IN THE KITCHEN: From the American Folksong Suite

I like it when he comes in here, after supper,
when the washing up is mostly done
and I’m just mopping the table
and setting things to rights.
He sits on the flour barrel in the corner
and plays his music, and sings.
We don’t talk much.
I don’t suppose there would be trouble if we did–
who cares what an old Irishman
and an old woman like me do in our free time?
Mam said I was lucky to get this work,
but I think not lucky–I’m a good cook,
and they know it.  At least I got a couple things
out of the plantation–cooking, and my baby.
I’m glad she’s up north now.
It’s not safe here for a pretty girl like her,
and the lady of the house where she works
is teaching her to read in the evenings.
These railroad men don’t scare me:
I’ve seen it all.
I can take care of myself.
And he comes in to sing
just at the dangerous time of day,
looks after me, in a way,
always reminds me to bolt the door.

HOMECOMING: From the American Folksong Suite

It was a long journey through the passes
between the mountains.  It took days.
I had to stop often to water the horses,
to find places for them to graze.
They told me I was a fool to keep six horses,
but they’re all I have of Father’s,
them and his old red flannel shirt
and hunting trousers that I wore all the way.
I tucked my hair up into his cap, too.
Not that I was afraid–Father taught me
how to shoot, and more than one man
has felt my knuckles on his jaw–
but I figured it would be easier, pretending
to be a man–nobody would stop to help.
I didn’t want help.  I didn’t get much
when Mother died, and I didn’t get any
when Father did.  I was too busy
even to cry–selling the coach
and the house and barns to Parker Brady.
He wanted the horses, too, but I wouldn’t sell–
he’s hard on horses.  Then I was occupied
with getting the old wagon mended,
and seeing to the canvas and tack,
and packing up some oats for the horses
and some pork and flour for me,
and the few bits of furniture and things
of Mother’s I wanted to bring.
It took longer than I thought, but I did all right.
I always have.
It was a long journey,
but at last I looked down into the valley,
and saw the yellow house like a toy house
with the lamp already shining
from Grandma’s bedroom window,
and Uncle Heman, still so far away in the yard,
like a little toy person, waving to me.
I got a lump in my throat–I couldn’t help it.
And then I drove into the yard, and the little kids
gathered round, all yelling hello,
and Uncle Heman took the reins
and I climbed down, kind of wobbly.
I didn’t know how tired I was till then.
And when  Aunt Ella came out of the shed
and ran to meet me in her bloody apron,
brushing  feathers off her hands,
I couldn’t help but cry.

FAMIGLIA: From the “American Folksong Suite”

My hayfever had never been so bad,
messy, out of control even with the medicine.
I wouldn’t have gone, but he wanted me to.
His family was all there, where they work,
at his Zia Rosa’s restaurant.  They were
very quiet when we came in.  They gave us
a table by the kitchen, where they could watch.
We didn’t order, they just brought us the food:
antipasto with perfect vegetables and cheeses,
bread that crackled when I bit into it
but soft and melting inside,
the best chianti.  And then the pasta–
homemade spaghetti with sauce rich
and thick as blood.
Three perfect meatballs, Rosa’s specialty.

Then it happened–with all that beautiful food
in front of me. I sneezed so hard I blew a meatball
from the pile of pasta, off the tablecloth
and down onto the terra cotta floor.
And since the floor wasn’t level,
that meatball rolled across and out the open door.
If that were to happen at my mother’s club,
no one would notice.  Not even me.
But suddenly they were there,
the whole lot of them, laughing,
and hugging him and me,
saying loud happy things to him
that back then I couldn’t understand.
Then they were all quiet
while shyly he pulled a box from his pocket
and offered me his nonna’s diamond ring.
When I said yes, they all laughed
and cheered again, and kissed us both.
Zio Antonio went out into the street
and retrieved the meatball,
put it on a little plate next to the cash register
with a sign on it that I couldn’t yet read.

So that’s how it all began.

 

An old one.  Name that tune.

APRIL #6 Solid

Vata the naturopath said,
and the voice teacher Find your feet.
I’ve only just learned to be
three-dimensional.
Sometimes I can stay that way
for minutes at a time.
I’ve stopped flying kites,
stopped eating windy food.
Mirrors are a problem
so I’ve broken them all.
I stamp when I walk,
breathe into my back.
I try not to look at the sky.

RIDDLES

THE CORPSE

It was such a little thing,
with its soft spotted hide
and pointed feet.
It lies there now, nearly invisible
in the brown leaves,
its little chest opened,
ribs cracked,
its child-sized heart cut away.

THE BIRD

Her hunger was terrible:
few seeds, and drought
had driven the earthworms deep.

Only one nestling still lived.
The others–poor scraps
of down and bone–too pitiful
even for the crows.

But then, along the forest floor,
winding through the tall black trees,
a trailing of coarse brown crumbs.

A DIARY

Today is cold, but there is no wind.
I found a robin redbreast, frozen, by the water.
It made me sadder than usual.

They caught Willow, in the forest.
She had gone early, to pick new blossoms.
People get careless;  people forget so soon.

I dreamed I swept the churchyard,
brushed the pebbles into piles.
There were no candles anymore.

The children were playing at hunting
in the spring meadow this morning–
stalking one another,

smelling, tasting the windy air.
It felt good to laugh again–
the first time since Grandmother–
since she’s been gone.

THE FOOT

It came to nothing–
Mother’s ambition,
my sacrifice.

I always knew
that she was the one–
everything they look for–
that hair, those eyes,
the tiny foot.

Mine healed badly.
I shall always hobble.

No one ever told me
what was required
for balance,
what was required
for love.

 

Can you guess the tales?

WHITE VIOLETS

. . . it begins with your family,
but soon it comes round to your soul.
~Leonard Cohen

My family thinks I can handle anything,
and I have given them
little reason to doubt.
Take the dog’s incontinence,
the special diets of the cats.
Take my husband’s cancer.

Or take my mother’s
phone company (please)
with their dreadful
music and earnest
voices explaining
how important is my call.

I can’t find my good winter hat,
or the silver pickle fork,
or the pen I bought last week.
The freezer inventory is inaccurate,
and there are no filing categories
for half the papers on my desk.
Nobody makes plain white hankies,
or blue jeans that come up to my waist.

Have things always been this way?
Or is the wildness of the world
catching me up at last?
Even the gods have morphed
into an undisciplined squadron,
and knotty roots of violets
have overtaken a bed of flowers
that just two summers ago
was all under control.

wrote this in 2009, and I’m still digging up the violets 

THE TRICKSTER, DEAD

Make your offerings at the crossroad
where he hangs all winter,
bleeding water.   Leave a bit
of bread, a bag of blood, a finger,
your good right ear.  

Perhaps
you’ll see him move in the shadow
on the edge of vision when the moon
slivers thin before sunrise.  His
mother sits in her cave,
singing while she spins.

Sometimes
you will hear her, melodious as owls.
There was nothing you could do
to save him.  If you cut him down,
he will die again.  If you let him
be, now and then he’ll live.

Never
think about him, do not let him infect
your dreams.  If you believe 
what he tells you, 
he will never
let you go.   

 

Another trickster poem.  I can’t help it.