ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

ONCE UPON A TIME, THE STORIES TOLD

 

about the path in the forest

and what you’d find if you strayed.

How manners matter,

respect for elders, kindness

to strangers, even giving them

your last crumb. When it comes

to the point, respect, too, for animals,

because you never know.

About how careful you must be

when you make promises and

what happens if you don’t keep them.

How dangerous it is to offend old women.

(Never, ever, offend old women.)

They told what happened

if you lied, stole from the poor.

They told what always happened

to people who wanted to be like god.

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.

CRANKY

CRANKY

 

The old women are cranky.

They turn, squeaking, resistant.

They like their routines:

coffee, silence, good bread.

What’s the point

of bad weather?

Of more books about childcare and food?

Those people in Washington—

well, what do you expect

if people stare at a screen all day?

Somebody has to make the bread

and wash the quilts

and feed the kids

and walk the dog.

Somebody has to remember

the reasons,

tell the stories,

sing the songs

everybody used to know.

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, CONSIDERING THE LILIES

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, CONSIDERING THE LILIES

The white plaster image

of crucified Jesus hangs

above the altar.  Its feet

are deep in potted Easter lilies.

 

I’ve always prefered Christus Victor

to dead Jesus, and I do not care

for potted lilies, sitting there

in their green-foil pots, trying

 

to represent Resurrection and Spring.

They smell like overheated rooms

full of unnecessary things. It’s odd—

the white lily is one symbol of Mary

 

who had no idea what she was getting into

when she said yes to the improbable task.

Look at those Renaissance paintings—

the poor girl looking up from her prayers

 

at that angel with its lily.

When I am an old lady

confined to my house or some other place,

I pray that no young minister will come

 

calling on the fifth Monday of Easter,

bearing a potted lily.

When I was a young minister,

I bore far too many,

 

though I suppose I meant well.

The old ladies, who knew a thing

or two about prayer, were,

for the most part, gracious.

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.

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.

THE NEXT DAY

THE NEXT DAY

The women awakened before it was light

and gathered together some things she’d need.

They found her there, curled on her makeshift bed,

clumsily nursing the child at her breast.

Her husband was still sound asleep.

 

Surely the men were crazy, all the commotion.

Angels and voices in the sky.

A warrior or a king, or somesuch

come to free them from their lot.

Well that was fine.

 

But here was the inexperienced mother.

They covered the straw with the cloth they had brought,

and settled the baby more comfortably.

They fed her the potion

to make the blood stop and the milk come down.

A few sparrows stirred awake in the rafters.

No sign of an angel anywhere.