TERRITORY

Berry fields stretched out above the meadows
that curl like water down to Lake Champlain:
acres of ridgy green leaves,
red seed-specked sweetness.
I came early to that one row among hundreds.
Alone I picked, content.
I was one yellow hat on the hill,
a solitude surrounded by thrush song and bees.

Then there she was, in her black pants,
a bright and flowery shirt,
talking too loud to her scattered companions;
there she was, squatting in the straw
between the plants I’d been saving,
the direction I was working.
It was hard to refrain from standing to accuse:
Mine, it’s mine, all mine!

The dog lifts his leg against a tire,
cats rub their jaws along the sill,
monkeys howl and hurl sticks and pits.
People throw stones at tanks,
knock down houses, burn
crops and forests all over the world.
I bent back among the berries, breathing hard,
picking only the best,
the ones I wanted for my very own.

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FOUNDATIONS

I have become obsessed with underpinnings:

Olga no longer makes the Daisy in my size.
They assume small women
want padding–”contour” they call it.
But contours are hot, and they itch,
and besides, I told the clerk,
I am happy with my size.
And she, who guessed my numbers by looking–
she who for forty years had seen all sizes,
had fitted corsets and prostheses,
measured without a blink over sags and scars–
said Well, you ought to be,  and searched
the bins along the wall to see if there might be
one more, and there wasn’t.
She found a substitution, adequate,
but not what I’d hoped for.
She wrapped it in tissue and I paid.

What happens to prayers–
our own devices, nothing left to fit?
Discontinuites, perhaps,
and God the old woman
with her measure, her calm and kindly face.
It’s a shame, my dear,
but that’s how it goes.
Here’s something else that might suffice.

I carried my little package to the café
where I go to watch the traffic pass.
A new brick sidewalk there, wide:
tables and chairs outdoors, better than before.
They dug deep, below the level of the street.
They found old coins and a diamond ring,
but best of all, windows covered over with rubble.
All those years with nothing to see but dirt.

Amazing, what holds things up, or doesn’t,
the dark and hidden structure undergirding it all.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO FLY?

I was on the crest of a hill, eye-level with the tops of hemlocks,
raised my arms in the perfect dihedral,
rounded my shoulders exactly right,
curved my hands into the primaries of a rough-legged hawk.
I could have done it, that afternoon,
with the sun scattering the light into improbable blue.
I felt a vibration, a trembling up my arms.
I saw my fingers pinnate,
felt the feathers growing, prickling through my skin.
Perhaps I could have risen above the trees,
disappeared into that stunning sky–
and yet, some solid thing,
some reservation of gravity,
kept me on the ground.

Small children know:
with homemade wings in place they leap
from kitchen chairs,
flutter above the rooftops,
carry home the smiling sun, yellow moon,
the sharp pointed stars.

published in Connecticut River Review, July/August 2004

MY CATECHISM: MEANING

What if prayers are being answered all the time, even while you sleep?
Then everyone who owns a race car will be required to substitute a grocery cart with one loose and rusty wheel.

Why do so many innocent living things suffer?
Because there is a reality  beyond the grasp of this dimension.  What we call (so blithely) “god” is something utterly beyond our language and comprehension.

Why is there Death?
The energy of the universe slowed down has been slowed, has slowed, into this form, into these forms, into these dimensions, just for now.  It does not yet appear what we shall be.

Why is Life so precious? 
It’s solar rather than lunar, a river instead of a sea. It’s the shadow of Christ falling on bread and wine, because shadows are as close as we can get.  For more information, enclose a stamped envelope addressed to St. Joan, at her Paris address.

MY CATECHISM: SALVATION

What is salvation?
Acceptance–not that this world is evil, but that it is, in all its beauty and terror, transient.

What is necessary for salvation?
Tender red-brown pollen-tipped locust fingers in pale green hoods.

What is the path to enlightenment?
The Crown Dragon from the Land of Five Colors who gives birth to birds again and again.

After the body’s needs are fulfilled, what is the universal human desire?
“Atoms and the Void” within, as well as  a lot of salty water.

MY CATECHISM: HUMAN BEINGS

Are human beings a three-dimensional projection of something multi-dimensional, yet undefined?
We are a chubby guy in high-waisted pants going into a dentist’s office with a zucchini., a policeman chasing a beach ball down a city street, a young woman trying to get a snowshovel through airport security.  We are hot, steady, dimmed only by random shadows, burning the sea, lightening the moon.

Is the “I” that other people see more “real” than the one “I” know?
No.  The instructions are far too complex for anyone wearing a hat on a windy day.

How can we be sure that there is a universe outside the cosmos of our own living conglomeration of cells and space?
By writing a letter to every mayor of every city with fewer than 6500 inhabitants.

Why do human beings keep trying to make religions?
Because the sun contains the moon and the river contains the ocean and the sun is the engine that drives it all.

How should we live?
By going through life with a green hat, a tin of fish food and a pocket full of jelly beans. By appreciation of scenery, the practice of good manners and the principle that there’s always plenty of time.

MY CATECHISM: GOD

(This is a Dada one, like the one I posted awhile ago, but in this case, the questions are mine.  For the answers, I copied bits and pieces from my notebooks onto strips of paper and selected them at random.  I did take the liberty (poetic license) of cleaning up the grammar in several cases.)

What is the essence of what we try to call God?
An old woman in a red robe sweeping her walk at dawn.

What if all that unimaginable uncreature can do is drift through the universe, trying to pull itself back together?
Then the goldfinches will turn green in the winter, invisible in the hemlock trees, but vivid against the snow.

Is God is powerless?
Yes.  Being contented means having contents.

Is there something you can do to help?
Yes. Experiment with dada but call it mama, that primal cry of “mmmmm.”  Explain in haiku why dahlia bulbs must be dug up every fall in cold climates.