A PHOTO OF BORIS They posed him against a background of drapery, stood him on the seat of a chair with curved arms. His hair was parted and neatly combed. He wore a dark jacket with two rows of buttons, dark button-trimmed trousers, and sturdy shoes. They put a hoop—-larger than himself—-around his neck. The fingers of one hand curled around it. In the other, he held a short stick of the sort used by bigger boys to turn a hoop along a road. His expression was serious, puzzled, maybe alarmed: Why do they want me standing here, with a hoop around my neck? On the back, a line of my Grandmother’s illegible scrawl —I think in German—-and one word, set apart: “Boris.” There is no Boris in the family tree. The photo was attached with dots of glue to a page in a cheap photo album discovered in a box in a closet among my mother’s things. It was Grandma’s. Perhaps Mother never looked at it. She never showed it to us. The cover was broken, the pages crumbling. I know how paper can decay. I pried all the photos out. Most were not labeled. Grandma knew who they were: People in the Old Country around a table, people haying on the farm in East Germany where Johann ended up after the war, a uniformed man who might be the German cousin who went down with his ship in 1945. Only a few were labeled— Onkel Herman, Onkel Hans’s wife, Pa and Frieda. And Boris. I thought to toss it with the unlabeled photos— the sort of nameless photos that pile up, that we pass on endlessly. But I cannot discard Boris. What was he doing there, in Grandma’s album, with Johann and August and Wanda, Great-grandfather Joseph, Tante Helen, and Grandma herself, stout in her printed dress, standing with the nameless Sunday School teachers in front of the Cleveland Lutheran Church.
Open Studio Poem #17
Fairies shelter behind the disco ball
hung in the portal to the kingdom of odd.
After sunset, they emerge lickety-split,
and all night they dance through the city,
their magenta wings flashing splendid
in the lights of streets, and traffic, and stars.
The other occupants of the Open Studio are out to get me, as you can see. But I know where that disco ball hangs, and I know the fairies, too.
Every day I walk with the yellow dog who understands human language but can not yet speak. Every day, or nearly every day, we saw the hawk in the dead elm trees between the hay fields or on the power line. In early spring, two hawks circled the fields. In late summer, one young hawk called hunger from the elms while one adult watched from the wire. The dog was disturbed by the hawk’s wheeling or calling, and she raised the orange ridge on her back and growled and barked. And in November, when the hay in the fields was cut short and the living oaks and the dead elms stood as outlines against the sky, on a November morning when the yellow dog and I walked down the road with the mountains on the east and the hills on the west, I found the hawk on the ground, beneath the wire, not far from the elms. The hawk’s red tail was spread, the dark and speckled wings were folded, claws curled, the sharp eyes flat, the neck broken. What shall we do? I cried, and the yellow dog answered. —Carry the hawk to the row of elms and lay it down there. And weep awhile, and I will weep with you. But only for awhile, for you shall see.— So I lifted the hawk and carried it close to my heart and I walked with the dog to where the grasses and goldenrod stalks grew tall under the trees. And there I placed the hawk. And the dog said —Good—. And for awhile we wept. And that night, the hawk came to me while I slept. Her red tail was spread acorss the Earth and her wings opened east and west as far as I could see. Her great head touched the sun. And she spoke. —You see, she said, who I am. Now you see. Your eyes open to my flight, your ears open to my cry, your heart open to my life.— And with a shout the hawk rose up, then up, beyond the sun. And when I woke, the yellow dog was curled beside me and looked at me through her brown eyes, and said —Yes. That’s how it is.—
MATTER: A Pantoum
What gods do is make and let the pieces fall.
Billions of clocks on billions of beaches
turning as our hands move however they
move or our four legs or six or eight.
Billions of eyes in billions of deserts
move through their times or none and
we move our two legs or four or six or eight and
our hearts and chloroplasts, mycelium,
our many eyes or none.
Our structures crystalize, the plates
and hearts and chloroplasts and mycelium
subduct and bump as we rise and fall.
The structure of our crystals, how the plates
and all we do is an echo of clapping hands as we
subduct and bump and rise and fall.
With voices, silences, wavings of branches
we echo with our hands
and twigs and whatever anemones use
for voices: silences? wavings of branches?
We’re all made of one matter.
Twigs and anemones
turn while our hands move however they
move because we’re all the matter
and making matter and falling is what we do.
Remember the Costa Rican cowboy?
He has returned, and was he always
a dream? He lay on the grass
and read poetry to children. He ate
caesar salad and believed in a god
who understood everything he felt.
Once upon a time, we talked
all night. He drank beer and I drank
sherry and smoked. He never smoked.
Did he kiss me by the water? Did I
marry him?And what if I didn’t?
I hear that he has learned
to play the mandolin.
Red boards, white halls.
Posters and paint.
The inside of a piano.
A washer full of light.
to one long corridor.
You do not have a clue.
You do not need one.
If you are lost, cry out,
no doubt someone
will hear you.
You will always be found.
What you do
is up to you.
At the center—
a glass door. Behind it,
fairies are waiting.
What did you expect?
at first glance seems
Little do you know.
Her throne a desk.
Her wand a pen.
Enter at your peril.
Are you ready
to love the edges?
To practice not-doing?
Are you ready
to change your life?
I wrote this years ago for my friend Maggie, who at age 80 started modeling for art students, because, she said, “They need to know what old people look like.” She liked the poem, and recorded herself reading it back to me. She died a couple of years ago, in her 90s. I miss her.
—in memory of Maggie Miller
Here you are, most with a world ahead,
some with half a world behind,
come to draw the human form.
And here I am naked before you
so comfortable, easy
in my eighty year old skin.
I love my folds,
You think you can draw
an old woman, dear babies?
Lean in, look hard.
It will cost you all your life.
I have been down deep,
through muscle, sinew, bone.
Loved long a man long dead,
borne a son and let him go.
I am learning how to pray
and I laugh when you ask me to tell.
In my time I have come
to the heart’s solid core–
heat of life and more–
Now over you I pour
my fire like water.
From where I lie I see
the place the stars will rise.
Not the old patterns,
or variations printed on different cloth.
Orange fleece instead of black wool.
The kind of comfortable shoes, but red.
The same time, but silence instead of prayers.
Most of the people, but not all.
What the crows talk about.
Where the bobcat crosses the road.
Music in a different key.
Cypriot O Antiphons.
Black currant juice, rye bread.
Things that smell like roses.
White tulips. Marigolds.
I do it all the time.
Twice a year, all the clocks.
The weather station
whenever something goes awry.
The computer to accomodate
change, to fix a glitch.
The stove, the microwave
anytime the power goes off.
Why not now
during this long and changing time
of glitch, outage, awry?
How should I pray?
No bloody psalm cries
and paeans to a thunder god.
No reconstructed ritual.
No begging for heaven;
I don’t have a soul to save.
I know a different god,
not father, but
god of asteroids, black holes,
god of hurricanes and floods.
Job’s god, who makes no sense,
no sense that matters now.
Jesus died for love
and we’ve overburdened him.
Supreme Court Judge.
The wineskins split
and the wine is spilt away.
Salt has lost its savor,
and someone turned out the light.
The wind blows where it wills,
and not where we expect.
Over the shattered walls
of shuttered holy houses,
through boreal and coral forests.
It breathes in the hearts of foxes,
between the beaks of owls.
The sun is warm but the wind
is cold and carries too much rain.
Teach me to pray.
BACK TO THE EDGES OF ODDNESS
Since midsummer, fairies with green wings
twinkle around my eyes all night long.
They beg me to be invisible,
offer me fernseed and a cap woven
of milkweed and thistle fluff.
The dog is restless when they are in the house,
and my husband can’t sleep,
and I can’t explain. The cats
don’t seem to mind.
Whatever shall we do with realism,
reason, logic, the sciences that deny
the way things are? A cloud of demons,
their sharp laughter, the steadfast angels
raising their lavender shields.
Every tree has a soul; early in the morning
you can hear them singing to the sun.
Their music wakes the birds.
Angels are stars, balls of flaming gas.
Everything is real, but more or less
than anyone can imagine.
God is everything.
Nothing is mutually exclusive.
Magic can still find a place, you know.
There is a corner behind the sofa
where no dog hair can collect;
you have one spoon
that always makes everything
taste like honey. The third
moth who bumps herself
on the screen door at midnight
has a calm and gentle face.
If you carry a white stone
in your left front pocket
you will remember