ANSWERING

ANSWERING

 

If someone says

You didn’t see that,

say But I did. 

And I heard it, too.

 

If someone says

Surely that’s not

what you think, say

That’s what you think.

 

If they say  

You shouldn’t feel

that way,

say Ha!

should has nothing 

to do with it.

 

If they say

You shouldn’t say

things like that,

say Just listen.

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THINGS SHE DID

THINGS SHE DID

Once I was a fisherman

until I caught the talking fish

and ate it—against its objections—

and now I cannot speak

of anything but blue.

 

Once I was a bookbinder

until I bound a volume

of verses about flowers.

Now I am trapped by fragrances

and the lullabies of bees.

 

I was a grave-digger

alone among the stones

with the cool earth around me

until all I could do was

sing to the shovel, and the clay.

 

Once I was a weaver

but one day my fingers tangled

in the web and pulled me in.

Now I go on and on,

a tapestry of knot and scrap.

THE DIARIES OF ELLA WARNER FISHER

Here is the last of the Sheldon Museum poems. This is a “found” poem made up of entries from the diary of Mrs. Fisher, a Vermont poet who lived from 1853-1937. I’ve been reading and blogging her diaries for years. Most of the diaries are in the archive at the Sheldon.

 

THE DIARIES OF ELLA WARNER FISHER

Mop, mend, make pies, bathe the children.

A burden to be unequally yoked.

Dig up a lily and plant it in the yard.

Every day subject to the same blight.

A beautiful day, long to be remembered.

Gertrude has mumps.  Mop and mend.

Henry cleans harness in the kitchen.

All attend service but Helen and Grace.

War bread, two meatless meals.

Anna & Henrietta go to the woods for flowers.

Tuttle takes down the stove.

Mend the stockings.  Make mince pies.

Henry carries Grace to her school.

Terrible fighting in France.

Gingham comes for Henrietta.

Ruth and I kill and dress two hens.

Dreaming among my poems.

Letters from Ashton and Helen.

Sick headache.  Go down street.

Anna receives a silver spoon.

A hateful wind blowing.

My boy, my poor boy!

They of the few, the tried and true.

Benjamin and Tuttle bring the body home.

Rain.  The white washing piled in chairs,

stark as so many ghosts.

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.