Saturday, October 31, 2009



--three possibilities

Sleep on, dear spouse, till Jesus comes

Till Gabriel’s trump shall burst the tomb.

Then may we wake, in sweet surprise,

Released from sin in transport rise,

Unite again, and soar on high

No more to part, no more to die.

~Epitaph for Mrs. Dorcas Fuller

Consort of Capt. Josiah Fuller

who died July 1,AD 1800

in the 31 year of her age


And what a surprise, dear spouse,

it will be: angels, trumpets,

the crack of this bursting stone,

earth parting over my skull.

To feel my bones come together,

dissolved flesh reshaped--

You’ll fly through the air

reaching toward me, or in some odd

convulsion of the Infinite,

you’ll simply be there,

holding my hand,

with our babies toddling all around.

Perhaps we’ll soar awhile

to look down on things I held so dear:

our little home, the flowers,

forest clearings full of birdsong,

the river breaking into foam.

I’d like that best, not

to rise straight up

through the blue sky,

directly to that cold unimaginable

city where nothing dies,

nothing separates or changes,

where no seed or sparrow falls.


I can remember how I died:

with you, before the doctor came.

Two little birds outside, so high

like souls escaping from a tomb.

Maybe like that, we will arise

to be together, so surprised.

To feel your kiss--O dear surprise--

your arms around me! Not to die

but live again, on wings to rise

above this earth where sorrow comes

and comes: our babies in their tomb,

our voices weeping harsh and high.

God did not hear us: God so high

he could not care, nor be surprised.

He made this earth a living tomb--

anguish of love--we live to die

and die again. O let Him come

with His answers. I will not rise

until He answers, will not rise

above this dust, to float so high

I cannot see where autumn comes:

the apples, all their red surprise,

the garden full, ready to die.

I will not leave my earthen tomb

until He answers from this tomb

that He created. Let Him rise

when He Himself has learned to die.

The stars, the moon, the sun move high

above where I lie, unsurprised,

where I will stay until He comes.


“Sleep on,” is it, presumably in peace?

What are you afraid that I might do?

Oh, I’ve been watching you ogling Jenny

--those innocent blue eyes, her tight body

as yet uninvaded by you or your brats.

I know where you are sleeping now.

But I take my satisfaction:

it won’t be many years

before her sweet voice sounds harsh,

before she grows tired of your drunken nights,

your blows, your sour breath,

your pitiful attempts at what I can’t call “love”.

When she has worn out, you’ll sink her here

beside me and your endless spawn,

with another cold slate slab to keep her down,

just as you kept me, and Ann before me,

under the weight of your body,

your dirt, your cold and rocky god.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Inspired by a poet friend, I've been playing around with Translation Party and some poems in my "revise" pile. I came up with this one today. The original is first, the "translated" one second. I like the second one MUCH better:


In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.

~Carl Jung

Scraps from every quilt you made,

linoleum blocks, pillows that don’t match

anything but each other

which someday you’ll recover.

Tight ice skates, mildewed ski boots,

The winter sleeping bag

that he promised

would keep you warm.

The print of a scarecrow in a brown coat

that hung above the piano

till you couldn’t stand it any more

even though your father made the frame.

Mother’s Marine Corps scrapbook.

Textboks from before the Flood

arguing the case for Continental Drift,

books filled with proofs

for the goodness of God.

Bone china cups and saucers

wrapped in paper and piled in a pail.

Two soup tureens,

a dye pot, a spinning wheel,

Dishes you saved

for the kids who found better ones.

Bearfeet slippers with no soles,

high school notes and sweatshirts,

a blue stuffed animal of unknown species.

A model of the plant Thoth

constructed from styrofoam and blue rubber gloves.

A broken plastic fireman’s hat.

Cowboy guns.

Campfire girl beads.

A wedding gown,

an opera costume,

a Canadian flight suit,

a green wig, a paper skeleton,

your father-in-law’s last bathrobe.

Tante’ Lillian’s missals and the portrait

of Jesus’ Sacred Heart you forgot

to put into her coffin.

A Jerry Garcia clock.

A broken lamp

given you as a parting gift

by a terrible boss.


If we fail we will send all the confusion

in the space of all secrets.

~Carl Jung

All quilts made from scraps,

Christmas is in the old linoleum block.

Pillows, and eventually something

does not match the need to restore each other.

Ice skating, tight ski boots fusty.

In the winter, he promised

to take you and a warm sleeping bag.

Print dressed in a brown coat scarecrow--

I could not bear to hang up

the opening piano. Nevertheless,

your father is a frame,

Marines scrapbook your mother.

Before that, the case for the continent and floods

claimed textbooks. God

is full of good evidence.

Antique tea cups stacked

in barrels of wrapping paper,

one or two soup tureens,

pots, dyes, rotation of the wheel.

You have something better

for the children to save food.

Bears are the only slippers.

Notes for trainers and school.

Unknown species of blue stuffed animal

constructed from foam rubber gloves and blue tote.

The plant model. Broken plastic

firefighter hats and cowboy guns,

Campfire girl beads, wedding dresses,

opera costumes, Canada’s flight suit,

green wig, the skeleton of the paper.

Father-in-law at the end of your wardrobe.

Portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus books

and Tante Lillian forgot you put in her coffin.

Bad boss, who is designated as a parting gift of light

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Across the ditch, under the trees,

a new chainlink fence, broken stones repaired.

The legible epitaphs:

Franklin S., onley son of Daniel and Atlanta Chipman

died March 2, 1831 AE 2 years and 2 months,

and yours, Atlanta, wife of Daniel Chipman,

died Oct. 27, 1842, age 33 years.

No trees when you walked

this mountain’s stony side:

the forest gone to timber and graze.

You walked among stone and scrub,

the thin green grass.

Vulture, coyote, had not come north,

wolf and rattlesnake had gone.

But raven and hawk searched your pastures;

diptheria, smallpox, scarlet fever, tetanus,

the summer milk sickness, winter hunger hunted you.


October when you died

you saw the sun rise as I see it now:

silver through silver across the valley,

Lincoln Mountain through her silver veils.

And at night, brighter than I will ever see,

the stars, thin coin silver moon.

But no orange maple,

brown oak, yellow popple,

deep green white pine.

Not yet along this old town road

old sheep fence grown deep

into these old, old trees.

MFCP, October, 2004

Sunday, October 25, 2009


~response to a young poet

who thought the subject “too pedestrian” for poetry

“Hotflashes” are not pedestrian--not

dull colorless drab humdrum lackluster stodgy uninspired

“lacking in liveliness, charm, or surprise” --

but rather pointed, chromatic, vivid, symphonic, flavorful, fresh, animating.

What better way to describe the quality of heat flaring out from core to face

like the melted innards of Earth vented from volcano,

like wildfire scorching shabby unkempt forest,

like blowtorch, blastfurnace, bunsen burner under ore-filled crucible,

melting out iron, silver--who knows?--even gold,

like hot air roaring, filling the bright bag of a balloon drifting slow

above orchards, over fields of ripened corn.

Certainly they do not lack for liveliness?

Isn’t it fun to watch us frantically fanning,

opening our collars, rolling up sleeves,

peeling off sweaters like aged strippers gone mad?

Our bedmates awake amazed as we flap the sheets,

throw quilts on the floor, frighten the cats.

We leap up to open windows, let in the blowing snow.

And surely no cosmetic can equal the charming girlish flush

a hotflash paints across a tired face?

Or is there anything but birth or love or death

that can surprise us more?

What is happening? we cry.

We’re barely accustomed to fertility,

and now it’s gone with the scirocco.

It took us so long to grow up, and now, in a flash (or two),

behind our mirrors we see not our mothers’ but our grandmothers’ faces

gaping in wonder at the astonished old women staring back

with eyes that are strangely, still, our very own.

MFCP, 2001

Friday, October 23, 2009


With thanks to Sylvia Chapin, who was there.

It rained and rained.

They were wringing out their tails,

they were wringing out their ears.

The Pumpkin Princess in the float next to the Mayor

looked like a Drowned Rat, smiling.

Those with wings had to take them off

in order to fit into raincoats.

Will it be like this?

The final gathering of the Saints

beyond the river of fire?

Will we all stand dripping

and shining in the fading dark,

blinking as the light comes close

and the great laughter draws us in?

Mary F. C. Pratt

This was published in Sojourners, Sept-Oct 1998

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I cut the head off a gray kitten:

there! let’s see the vet fix that!

I stand for awhile with the blood

on my hands and watch her

eyes and mouth scream pain.

No one comes to help.

I find a bottle of glue in my purse

and carefully fit her head back on

and she curls and purrs in my lap.

I am wrapped in a blanket

and can’t remember what I’m doing

while a young man reads dramatically

from the letters of St. Paul.

I struggle to the podium, untangling.

Politely I tell him That’s the wrong book.

I pull a white feather from my wing

and shoo him away, and I strip, and dance.

My black under-vestments don’t fit

and the path to the door is smeared with shit.

I gird myself with a man’s silk tie

and walk around the filth, warning those who follow.

They hand me a naked baby, and we

play and laugh, but they tell me

if I want to be in the procession

I must give the baby back.

No! I scream and clutch the baby to my breast.

No! and I push past them, out the door

while milk pours from my open heart.

MFCP October, 2005

Monday, October 19, 2009


As I waited backstage on opening night,

I realized I’d forgotten my lines.

--Something. . something. . . . how very strange.

My part, though slight, was important.

I had to speak to the hero about death,

something. . something. . . about a tomb.

I looked sidelong at the prompter’s script,

but the words wavered and slid off the page.

I took a deep breath.

I’m not going onstage, I said.

I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom,

or play dead.

And then, the old woman who cleans things there,

who sits every night on a broken folding chair

knitting in a dark corner in the wings,

who comprehends all kinds of things--

what it takes to fly,

edges, exits, grimaces,

the backsides passing by,

who loves each glorious mistake--

stood up and left her place,

shook her finger in my face.

You go on, she said in her crackling voice.

Pay attention to what they say

and answer them, with feeling .

This is not about your failing.

You no longer have a choice.

All that matters is the play.


Friday, October 16, 2009


After you’ve dug among the bones,

considered the circles and mounds,

the trepanned skulls and corpses daubed with red,

go alone to a crossroad at dawn,

hear brown birds sing the sun awake.

Coyotes will watch you,

deer and little foxes run away.

You will smell ripe berries

in a clearing on the hill.

A sudden wind will stir the grass.

Where are the ancestors

who carried you, marked you

with figures and runes,

redeemed you

from the knife and blackened stone?

And what do your dreams explain:

the lion on the windowsill,

broken feet, wings,

a wolf that no one else can see,

dust of bones congealed beneath your skin.

Mary F. C. Pratt

Monday, October 12, 2009


You don’t sing any more, or chatter.

Weather doesn’t matter.

It is important to keep the apple bag straps flat,

most important to lift with your thighs.

What does pain matter?

Hands the color of uncured ham,

ass cold in the wet jeans,

feet cold with water from frosted grass

seeping through cheap cracked boots.

You keep trying to think about war

and Wall Street, troubles of your friends.

You keep trying to pray.

All you can pray is apple, apple, apple;

all you can think is one at a time, one more.

Twiggy remains of goldfinch nests

are bound with trellis twine.

Leaves fall into your bag.

Snowgeese blow away

on the first sharp north wind.

You don’t pick for money

or pleasure or fruit,

you pick because it’s there,

because the crop must come in.

MFCP October 30, 2002

Thursday, October 8, 2009


If you should miss your way,

the first thing to remember is like the Indian,

“You are not lost; it is the teepee that is lost.”

It isn’t serious.

It cannot be so,

unless you do something foolish.

You may be sure:

You are not nearly as far

from camp as you think you are.

The worst thing you can do

is to get frightened.

It is fear that robs the wanderer

of judgement and of limb power;

it is fear that turns

the passing experience

into final tragedy.

If there is snow on the ground,

you can follow your back track.

If you see no landmark,

look for the smoke of the fire.

Shout from time to time, and wait;

for though you have been away for hours

it is quite possible you are

within the earshot of your friends.

Keep cool, make yourself comfortable,

leave a record of your travels

and help your friends to find you.

Found in the Girl Scout Handbook, 1920

(This is very good advice, I think, for any kind of lostness.)

Monday, October 5, 2009


We aren’t here to make things perfect. . .

We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts

and love the wrong people and die.

The story books are bullshit.

~Ronny Cammareri in “Moonstruck”

It took me fifty years

to learn again to cry

in front of my mother.

She comforted me

and read to me from

the bottom of a Kleenex box:

Kiss calm, cool and collected goodbye!

Be imperfect. . . be human.

I’m tired of making rules

and beating myself up

for breaking them:






. . .

Do you know what you want?

If you do, you’re lucky.

Self-help books don’t.

Poetry does, music does,

whatever can move

the demons in the head

down to the belly and out.

So, why am I here?

To learn to stop keeping house.

To tell myself a different tale.

To open my heart so wide

it breaks off the hinges

and every tearstained, muddy thing

comes trampling in.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Have we ever done anything else?

Mouse nest in the cooler:

you lifted the mother by her tail

with her babies clinging--

never mind the traps we always set--

and carried her safe to the long grass.

Boxes sorted, stacked on the wagon.

Our usual jokes: how many times?

Don’t count, you’ll be sorry.

Once more, the tractor smell.

Then apples again: Akane, HoneyCrisp,

Keepsake, Jonagold. No MacIntosh now.

No Empire, Cortland. Nothing common.

Those trees with their first bad crop

of scab: unpruned, unmowed,

their last year with roots, with leaves.

The backside of the orchard,

where the house will be.

The old ache across the shoulders,

tall ladder clanging every time

you lift it, every time you change.

Burst of goldfinches, first snowgeese,

sunlight on the raven’s wing.

MFCP Sept. 13, 2004

This was written the last year we worked in the orchard.