at it all. Not a nightmare, a description. How full I am, these days, of things I do not want or need. And how far must I ride my little trike, in this storm.
Listen to Sancho, Mistress.
These are only windmills.
This is an inn, that is a basin,
what you have is a computer
glitch, a mis-behaving phone,
a broken coffee grinder,
Look at the world as it is,
not as it never was.
Knights were brutal and mean.
Subsistance farming was hungry and hard.
The Enlightenment was a flash in the pan.
Father never knew best.
No country has ever been great.
If you want a romantic occupation
dangerous enough even for you,
stay home and write poems.
Maybe someone will read them
and write more.
As our creator says, turning poet
is a catching and an uncurable disease.
Words: Open Studio Poem #6 fragile pineappple audible edible Name something audible that sounds like a pineapple Name something edible that smells like a floor. Name something fragile that tastes like an apple tree. Name something fragrant that feels like a door.
Open Studio Poem #3: USE THE WHOLE PAGE
The point is growth toward beginning.
Start again—nothing flat or square—
this time learn to move in three
dimensions—cubic, spherical. Can you
write like a dancer? Paint
like an actor? Draw like—
a potter? Remember knitting—
how to turn a heel, shape
a sleeve from a strand.
DO THAT WITH WORDS.
USE THE WHOLE PAGE.
FILL IT WITH SHAPE AND
COLOR AND SOUND AND FLAVOR—
BITTER GREENS AND HOT PEPPERS
AND LEMON ZEST. WRITE
BIG AND ROUND.
USE THE WHOLE PAGE
OPEN STUDIO POEM #4
final granite light synchronize
Rilke said, “No feeling is final.”
Not even granite is permanent—
it crumbles and weathers into parts.
And isn’t it a fine thing
that nothing stays the same?
Time is after all unsynchronized space,
shifting into shapes that cannot last.
Therefore, do not fret.
Keep your touch light,
or maybe don’t touch at all.
I finally figured out that I can do a screen shot of my formatted poem and publish it as an “image.” Good grief. This poem has been in my “to blog” file for ages because the format matters so much. It’s about a wonderful film about Pina Bausch.
WORDS: THREE BOLD ATTEMPTS cricket illustrate tone pearl snap quilt THE GAME Last summer, I studied cricket. Not the insects in August, their crispy vibrations adding tone to the fading garden, but the sport. I like the langauge. Let me illustrate: Overs (six balls per), Stumps and Maidens and Leg Before Wicket. Innings, not as in baseball, is both singular and plural. That’s tea. That’s drinks. Declaring before All Out. Sixes and fours and centuries. Ducks and Golden Ducks. Silly mid-on. Test (the best) and ODI. Howzzat? I followed the World Cup in the Guardian online. They did OBO coverage. England won, to their surprise. I want to see a game someday, a whole five-day test. I want to hear the snap of leather on willow. I’ll bring a quilted vest and a thermos. I’ll wear a ridiculous hat, and pearls. I’ll wait for an umpire to Offer the Light, Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen The summer palace in Oslo. The Queen in residence, a conversation on the terrace. No birds, no crickets singing. The dining room in the palace: candles in the windows, late sun through the windows, green leaves outside the windows. Paintings on the walls—illustrations of green. No furniture but the black piano. The pianist wore striped socks. The soprano wore a green gown, no diamonds, no pearls. A silent audience on screens. No applause. The studio in New York. Monitors and clocks. Christine Goerke’s sad and gracious tone: A difficult time for singers and thank you. The program a carefully stitched quilt: Wagner and Norway’s Grieg, and Strauss, the snap of Kalman’s “Heia, Heia!” The peace of Ronald’s “O Lovely night.” Zuihitsu for the end of a terrible summer 1. Crickets drone away in the dark. I used to love them. This year, I find their rasping cricks most annoying. 2. Last night I watched a moon like a yellow pearl poke through a torn quilt of cloud and leaf. 3. My voice has taken on a querulous tone. I can’t help it. I am possessed by a tired and hot and hungry and frustrated three-year-old child. 4. The purple snap beans I grew do not snap. They are blotchy and stringy and not particularly flavorful. The purple blossoms, however, are lovely, and hummingbirds feed from them, so growing them was not a total waste of water and space. 5. The tone of this zuihitsu illustrates the way I have felt about this summer. A few times only, I have glimpsed something lovely, far away, and still.
pit sew break fan milky frail NOT A MAST YEAR--theme and variations This is not a mast year. I toss peach pits to the one frail squirrel who comes to our yard. Am I the only one who is not making masks? I’ve never liked to sew— a break with family tradition. Degenerate daughter of a great house. At least the Milky Way is a constant, fanning out from the great starry swan. pantoum This is not a mast year. I toss peach pits to the one frail squirrel who comes to our yard. Am I the only one tossing peach pits, the only one who is not making masks? Am I the only one who doesn’t like to sew, who is not making masks? A break with the family tradition— I’ve never liked to sew. Degenerate daughter— (a break in the family tradition) of a great house. I am the inconstant daughter. At least the Milky Way, great path through the heavens, is a constant, fanning out like spilled milk from the great starry swan. We need a constant: that hungry squirrel who comes to our yard under the sign of Cygnus. This is not a mast year. sestina The one squirrel in the yard is frail. She’ll eat anything—peach and plum pits. It’s not a mast year, it’s a broken one. I’ll feed the squirrel, but I will not sew. At night, Cygnus brightens in the Milky Way, his stars spread out in a simple fan. I once had a sandalwood fan— sweet scented frame, frail silk the color of milky tea. It didn’t last—a child pitted against something so fine, sewn together with invisible thread, easy to break. The squirrel keeps breaking the suet feeder, opening it like a fan. I don’t begrudge her. She is so hungry for acorns, frail- winged maple seeds, cherry pits, even the tiny seeds of the milk- weed. She breaks the stems, milky sap sticking bitter to her paws. I break stale bread for her, save pits from fruit, scatter them in a fan across the lawn. The grass too is frail, each blade a fine strand of thread sewn over the cracked soil. A summer so dry the heavens complain. The Milky Way trembles with heat. A frail moon shines through the broken trees. Not a breath of wind fans the simmering ground, pitted with dust. This is the pits. It sucks, like having to sew aprons in junior high. Fans of rebellion, unite! Milk your courage untl it breaks! I’m so tired of feeling frail.
or the alternate last verse, which I kinda like! with dust. This is the pits. It sucks, like having to sew aprons in junior high. Fans of rebellion, unite! Milk the bastards till they break! Let’s stop being so fucking frail.
tough sleeve bag wave half fire
WHAT WE CARRY
Each of us carries a bag, a tough bag,
filled with the weight of our times and years.
Each of us is half-dead these days. We wave
to one another across the firewall.
We wave, and blink our eyes. For each is still
alive, one sleeve rolled up, scrubbing along
however we can, lugging our bags,
bearing our bit of the impossible load.
rigid draw meadow peer lemon cap
(another one with those words)
SIX TREASURED THINGS: A ZUIHITSU
1. A rigid plastic lawn chair, one of four that my parents kept on the deck of their condominium. I keep it on the front step from spring till snow. I sit there at sunrise and sunset, watching the yellow light flicker like sparks between the leaves.
2. The white linen cap I bought in Traverse City in a shop that sold hats and, unexpectedly, wine-making supplies. A young friend told me that when I wear it, I remind him of Yoko Ono. I wear it often.
3. Our backyard. It was forest, then meadow, then lawn, and it is now growing up again into forest. We’ve reserved a patch of grass around the house, and bits for vegetables and flowers, but what was barren lawn is filling up with grasses and goldenrod, bramble and sumac, gray dogwood and pine and oak. Five years ago, I planted one solemn young chestnut tree as an act of defiance.
4.The drawing of a cat we had for a few months. Her name was Nanette, and she was tri-colored, and very small. The old woman who gave her to us could not keep her. “There’s something wrong with her,” she told us, and there was. In the drawing, Nanette is curled, sleeping, in a chair that once was in the living room and is now in the kitchen. The drawing was made by an artist friend who stayed with us for a summer—along with her husband and three children—in the room that once was our guest room, and is now the study where I write.
5. The lemons I always have by me. Here is a new maxim I try to live by: When in doubt, add lemon. To vegetables, to pastas, to soda water, to soup. The scent of lemon revives me and a lick of lemon opens my senses to all the good in the world that remains.
6. Ursula Le Guin wrote “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.” I treasure a company of peers—poets, artists, women who keep doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.
cap rigid lemon peer draw meadow
SESTINA FOR THE SUMMER OF 2020
Like a drawing by Van Gogh,
I stand rigid in the meadow. I wear my white cap.
I peel a lemon, and peer at the trees.
I wear my white cap
though the brim is too rigid
for me to bend against the lemon-
brightness of the sun. I stand alone, peer
into the middle distance like a drawing
by Van Gogh of a woman in a meadow.
It is August, and the earth is dry. The meadow
crackles with brown grasses capped
with seeds. The summer draws
to a close. Have we yet let go our rigid
sense of what is real? My peers
cannot guess. News sours me, like lemon.
When I was young, I wore lemon
cologne. I lay in this meadow
beside a man—my peerless
lover—who wore a Greek fishing cap.
But our bones have gone rigid
with the years. We have drawn
living water so long. Now we draw
water grown bitter, like lemon
rind, and brackish, from a rigid
bottle. A butterfly wavers over the meadow
searching for one plant to cap
with one pale egg. I peer
at her with shaded eyes, my only peer
now in this tight-drawn
season, this heated season, capped
with grasses the color of dried lemon
peel. Under my feet, the meadow
soil is hard, cracked, rigid
with the hard rigidity
of this rainless summer, a peerless
summer of an anxiety that a meadow
cannot know. The trees live on, drawing
their life from deeper water. The lemon
sun beats and beats on my white cap.
joy exhaust chorus toll appear trunk
SIX WORDS, SIX STANZAS
The steamer trunk might have been my grandfather’s,
but I don’t remember seeing it in
his dark little room that smelled like old clocks.
If I sit for a long time in this chair
the right words will appear. Like magic.
Despite the evidence, I still believe
that. Believing in anything now takes
a toll. There doesn’t seem to be a god,
for instance, who gives a shit about us.
It’s August. The dawn chorus is over
for the year. Sometimes, one dusty robin
lands on the lawn and hops around. The worms
have burrowed down under. Everyone is
exhausted by the heat, the drought, the plague,
waiting and waiting for some kind of relief.
My grandfather had a small life, and yet
he made himself a bit of joy. Magic tricks.
Walks. Old friends. Keeping all those clocks ticking.
with thanks to Kathy, David, Kathy, and Wanda
OPEN STUDIO POEM 2
Too lazy today to pay attention
to the face in the looking glass—
mirror, mirror on the wall—
Does it matter what we look like?
I’m learning lately to be
my own friend. The kind
of friend I need. A friend
with pluck. Spunk. The kind
of nerve it takes to ignore
the face and see
what’s on the other side.
Is it too late to invent America?
While the sky outside turned mauve,
Kushner’s Belize said, “I hate America. . . .
You come to room 1013 over at the hospital. .
I’ll show you America.
Terminal, crazy and mean.”
In a city rife with AIDS,
every day he did his tasks.
Compassion isn’t what you think.
Nobody knows what Jesus wrote
in the sand, but the men dropped their stones
and crept away, one by one.
No one is without sin
and it’s a commonplace to hate in others
our own grimmest angels.
I hate people who aren’t compassionate.
America has never been great
and we’ve never had a decent metaphor.
From the beginning, the pot didn’t hold us all—
why should we stew and amalgamate?
How about a braid—not of hair, but of water—
slow river moving over a delta,
living streams carrying their histories,
interlacing, winding toward one sea.
For the past few weeks, I have been the only poet in an online open studio. Instead of knitting last time, I decided to ask each of the other artists for a word, and I wrote this poem while they did their arts.
The unpruned fuchsia in its faded pot
is a mess of sticks, spotty leaves, a few stunted buds.
It is not a malleable plant;
it’s fussy about water and light.
Not like the daffodils. Every spring—
flood or freeze or April snow—
they push up through thickets of grasses
and edge the lawn with yellow and white.
I expect there is some liberty
in taking what is given, staying deep,
blooming from the settled bulb.
To His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
I’m re-re-re-re-reading Little Women, of all things, and find it a great deal more moralizing than I did when I was young. And women’s laughter–the Heretics group I’m in (all of us over fifty) laugh a great deal when we’re together–not necessarily even about anything. We were getting to be a bunch of boring old people sitting around telling the same stories all the time.
To St. Francis:
Well, as you said, I’m about to ramble. I planted Swiss chard this morning, and gladiolas, and cherry tomatoes in pots. And the Apocalypse didn’t come yesterday–were you surprised? I hope that you are all better after your “very, very, VERY rare” experience. The chorus I sing in is preparing the “Laudamus Te” and the “Magnificat” from the Solemn Vespers for our spring concert, and I got to thinking that maybe the whole suffering bleeding mess of the world has been worth it for that music. It’s political, but we came at it obliquely, through Vikings and El Salvador and the Crusades and the Trojan War, for example.
To Christopher Robin and Pooh
I think it was Martin Smith who said/wrote that women’s soul work is different from men’s. “Holy detachment.” I want to come visit you soon. Maybe I shall. I miss you. What would it be like to be in that café and see people Raptured away? And speaking of books, I now have The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary. I have been wanting one for awhile.