1. For Nicholas // 2. Sarah and the Wind // 3. Sarah at Bedtime // 4. Taking Pictures // 5. Halloween: The Children Arrange Their Skeletons // 6. Sarah Rearranges her Room // 7. Sewing For Sarah // 8. Learning to Drive // 9. What Heaven Would Be Like // 10. Lost Anniversary // 11. The Autobiographical Age // 12. Century Plant // 13. The Snowman // 14. Sarah On a Motorscooter at Santorini // 15. Julius at Six Months
you are king of nursery school
with your cardboard hamburger-restaurant crown
and handmade Indian necklace,
in your favorite, gaudy shirt
of patchwork and circus animals,
like some aborigine, earnest and impressed
by the bright trappings.
Finches, ripe with spring,
lift to your enthusiasm.
Poppies and dandelions spatter new grass
between your footprints.
Every tree nods.
You are the colored ribbon, woven
into the brown bird’s nest.
published in Yankee
Sarah and the Wind
She couldn’t sleep, with the top halves of trees
sailing, like so many combed-out tangles,
through the air. In the morning
it got worse. She watched the fence
blow down slowly, one board at a time,
the neighbor’s cypress bowing
nearly to the ground. The lights went off,
on, off. Everything shuddered.
When it was over, she found
the lawn swept marvellously
clean of small things, but full
of giant limbs. She pulled them,
thick ends up, against the tree,
standing on their hands.
“This makes a good house,” said Sarah,
crawling inside. She lay down
on the spotless grass, and considered,
through many openings,
the smooth, blue, soundless sky.
published in Yankee
Sarah at Bedtime
When she is tired, the ghost shows through.
Maybe he lives in that spiderweb,
the one in the ceiling corner.
I take a broom and sweep it down.
She sighs, and sleeps. But later,
her eyes still closed, her breathing steady,
she speaks to him. “Where?” she asks,
or answers, “Yes.” I steel myself,
I stand guard in the doorway.
Don’t go with him, Sarah, I whisper.
More than the stranger with candy,
I fear this ghost. Sarah turns over,
murmurs a word I can’t quite hear.
A small wind blows in under the sill,
vanishes like a dragon’s tail under her bed,
as the blanket over her chest rises and falls,
rises and falls.
published in Beloit Poetry Journal
Nicholas smiles for us,
elbow on the piano,
by a window full of flowering
bird of paradise
He smiles again,
from a different keyboard,
writing computer games
in fourteen colors
on a luminous screen.
over tenspeed handlebars
in black shorts, white helmet,
bright striped jersey.
The camera is faithful
to his enthusiasm,
ready with a wide lens,
a flash, to bring out
what we can sometimes see
in available light.
published in Blue Unicorn
Halloween: The Children Arrange Their Skeletons
Cardboard skeletons come two to a package;
my children each get one.
Once the skulls are dangling
in dining room windows,
the real work begins.
Knees and elbows swivel experimentally,
as the skeletons scratch their heads
and thumb their non-noses.
At last the children are satisfied.
Hooking cardboard fingers over hipbones,
Nick says, “Mine’s angry.”
“Mine’s cool,” says Sarah,
admiring crossed ankles, a hand poised
as though to snap its fingers.
The sky grows dark.
The children open doors,
loose themselves on the neighborhood,
as black and white as bones and midnight,
knocking at every house
for small but solid gifts
to fill the hollows
under their ghostly ribs.
published in Welcome Home
Sarah Rearranges Her Room
Chair by the window, desk beside the door,
dressing table crosswise in the corner,
Sarah begins to rearrange her room.
She takes down ballerinas,
puts up fashion models,
taped to the door like guardian spirits,
peering toward her closet with disapproval.
Piled in one corner, on the way out,
Mother Goose. On the bed, coming in,
The Grapes of Wrath. There is a telephone.
There are more mirrors than ever before,
and they specialize. Here is one
for painting eyelids. Here is one
for curling hair. Here’s the one
that shows the whole effect, full length,
self-portrait, with a little background
showing up, over her shoulder.
This is the mirror on the wall.
It can’t be moved.
Sarah pushes the heavy furniture into place
until the picture comes out right.
published in Welcome Home
Sewing for Sarah
In every yard of fabric
lie a thousand possibilities.
Sarah instructs me
in the current mode:
the length of hem,
the slant of silhouette,
the height of shoulder.
Wanting the best of futures
for my creations,
I follow her advice.
Still, it’s not always up to
the two of us:
it takes a good dance,
to make a good dress thrive.
Sarah takes her chances
in green satin and black velvet
like night coming in under cedars,
scented and mysterious,
ready for surprise.
published in Welcome Home
Learning to Drive
Sarah turns the corner wide.
My fingers make corrective arcs
in dashboard air. “I know,”
she says, “I know.” She brakes
more smoothly every try.
Pulling over to the side,
she wobbles to the curb, and parks.
This is as far as I can go
in just one lesson. Driving takes
coordinated hand and eye,
and patience to acquire the knack
of how to gauge the yellow light,
the flying free, the holding back.
With practice, we will get it right.
published in Kansas Quarterly
What Heaven Would Be Like
In my father’s heaven, there would be
perpetual restoration of antique cars.
The needed part would turn up
at the perfect moment,
just late enough
for deep satisfaction.
Authentic colors of paint
would line his garage,
real wood for the dash,
real leather for the seats,
and none of the necessary clanging
of this ecstatic work
would drown out Moussorgsky,
Tchaikovsky, or Zarathustra.
In my mother’s heaven,
there would be no workshops.
My father, coming in
from the harp-strung air,
would listen only to her,
and however wild and incredible
the stories she told,
he would believe them,
and they would be true.
published in The Kansas Quarterly
Once, when she could remember,
she promised him: everything, always.
The words lined up, held hands,
and everything came.
Dances and mourning
knotted her fingers,
the years shook, chattering,
into loose heaps
she could not reconnect.
She turns to him for words.
I want to go home now, she says,
and he answers, you’re home;
but she stands looking
out the green, Eastern window
for her pony, who might come
across the Texas plains,
if only she knew
how to call his name.
published in Iris
The Autobiographical Age
“The writer, striving to touch the universal,
experiences the revelation all by himself again.”
Because there was war, a Brooklyn boy
was stationed in a Texas town,
met a beautiful teller of tall tales,
carried her home as booty,
filled a house with children,
and moved to a bigger house,
as everyone did in those days.
I was born and reared
squabbling with siblings,
singing folksongs and protesting war.
Suddenly I realized
that war might be complicated.
I went to find my mother’s stories,
but the attic was empty,
and downstairs there was only
a photograph taken on an Amarillo street,
my eyes over his uniform,
my cheekbones under her upswept hair.
published in Long Island Quarterly
Agave, fifteen feet across,
with leaves like swords
defending the front porch,
one day put up a strange new stalk.
Higher than red-tiled roofs
it rose and rose,
till branches opened up
like rungs nobody climbed,
and the whole thing flowered out,
a jewelled candelabra
that blazed with birds
of every neighboring state,
come to sing and fatten
in its seedy fists
until the leaves bent over,
ploughed the ground.
The stalk turned skeleton.
The birds moved on.
Under the giant, withered thing,
a whorl of baby-fingered spades
plumped from the earth
to make a new agave,
the century plant, that blooms
once in a hundred years, they say,
and dies, and does not grow
from seed or fruit,
but only from its roots;
and yet it blossoms,
one hand spread
to the stars and spheres
that synchronize over our heads,
the other cupped to the earth,
where the future sleeps,
with a ladder in its heart.
published in New England Review
My daughter, grown, and I
each start with a handful
of this perfect snow,
pack it, tight as clumsy gloves allow,
and then make it roll.
We cross and cross the yard.
My mother, bundled and unsure,
grown smaller, herself,
watching the layers fatten as we go,
counts out pairs and pairs
of mittens, — offers, forgets,
and offers again,
however warm and dry
we say we are.
Wetter and heavier winters sleep
in the interchangeable names
behind her brow.
We stack our snowman,
finished with twigs, a hat,
a pipe, some coal,
but mostly made
of the underlying stuff
that continues to fall
gentle and perfect as when we began,
on and over us all.
published in JAMA
Sarah on a Motorscooter at Santorini
A steep climb from the ferry,
Sarah rises through the blue and white
of sunlight and stucco
like Venus from the sea
under modern power.
She looks out over the halfshell island,
to the black sand beach
where the center of the earth
escaped once, strewing legend.
The tideless water,
burdened with heroes
and drowned continents
mirrors back a sky
empty of deity.
Sarah rides the engine of the present,
published in Kalliope
Julius at Six Months
Let’s not be sentimental, though it’s hard
at Christmas with a baby, child of my child.
Deep in the love that rises from life’s logic
he holds me in his innocent regard.
He had my heart before he ever smiled;
no other way could possibly succeed.
It’s not coincidence, it isn’t magic:
exactly everything is what he needs.
I bring him gifts and travel out of time
to see him bobbling against the breast
of she who once lay wriggling on mine,
the world arranged as it is meant to be,
and what the baby needs is what he gets:
the future mattering much more to me.