It was such a little thing,
with its soft spotted hide
and pointed feet.
It lies there now, nearly invisible
in the brown leaves,
its little chest opened,
its child-sized heart cut away.
Front step broken,
front door deeply cracked,
generations of paint.
Scratches around the keyhole,
fingerprints around the knob.
On the hall table a notebook:
lists of the birds that come,
sketches of children
playing in the snow.
A little too much furniture:
rickety tables, one broken chair,
iron plant stands with potted ferns.
A battered dresser: chipped crockery,
a few old letters, knick-knackery.
Upstairs, the unmade beds.
On the walls, crayoned pictures:
apple trees and beehives, a sleeping child,
the smiling sun shining on a cottage
with its red roof, ascending smoke.
Fo the next few days, I'll post poems that are the back stories for some fairy tales. See you can guess which ones.
Every spring she lifted
the carpet in the lounge
where the old boys
sat drinking their single-malts.
She turned the good brown soil
and planted seeds: radishes and lettuces,
and as the days grew warmer,
chard and onions, tomatoes and squash.
Still they sat, dozing,
while the warm room filled
with leaf and vine, the scents of ripening.
Every day she came and watered and hoed,
and every day they sat,
reading their papers,
talking of business, the progress
of their cold gray war.
She filled apple baskets in autumn
and left them on the roadsides
for squirrels and children and crows.
The old boys grew thinner,
more querulous. When they rose
to go to the bathroom or the bar
they were careful not to dirty their shoes.
They would not speak to her.
When winter came
she tacked the carpet back down,
swept up the last dry leaves
and followed the boys to the sea.
There, while they sat
in the sun on their private beach
building castles of golden sand,
she went to work with her tiny trowel.
Little by little, so slowly they didn’t notice,
fresh water flowed between their striped cabanas,
the tall grasses grew in a river over their heads.
Crocodiles came by quietly, looking around.
With her trouser legs rolled she waded
through the warm green water;
her wide feet pressing into soft sand
eons of white shells and bones.
MFCP--I wrote the first draft of this on Jan. 29, 2007.
White egg, full moon of spring
above the hill. White wings
of geese in silver strings
spread out against the dark
last night. They flew
and pierced my heart
My friend and fellow poet David Weinstock once said that a friend of his mentioned that poetry readings typically end with the lines, ". . . like light." (Pause) "Thank you." So I wrote a poem that ended like that.
All of us started in the same house;
climbing the spiral stair
so treacherous, so slippery with blood.
We took the same names:
Our story began when we opened our mouths
for the wrong food,
set our feet upon the wrong road.
I abandoned my Mother,
betrayed my Father,
raped my Sister,
murdered my Brother
Our gods in fortified heavens
hurled thunderbolts and curses.
We never believed
we were at home.
No one taught us--
we never learned--
a way to tame the four-armed dragons
breeding in the caves below.
We never learned--
no one taught us--
to unfurl our tight-skinned arms,
to grow fragrant feathers and happy eyes,
to drift easy over this soft green blue
cloud-veiled home that had been ours always.
We keep climbing the stairs.
Our gods keep hitting us.
We do not know we have wings;
We have never learned to sing our other names.
I wrote this poem for "Quatrain," a performance group that worked together for several years. The different colors represent different speakers, and the lines in black were spoken all together. I think we did this in a show about fairy tales.
WHERE IS YOUR RESISTANCE?
~question asked by a voice teacher
In the soles of my feet. The ground
is rough, and uneven. I sink
into the earth, stumble over roots;
my shoes are covered with clay.
In my belly. I can not digest
leftovers, cold vegetables or surprises.
pulls the system down,
yet my heart beats too fast against
the insistence of ordinary days,
as if everything in my horrific
imagination is forever coming true.
My eyes close against
shattered scenery I cannot repair;
my throat against the possibility
of anything beyond my present range.
It’s in the imperfection,
uncertainty of the times,
that’s where it is. I only want
everything always to be all right.
MFCP, February 13, 2009
There may be butterflies around here, too, but these are lullabies.
~Jennifer’s nephew Gus, age 2 1/2
How quickly you comprehended
the correction; the lullabies
were relieved that they could stay.
You had captured this one with difficulty,
displayed it on your upturned palm
to your aunt, invited her
to touch its wings gently.
Outside, the last of winter
blew the snow against the windows.
The hard crystalline structure
of frozen soil in tiny ice towers
waited for the collapsing sun.
Tornadoes twisted somewhere else,
and far away there were bombs
but there in your room,
the lullabies were saved.
I would like to see them myself,
hovering around my room
when I am too weary for sleep:
my father’s voice remembered,
the one old song he used to sing.
MFCP, published in Bellowing Ark, 2006
Old man Winter, that Old Man Winter,
He don’t need nothing; he must want something.
He just keeps blowing, he keeps on snowing along.
He don’t wear sweaters, he don’t wear longjohns,
And them what wears them will soon be bygones,
He just keeps blowing, he keeps on snowing along.
You and me, we shovel and strain,
Backs all aching and wracked with pain:
Clear that walk! Chop that ice!
Vermont Life makes the winter look nice.
I get weary, and sick of freezing,
I’m tired of sniffling, and tired of sneezing,
But Old Man Winter, he just keeps blowing along.
I am the oldest child
They come to me for blessing
the sixteen-year old girl with a baby and a three hundred-dollar electric bill
the mummified beggar asking on his knees for three dollars for mouthwash
the old man whose brain has left him only the memory of loss
the mother by the bed of her tube-filled beautiful brain-injured child
I give them what I can
I tell them
God loves you God is with you even
in the dark even in places where you can't
feel your cross is carried
Jesus has overcome
all shall be well
and all manner of thing--
I lug them around
and I lift them up
and up over and
over praying in the
dark that I'm right
MFCP --I wrote this years ago, when I was doing parish ministry. Esau was the oldest child of Isaac. His younger brother Jacob got the blessing that should have been Esau's, and his lament, which is the last stanza here, has always touched me. This isn't the best poem I've ever written, but somehow it reminds me of what's going on in Haiti.
That one is crumpled like a scrap of paper
she thought she didn’t want,
but changed her mind, and salvaged,
smoothed out as well as she could.
His is small and bouncy,
no one can catch it--
it’s slippery, elusive--
a transparent glitter-filled superball.
That one is thin, lean, hard, strong,
a wing bone.
It moves swift, deliberate,
no time, no flesh, to waste.
This one: an empty flower pot
stained with moss.
This one: a formal garden
with no weeds, nothing out of place.
Here is one large and welcoming,
wide, soft, slow: a sofa soul that holds
between the plushy cushions
secrets, like lint and scattered change.
Civilization will not allow for instinct:
no dinners of raw mice,
no clawing the eyes of enemies,
or defecating in the public streets.
Often, the dog scenting dog, coyote, fox
instructive, on a tuft of grass--
will turn against my call, ponder, consider,
squat to make her mark.
One morning, as I walked
between red cedars, young pines,
stooped to move between low branches,
to follow a mossy path worn deep by wild feet,
I felt an insistent urge to pee.
So there it was:
a seizure by immediate beauty
--light filtered through dark pines--
compelling me to say in the simplest way I could,
my animal way,
I was here.
This place is mine.
MFCP--in honor of Stiffy Byng, who died on Wednesday, age 13. She taught me so much.
I didn’t much want to go,
not caring for adventure,
what to expect,
drowning in deep water,
some vicious consciousness,
so far away from home.
The long train ride,
whistles in my sleep,
tug away from every thing I knew.
TEN THOUSAND ISLANDS
Because it’s tidal,
easy out toward the islands:
piles of shells in the shallows.
Mangrove roots red and tangled
wading seedlings gathering shells,
shell-sand grinding the canoe.
Sand crabs, mysterious digs
The strangeness of these fish.
Bromeliads arranged and mosses,
deep green shades, mosquitoes
between the trees.
All between the gumbo limbo
and mahogany, all along
Thick water silence,
green-gray shell-made clay,
islands the mangroves made,
Hours of slow shell-grinding,
drip of water from oar,
drip from mangrove thick leaf, tangled root.
Then easy in,
the shallow tide slip gray-green.
To have without acquisition:
The new hat, but not on the head,
only the eye seduced with plumage.
Great Egret dressed in lace and masked in green,
Green Heron wing, Little Blue Heron blue,
Purple Gallinule: purple feathers, bill red and lavender.
Guy Bradley gave his life,
shot in the back on the shell-shored island.
Plumes worth more than gold.
Now they stand unconcerned, preening,
across the water among the trees.
Not enough water, the long grass river
not long enough,
but enough for now.
Terrible Lizard among us,
slowstep by step,
heavy lids the somnolent disguise.
There! a gentle drift, clear water;
there! the muscled tail winding snakewise
while each wading bird
steps delicately aside.
Its appalling ignorance,
the warm wet brightness of its home.
ANHINGA TRAIL: LIFE LIST
Underwater birdsnake anhingas brown, black,
sliding up, the speared fish tossed and caught,
white puffs of nestlings fed in the limey trees,
spreading tail, the arching display of black and white.
Little white little blue heron blotched with blue
in the molt, one glossy ibis, ordinary cormorant
eyes sapphire and obsidian, the orange of its bill.
Great blue heron. Woodstork. White ibis.
Egret, egret, golden-shoed egret.
MARGERY STONEMAN DOUGLAS
Margery Stoneman Douglas
did not go slogging,
did not count the woodstorks,
homely as she, as endangered.
In her airy house she wrote the history, letters;
in palaces of power the old woman raised her voice:
Boo louder! Can’t you boo louder?
and so what is left is left.
Her stork-face and unflattering hat,
comprehension of necessary salvation,
typing fingers dripping green water,
blue plumes, white plumes,
Mikasukis, Cow Creeks.
River of Grass, River of Grass,
the name she gave.
I stopped asking.
Things happen anyway,
we stay or go:
never what I think.
there is a kind of love,
a river slow as Everglades
moving through sawgrass,
Not deep, but wide,
and most days enough
to float the canoe.
I wrote this after our first visit to the Everglades. There was a notice posted in the visitor's center, written by a naturalist whose name I forgot to write down: "The Everglades is a test. If we save it, we get to keep the planet." It's one of the most amazing places I've ever seen.
Once there were women with baby carriages;
men in bright uniforms,
their black boots and swords.
Once, yellow dogs roamed the streets;
you could see around the doorways
feral cats napping in the sun.
White washing hung from the lines between houses.
People were cooking chickens or baking bread.
Now and again, a red balloon
some child had let go
drifted above the towers and the trees.
Where once there was music,
there are no echoes left.
In this darkness that was bound to come,
you cannot see your broken hands.
Perhaps, when it is finished,
you will find again that house
with the mock orange tree under the window
or the school with the broken stairs.
Perhaps you will meet your mother
all in blue with ribbons in her hair,
or a dim version of your little self
rolling a hoop or dressing a shabby doll,
or the lover whose jacket smelled of lemons.
But now there is nothing
but the whisperings of white-clad strangers,
and everywhere a cold scent of snow
streams from the open doors.
Traditionally, the rich partook of diamonds
in the drawing room just before dinner.
Butlers filled and passed the heirloom lith-bowls
made of ebony or jet, and subtly shaped
to show to advantage the clarity, the fire.
To employ a family crest or other personal symbol
has always been considered execrable taste but
at State and Embassy functions, it has not been uncommon
to see one’s country’s flag displayed in coloured gems
on a small rectangular tray above one’s service plate.
However, since good cheap synthetics are available now,
many discriminating people have turned to laser-shaped obsidians
imported from Armenia or Greece, or hand-knapped flints
from paleolithic sites in Middle Belgium or Southwest France.
A small monogram may be engraved on each.
The newly rich debate the merits of river stones
from the Amazon, the Volga, the Nile.
They choose colors that match their decor,
shapes that complement their latest dinnerware,
textures that enhance the dining experience.
They arrange the stones in individual dishes
garnished with rose petals or eucalyptus leaves,
or on polished boards of exotic woods, or in perfect shells.
They are careful to select compatible wines.
Vegetarians, Progressives, and others of that ilk
use organic pebbles which they gather from pure sources
in local mountains or deserts and pile in pottery crocks
or scatter in fountains of filtered rainwater.
They select and swallow a few any time of day,
whenever they feel the need.
The rest grab whatever they can get:
broken cement, beach glass,
a handful of winter gravel
left over on the edges of the road.
MFCP May 16, 2008
I wrote this after a visit to the Natural History Museum with my husband and son. We got to wondering what it would be like if people had gizzards. This is my answer.
When the angel with the flaming sword asks:
What have you done that is good?
What have you done that will last?
This is the answer I will give:
I walked long with my husband
on wild uphill footpaths
remembering the names of flowers.
I gave thanks on a cold blue morning
while the new-raised sun
spread my shadow
along the unmarked snow.
I kept rosemary in a white pot
in my kitchen window.
I held my sister’s hand ten days before she died
and we watched the sky turn orange one more time
and listened to a meadowlark
and did not need to speak.
I played the piano for an old man in a nursing-home:
“when the roll is called up yonder,” and he sang.
I counted shooting-stars with my son
one summer midnight
and felt the skin of dew-covered grass
pulling us in safe.
The day before a February storm,
I took in a thin silver stray cat
with eyes the color of green olives.
I sat most of an afternoon in the sun
with my old dog, and later we rolled in leaves.
I trust that these will suffice.
MFCP--this was published in The Witness, December 1998
not looking sidelong to see
if others are loving them, too:
the sky like old blue glass held in by a tracery of trees,
the great horned owl’s cynical question--
the falling cold stars of snow.
One night I snowshoed in the woods alone,
the full moon lamplight gleaming
through the lace of soft snow clouds.
Coming toward home I saw in the frame of an uncurtained window
the painting of a summer orchard
above my piano against the green wall,
my husband moving across the kitchen with his teacup.
I thought I would break for joy.
MFCP --published in Calyx, September, 2000
The cats run up and down the hall at night
like small rampaging elephants.
They chase one another, dust mites,
the occasional mouse stupid enough
to move into this house,
stupid enough to stay.
They gallop and wrestle like stallions,
cavort like porpoises.
When I step from my bedroom into the hall
I am overcome by wildlife,
the wild racing, the pitpat wildness
in my house, under my very nose,
The creatures went right for it
and gunked with their excretions
the delicate folds of speech;
they clogged the rippling edges
with sludge: the stuff of
drain baskets, between the teeth
of ancient combs, what grows around
the ketchup bottle necks.
there is no clearing it, no
huge guttural HAAAR!
that will shake it loose, no
solvent drop or tea, no
roto-rooter delicate enough.
I do not speak, and when I try,
my sister says AAARG! Like my mother-
in-law! and my son
You sound like some weird
old woman who smokes
three packs a day.
MFCP (Gross, I know.)
You’d think we were waiting for bad news.
A red-haired woman in Raggedy Ann leggings
holds on her lap an enormous hoop;
she is quilting on black satin: golden stars, a silver moon.
The village celebrity, solemn and tweedy, aware of his beard,
discreetly refolds The New York Times.
A woman even older than I sits still with her eyes closed,
plastic shopping bags around her feet.
Maybe she is listening to the music.
How far do you think we could get,
all of us together, if we had
a pickup truck and a sandwich or two?
The town crier in his cowboy suit
and yellow hardhat stomps in, announcing
The world is all fucked up and it pisses me off.
The tire man says Yes, yes, isn’t that so,
and brings him coffee from the back room.
Somewhere up in the Continental Divide
a trucker pulls over to chain up.
In Houston someone makes a tiny correction
to the orbit of a tiny moon.
Tonight while we are sleeping
it will slip unnoticed
across our hoop of autumn sky.
MFCP Published in a Quatrain chapbook: Each Unique Moon
Mile high glass mountain,
enthroned on the peak
the jeering Muse in her Unattainable Princess mode.
She is eating a melon, spitting out the seeds.
Basaltic monolith set down by an alien god
in the middle of the narrow way
between the abyss and the infinite seething swamp
Fierce dark angel with a sword thin as a laser
darting to and fro, to and fro,
severing all connections
the strands of the web
synapses in my brain
sinews in my hand
Little wooden cubes
painted with apples, balls, clowns,
letters upper and lower case
MFCP, published in The Kept Writer, July, 2002
A shaft of orange light, unexpected
before the end of
a long gray day
Eel black, luminescent
through the thick green river
I am winter-pale peach,
being, thatched with white and black
O luminous apple-green:
Mutsu, Greening, unripe Mac
YoU are fresh and blue,
tinged with the scent
of summer clover
And Y is it sometimes silver,
flickering just on the edge
of visible light?
I wrote this in Dec., 2006. I was mentoring a high school student, and one of the exercises I assigned to her called for describing the vowels. This is my version: I like the way it came out.