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.
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.
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.
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.
OBSERVATIONS ON A HOT SUMMER MORNING
I recognize my friends by the worry behind their masks.
In town, the biggest crane we’ve ever seen
looms like something in a surreal movie set.
Early this morning, I walked past a meadow
overgrown with weeds, the hopeless sticks of elm.
Raven flew close, brushed me with the shadow of her wing.
What does it mean to live these complicated days?
Have all days been this way, and ourselves
too caught up in flimsy occupation to notice?
This morning, something— a gesture?
a word? a scrap of dream?—kindled
a yen for flight beyond
these walls of age and time
and choices made. But I remain,
grounded in every sense, rooted
in a garden of my own construction.
A robin is building her nest
outside the window of the room
where I write, shaping the sticks
and grass with her muddy breast.
In the budding lilac, her mate sings.
If fates and jays agree, nestlings shall fledge,
fragile as imagined wings.
~That Bluebird Fairy is back
Oh, how the edges are odd!
Bread from white flour,
coffee carefully measured.
Opera in the afternoons.
Friends on the screen.
Walking on the other side.
Stop, says the sage, and I stop
in the driveway when the dog
stops to pee. Before sunrise:
a robin is singing, a cardinal,
a dove. Look: the bare trees
against a gray sky. The house
with her red roof, smoke rising
from the chimney, a light
shining in the kitchen window.
(Brother David Steindl-Rast recommends practicing “Stop. Look. Go” as a way of remembering to be grateful.)
POET IN GARRET, NOVEMBER
~attributed to Jan Vermeer, 1703
You see at once that she’s cold,
the way she hunches
over the table in the fireless
room. Light from one small
window slants across her page.
She is half-turned toward you,
her lips are parted, her eyes
focused on a word appearing
just above your right shoulder.