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

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NOTES FROM A ROAD TRIP: found, mostly, in my notebook

NOTES FROM A ROAD TRIP, August 19-23, 2017

1.

Nomads: I’ve seen them in a movie,

taking down their ger.

Everything goes with them:

the stove, the rugs and beds,

the painted chests. Maybe

if we took it all, too,

like those people with bus-sized RVs do.

But home would still be home.

 

2.

The sun comes up later in the south

and it’s hotter. Every time we take

a long car trip we say,

“Next time, let’s stay home.”

(Is this a poem?)

 

The world’s worst coffee—is it

even coffee?—from the weird

machine in the hotel room.

Must constipation—or worse—

go with travel?

Why in the world did I sit

cross-legged for three hours

in the backseat of the car?

At least I got some knitting done.

 

3.

Crepe myrtle is in bloom, and cotton.

This is the farthest south I’ve been in a car.

Today is the eeclipse, 96 percent

here. The place we were headed

will be 100% clouds so here we stay.

I’m just as glad. Who needs

another six hours in the car?

 

4.

And now we’re home.

I lost two days of daily poems,

and gained a fearsome sciatica,

richly deserved. I reduced

the eeclipse to prose.

I’m still too close to write a poem.

Home is still here, with its overgrown

garden, and dog happy to see us

and cats as happy as cats ever are.

The moon, still dark,

still orbits us, and we still

turn around the sun,

and turn around again.

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.