TO MY SISTER SUE

TO MY SISTER SUE

November 29, 1955—June 27, 1993

After you died, I determined to live

more worthy, left work I was not

sure about, took up my pen.

 

It’s been twenty-four years.

I’ve spiraled back toward something

maybe like god, but not

 

the one I thought I knew,

for how could that one

have let you die despite

 

our prayers. How could it

allow so damned much pain.

The pottery monk you gave me

 

stands with his folded hands,

beautific smile, next to a jade tree

in a green pot. Your photo hangs

 

on my study wall, your face

pensive, dark eyes gazing

toward something I cannot see.

 

June 27, 2017

THE PLEASANTEST THING

THE PLEASANTEST THING

He can sing the last word of every line—

the swing song I sang to his father,

that my mother sang to me.

 

In his small world, the garden

is still green and the wideness

he sees is safe. “Turn up your toes,”

 

I tell him. And I push him

on the orange soles of his shoes

and he laughs. Later, we’ll have

 

lunch, and maybe he’ll take a nap.

I can protect him from bees,

from sunburn, from sharp knives,

 

from tumbling down the cellar stairs.

Not from overturning boats,

from hunger and guns. Pushing

 

the swing, singing away,

I think about grandmothers

lifting children above the waves,

 

breaking the last bread,

huddling behind the last wall.

Their strength, their tears.

 

What can they do

but hold tight and die too.

There is no fiercer love.

MEMERE–prompt #75

MEMERE

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.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

~Prompt–for a book you haven’t written

 

 

First of all, I must thank my parents.

Without them, I would be normal,

and this book would not

have been possible.

 

My husband did not

comment on it, or even read it.

In fact, for the past eight months,

he has been living

in a tent in the woods.

I love you, sweetie.

Words cannot express

my gratitude.

 

My children are grown

so I thank them for not

getting in my way

(except for two hysterical

phone calls which only

kept me awake nights

for a week or so).

 

I am grateful to my agent,

despite her claim that

I was the direct cause

of her most recent breakdown.

I am not responsible for everything,

but she is responsible

for finding a home for my work.

 

All my editors—every single

one of them—have been

marvelous.

 

The Spring St. Poets

have provided occasionally helpful

feedback and comic relief for years.

Thanks, guys!

 

It takes a village

to produce a book, so I owe

a great deal to my neighbors

who put up with my midnight

hurdy-gurdy/bagpipe fests

and afternoon target practices,

and only called the police three times.

 

These poems

are for them.

 

 

MP   March 1, 2017

CLEVELAND, 1930: ON THE STREETCAR

CLEVELAND, 1930:  ON THE STREETCAR

Look at his hands and tell me what is his job.

Yes, rough like your pa’s hands, so hard work.

That lady has been crying, has red eyes.

See— gold ring on her thumb.

I think her husband is maybe dead.

 

There is accent behind; no, don’t look.

You know is not German, not Russian.

Czech. Is enough like Polish to make me laugh.

Someday you teach your children

always there is something new to see.

 

Why is that man wearing slippers?

Is he stupid, or did he forget?

Oh maybe no shoes,

but look at his clothes.

He is not poor.

 

Remember story:  I thought my papa

did not miss one pear. Foolish girl! Papa said

God looked down from heaven and saw me

like God saw Adam. Remember:

everything God sees.

 

Is that lady sister or girlfriend?

Yes, girlfriend. Look at their shining eyes.

Here is hospital so we get off. Your papa

will be happy. You make him smile.

Big step down. Hold my hand.

POPPING JEWELWEED

POPPING JEWELWEED

 

I didn’t when I was a child. Dad showed me

how when I was well-grown. We were in Newport,

Lake Memphremagog, at my uncle’s camp.

Mist on the water—that water always

cold. Fish under the dock. The old canoes

pulled up on the shore, the brick fireplace

where we toasted marshmallows. The big jug

of drinking water brought from town. Sarah

and I went to Canada once, to buy

fireworks we smuggled back in a beach bag.

A long time ago. The camp is gone, Dad

and Uncle Colin, too. But this morning,

I popped jewelweed along a path I walk

now, by a river. Mist on the water.

TEN RULES FOR POETRY, #6, #7, #8

10 RULES FOR POETRY

#6

Stop being superstitious. You do not

need a special pen or a blue notebook.

You do not need a tidy study with

a writing desk, or a corner table

in a dark café. You do not need to

drink anything but water, and any

cup will do. You do not need stars aligned,

flights of birds, a yellow candle, a white stone.

You do not need melancholy or fear.

You do not need to be in love or war.

You do not need an oracle or a muse.

All you need is a word, and another word.

 

#7

You have to do something besides it.

Reading resembles it too much except

for books about the Civil War or bird-

watching. Birdwatching is good, except for

seagulls, who steal words. Robbery is okay,

but do you really need more things? Taking

care of things, in moderation, can be

helpful, except for electronic things

that claw out your eyeballs. Nobody wants

to read any poetry about that.

 

#8

Silence is essential but not absolute.

Breezes are allowed, a bit of birdsong,

some water sounds—no seagulls or faucets.

The undertow of café chatter is fine,

but not the shrill of phone chat. Purring cats,

yes. Barking dogs, no. If your husband is

drilling or sawing in the next room no

matter how much you want a new tub surround,

you might as well give up.