MEMERE–prompt #75


Prompt #75: Invent a Grandparent


Once she stopped a runaway horse before

the horse ran over a little boy. The boy’s

father was so grateful, he got her pregnant.

He set her up in a shack on the edge

of town and paid her every month, enough

to get groceries for herself and my dad.

That grandfather died before I was born,

and I am just as glad.


Memere always had dogs, stray ones she tamed.

She could tell fortunes by watching crows.

I liked visiting her. Dad didn’t mind,

but Mother worried every time.

I used to sleep in her loft

on a feather bed she made.

She taught me how to kill chickens,

how to bait a hook,

how to build a fire with wet wood.


Memere had different names for the stars.

She had three books:

The Oxford Book of English Verse,  

My Antonia, and

Moby Dick, which she knew by heart.

She never did believe in God, she said.

What went on in the woods and sky

gave her enough religion to get by.

NOT ON ROCK: a poem for the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter


On this sand I build my church,

grit of barrier and beach,

shift and shape, tumbling jag

tossed in my whimsical wind.


On this clay, sticky with itself,

plow-breaker, seed-wrecker,

slip and slick, firing hard

to slice and slab and cup.



Out of flesh I build it,

bones, heart, blood, decay.

Out of bread I build it,

risen, broken, given away.



The women awakened before it was light

and gathered together some things she’d need.

They found her there, curled on her makeshift bed,

clumsily nursing the child at her breast.

Her husband was still sound asleep.


Surely the men were crazy, all the commotion.

Angels and voices in the sky.

A warrior or a king, or somesuch

come to free them from their lot.

Well that was fine.


But here was the inexperienced mother.

They covered the straw with the cloth they had brought,

and settled the baby more comfortably.

They fed her the potion

to make the blood stop and the milk come down.

A few sparrows stirred awake in the rafters.

No sign of an angel anywhere.



It is a season for strange dreams:

The white elk who crashed through

the front window and stood staring

with pale blue eyes before dissolving

out the back door. The child

who offered to give me his tricycle

for my daily commute. The president-

elect as an audiologist who cleaned

the wax from my ears and loaned me

his denim coat because I said I was cold.


. . . an old and very peculiar poem based on a dream.




First the wobbly bookcase top where I sat

after giving tea to the women who interrupted

the poem.   When they at last were ready

to leave, I had to ask a curly-haired girl

to brace the piano stool, so I could jump down.

When she turned into my son as he was

twenty-eight years ago, and when he went

to open my parents’ bedroom door,

I followed him.


There was a strange woman

in their bed, pale, dressed in Victorian blue;

it took a hell of a time to wake her.

Jim told me I could sleep here, she whispered,

he said he’d throw cold water on me

when it was time for me to go.


I took a bottle and a brush

from the dresser, began to paint my son’s little face.

It was supposed to be Indian brown,

but I couldn’t see any difference.

Then the factory tour, all along a balcony

that opened outdoors, turned into stairs–

the creepy kind, with no railings or edges.

Cautiously I climbed down to the gravel entry

of the inevitable gift shop.


I leaned on the fence,

looked up at the grassy ski lift where the stairs had been,

where gaudy mannequins were poised.

Jacques Cousteau–I recognized him right away–

was leaning there next to me, his elbows resting

on the rail.  In my day, there wasn’t even a lift,

he said.  No gift shop, no tour.


I had to sneeze

and I woke up, thinking of the beautiful sisters

who brought in a bear and fed him by the fire.

September 3, 2003