September 29

SEPTEMBER 29

Mother died seven years ago.

The haunting has ceased, perhaps

because I can see her

more clearly at this distance,

her brave smile, so like mine,

her hand raised, still waving me on.

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WHAT I DID AFTER YOU LEFT HOME

WHAT I DID AFTER YOU LEFT HOME

Went to New Orleans,

walked alone in the early morning.

They were opening windows,

washing down the streets.

Are you ready, M’am?

An old man stood on the cobblestones,

beaming in the steaming light.

He held reins in one crinkled hand,

extended the other to me.

His brown horse shook its head, bells rang.

Ready?  For what?

 

Are you ready for a buggy ride?

I had not planned to act like a tourist,

but how could I do otherwise

in this unexpected land, this place I’ve never seen?

The people sitting above the tall red wheels

were talking and laughing together

like people in a painting, or a play.

The driver cocked his head, waiting for my answer.

I asked the cost.

There was no reason to refuse.

 

I placed my damp white hand in his,

my hand with the split lifeline,

the single crack foretelling a single child.

Twenty years ago a sibyl read my palm:

You’ll live long, but two lives, different.

You’re a musician.  And try not to be so stingy.

Yes of course I’m ready, I told him.

Boost me up.

 

You, I’m afraid, would have been

disdainful, cool.  You would not

have approved of me,

sweating in my purple dress,

gawking, singing along,

leaning out behind the horse’s bobbing feathered head

above the spinning wheels

in that impressionistic light.

 

I felt a city dawn that day,

saw men in stiletto heels and black stockings 

prancing down the shining sidewalks,

artists reaching for long moist shadows,

women like statues, painted gold.

The city smelled like fresh coffee,

sour beer, things frying in lard.

On every bright wet corner

were little children, dancing.

 

 

I wrote this a long time ago, in response to the Empty Nest. It ended up being a performance piece.

 

March 24–November 16, 1999;  Jan. 30–April 20, 2001

Quatrain Chapbook:   Sing in me, Muse, Feb. 2005

DNA

DNA

I spat into the tube and sent it off

and now I know:  I descended from a

crabapple tree. A nettle by the river

was my grandfather, but the oak I call

Grandmother is not an ancestor at all.

The snapping turtle I moved from the road,

the wolf spider I met in the garden

scurrying away with her white egg ball,

are second cousins. I am part fox, stillness

on the edge of the meadow. I am part

owl, passing on silent wings. I am thrice

removed from an otter, four times from a deer.

Catbird is my brother—I knew it all along.

We sing the same cobbled-together song.

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