INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE HOUSESITTER

If the door has blown closed, open it.

You do not need a key.

Feed the birds.

There is seed in the blue jar.

 

Pick the apples, eat the cherries.

Make wine from the grapes.

Do not eat the yellow pears

for they are bitter.

 

The garden is full

of deep green weeds.

Cook them in oil.

They will make you strong.

 

When dew shines on the leaves

go out and wet your feet.

The copper basin holds rainwater

to wash your hair.

 

Milk the goats

at sunrise and sunset.

Drink what you like

and make the cheese.

 

The dogs will kiss

you awake.

The cats will sing

you to sleep.

 

They will tell you

what they wish to eat.

They will tell you

what to dream.

 

At midnight,

the owls will come.

The great gray owl

will speak. Listen.

PORTRAIT OF DAVID NICHOLS, ARTIST UNKNOWN

 

Here’s another of the Sheldon Museum poems, this one about a portrait of an extraordinarily handsome man that hangs upstairs in the Sheldon’s office space. There are a few letters of his in the archives, too.  He died fairly young, in Paris. One woman who viewed the portrait was heard to say, “He could only have been shot by a jealous husband.”  

PORTRAIT OF DAVID NICHOLS, ARTIST UNKNOWN

What is the use of a person’s living if he can’t enjoy himself? 

None! say I–and if one can’t enjoy themselves 

when they are in the bloom of life, 

when can they?

~D. N. in a letter to Dugald Stewart, Dec. 28, 1841

Did I meet your ghost in Paris–

slim shadow brushing by that night

on the street in Montmartre?

 

I like the way you look at me

after all these years.

 

That rose that fell

from the balcony in Pigalle

and landed at my feet–did it drop

from your long  fantomatique

fingers? Maybe it was your esprit

murmuring compliments

in terrible French as I sunned

in a green chair in the Tuileries.

Your breath on my neck while I lingered

in the café drinking red wine

and watching the moon . . .

 

I want to run my hands through your hair,

trace the shape of your long nose.

 

Was it your spectre I glimpsed, waving

an immaculate handkerchief

from the Arc de Triomphe?

I’m glad you died

in Paris.  Vermont was too small

for your élégance, exubérance,

“real Yankee” though you claimed to be.

It was “utterly impossible to raise a dance”

here in winter, and I cannot imagine

you in Vermont, in winter,  not dancing.

There’s something about the gleam

in your eye and–oh, I don’t know–

your Mona Lisa smile.

April Prompt #7

April #7

COMING HOME TO MOTHER’S DEATH BED:

THE HOTEL JUST OUTSIDE FLAGSTAFF

Janet’s #1–The Cheap Hotel

We drove all afternoon and into the night.

My God, Arizona is big.

 

Did we stop for supper?

I don’t remember.

 

Just that one road, on and on.

Mesas out there, black against the stars.

 

Beethoven’s ninth on the radio for awhile.

For some reason, I remember that.

 

Ode to Joy.

When we could not go on,

 

a motel with the desk next to the bar.

Pinpoints of light, nothing illuminated.

 

Carrying our bags through the parking lot.

What did that room look like?

 

It was dark.

We were on the road again before dawn.

EVERYWHERE

EVERYWHERE

 

My mother was a canyon

the green river carved

through centuries of stone.

 

She was a long train winding

between red-mud hills,

wild cucumber springing from her tracks.

 

She was the sidewalk

outside an airport where

a solitary pigeon pecked at crumbs.

 

My mother became a cobble-stone

street slick with rain;

an impassive golden angel

 

watching me from her perch

above the Paris Opera as I dragged

my suitcase with its one broken

 

wheel.  My mother was

my grandmother’s derelict

house in Ostrowy

 

where the jackdaws never change,

calling “Kawka! Kawka!”

their ancient Polish name.

METAPHOR

METAPHOR

~for Jennifer, who appeared to me in a dream

 

On my way to prayer

I stopped to honor a tree.

It toppled at my touch.

 

After I had set it right,

paintings sprouted everywhere–

feasts and flowers, long-gone friends.

 

All the streets were colored

and lined up the way I remembered

in New Mexico, or possibly Illinois.

 

I stopped at a diner to eat.

The poet who sat down beside me

showed me a notebook. She wrote:

 

Transitions. Before and after.

This is all metaphor 

for the thing that goes between.

April Prompts: Number 7

APRIL PROMPT #7

something that is easy for others

but almost if not totally impossible for you 

 

NO NEED TO WRITE IT DOWN

~for John Pratt

 

Take the first left after the traffic light,

head south about half a mile. The road will

kind of divide in three. Ignore the drive-

ways on the right, and bear right. There’s a jog

heading east right after you round the first

easy corner–not the sharp corner with

the yellow sign. There’s mountains to the west

and a little gap in the hills on the

east. Head for that gap, but before you get

there, you’ll see an apple orchard–or a

Christmas tree farm–a commercial tree place

of some kind. Turn left onto what looks like

a little farm road. It isn’t, really,

it’s a town road, but it isn’t marked, or

at least it wasn’t last week. They steal the

sign sometimes, so it usually isn’t

there. If it’s there, I think it’s Orchard Road,

or something like that. Or somebody’s name.

Wilson Road, or Sunderland, or something.

Three or four miles down that road, it will fork.

There are a bunch of little driveways, but

the main road is pretty obvious.  Take

the right fork. You should see a cemetery

on the left. I’m pretty sure on the left

since you’re coming from that direction. We’re

the fourth–no, fifth, there’s some new houses–house

on the north after the cemetery.

 

You can’t miss it.

April Prompts #5: A Map of Your Brain

MAP

 

One solid continent,

its stony shelf dipping steeply

into the water.

No beaches.

 

Islands everywhere,

in archipelagos that rose,

volcanic, from the ocean.

The vegetation is similar,

but the birds have evolved.

 

Inland, winding roads

branching into footpaths.

Long distances

between small settlements.

 

Only one city, ancient,

in a valley

between mountains

too steep to climb.