Family

1. For Nicholas // 2. Sarah and the Wind // 3. The Minoan Snake Goddess// 4. Ordinary Days// 5. The Blizzard // 6. Keeping Track // 7. Sarah at Bedtime // 8. Ordinary Nights // 9. Sarah at Six // 10.The Children // 11. Blue-Eyed Lake // 12. Legends About Language // 13. Three Hours by the Improve Your Life Sign // 14. Taking Pictures // 15. Switched-Baby Syndrome // 16. Halloween: The Children Arrange Their Skeletons // 17. Dress Up // 18. Sarah Rearranges her Room // 19. Painting the Eaves // 20. The Comet Visits the City // 21. Real Facts // 22. Sewing For Sarah // 23. Learning to Drive // 24. The Dove in the Traffic Light // 25. Downwind From Disneyland // 26. The Auction of Abandoned Safe-Deposit Box Contents // 27. What Heaven Would Be Like // 28. Lost Anniversary // 29. The Autobiographical Age // 30. Muttontown Road // 31. Five P.M. // 32. In Praise of Paper // 33. Century Plant // 34. The Snowman // 35. Venus, Or Maybe Mercury // 36. Sarah On a Motorscooter at Santorini // 37. The Star Factory //38. Julius at Six Months

 

1. For Nicholas

Nicholas,
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

 

 

2. 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

 

 

3. The Minoan Snake Goddess

The little goddess stands
with outstretched arms,
magnificently skirted, sleeved,
her bosom carefully bared,
snake in each hand.
Wide eyed, she stares through us,
commanding, distant, a little hurt
to see what we have made
of her gift, that taste of apple,
thrown backward over our shoulders
as we clambered after
the sky gods, the fathers,
and blamed her for our misfortunes.
We build towers, steeples, rockets,
and raise our hands to pray.
Behind us, thousands of years behind us,
stands this woman
wreathed in our first knowledge,
our first words, first trust,
her breasts still as white
as the flesh of apples.

 

published in Embers

 

 

4. Ordinary Days

“Indeed most of life escapes, now I come
to think of it: the texture of the ordinary day.”
     — Virginia Woolf, Vol. II, Diary

The clock starts, every day,
to a different music,
but always with the same click.
The floor is cold or not;
I do my exercises, or I skip them.
There are meals, some housework,
and the children. You come home
or you’re away. Everything crucial
must lie, markless, in these facts,
as hopeless to extract
as one wave from the sea.
What matters sinks and billows
toward us, away from us,
while we are distracted
by reflections, and the strange things
that bear up through the shallows,
to the shore.

 

published in Blue Unicorn

 

 

5. The Blizzard

Snowsails, an antique ship
deep in water with
only me aboard
tree masts in the hillside
starling, bluejay shadows
for stubby seagulls
we are a pirate ship
see how our plunder
lies over the street, the air
full of jewels and other rare stars
iceflakes and metal lids of garbagecans
the plowed street edges
thick fallen bodies
and blood-drop birds.

 

published in Yankee

 

 

6. Keeping Track

Even a thin snowfall shows
a lot of traffic in the yard:
the lug-soled meter reader,
the shy parentheses of deer
nibbling relic pumpkins,
the bump and hustle of hopeful squirrels
that dig up inedible narcissus
again and again, and don’t find tulips,
but keep trying
because under the deepening snow
the harvest is never over, but roots
with footprints pressing down,
the meter spinning,
the grass pressing back.

 

published in Common Ground Review

 

 

7. 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

 

 

8. Ordinary Nights

“The road to the palace of heaven…is called the
Milky Way. Along the road stand the palaces of
the illustrious gods; the common people of the skies
live apart, on either side.”
               –Bulfinch, The Age of Fable

The common people of the skies
content themselves with serviceable homes,
building quietly on dark hills
in the suburbs of the galaxy.
After an age or two looking after
cattle, flowers, fruit trees,
childbirth and family hearths,
how good to come home
to a distant view of Cygnus,
leaving Love, War and Wisdom
to those wiser heads
in their bright, quarrelsome houses.

The common people of the skies
are approachable, even to those
who do not know which way
along the road leads to the palace.
Their signs are easy to read
by anyone with half an eye for weather.
Daily they salve
the thoughtless wounds of thunderbolts,
and tend the simple trees
Athena gave.

 

published in Yankee

 

 

9. Sarah at Six

Her face is more her father’s than mine.
She is learning to cook for him,
one way to his heart.
“Do you love me, Mom?” she asks,
sprinkling cinnamon on the apple crunch.
I tell her I do. She thinks about this.

After dinner she comes to me again.
“I have nothing to do.
All my toys are useless.”
She wants a doll
that gets real diaper rash.

At bedtime, she tucks three bears,
one cat, one duck, one mouse, one doll,
beside her under the covers.
“Tell everyone to be quiet,” she says
as I go out, leaving the hall light on.

She talks a little in her sleep.
In the morning, I ask what she dreamed.
“Nothing,” she says. “Nothing,”
and studies the pattern of milk
spilled on the table.

 

published in Advocate

 

 

10. The Children

It is an autumn morning.
The children slip through my fingers
on their way to school.
Fat gold buses carry them
through the blue air,
the brittle light. Children spill
like butterflies onto the playground.
It is early. I have peace,
after summer noise,
and quiet to work in.
I get out my book and pen.
But you see what I write about.

 

published in Once Upon a Time

 

 

11. Blue-Eyed Lake

A skyful of birds, a lakeful of fish,
a band of mountains splits two
matching blues.
The osprey dives
and stitches them together.
Sunlight threads the surface of the water
with daytime stars
looking steadily into time
for what it offers moment by moment:
the geese on the shore,
the deer in the shadows,
a ribbon of everything
that will happen next,
unwinding its slow silk
at the water’s edge.

 

published in Appalachia

 

 

12. Legends About Language

“If there is any hallmark that might be said to be unique to the human animal, it is surely the ability to speculate about the origin of language.”
          — Ralph Holloway

1. The first words were names,
everyone had a sound
they liked to make.
These names were the noises
of children playing with seashells,
digging with their hands
in soft beaches.

2. The first words fell
out of the sky, suddenly,
when no one was looking.
Children picked them up,
put them in their pockets,
carried them home.
When their mothers
took the laundry down to the river,
the words fell out.
The mothers picked them up.
“Why can’t you remember
to empty your pockets?”
they said.

3. The first word was
a misunderstanding.
Children had been saying Mama
for so long, everyone thought
they knew what it meant.

4. The first words were songs,
tunes hummed while fishing
that stuck in the mind
and, ever after,
sung under trees, or at night,
recalled the exact color of scales
glinting on a spear.

 

published in Concho River Review

 

 

13. Three Hours By the Improve Your Life Sign

Two trucks are burning
on the two-lane highway.
an ambulance retreats,
nobody hurt,
while the unknown cargo
turns to ash,
blowing high over stopped traffic
at our safe distance,
and a billboard recommends
developments in town,
behind us now.
The factor may have been speed,
carelessness, a moment’s inattention,
or possibly a failure of machine.
Too much evidence
has been destroyed.
We are a very long time
getting past it;
we never know why.

 

published in Exit 13

 

 

14. Taking Pictures

Nicholas smiles for us,
elbow on the piano,
by a window full of flowering
bird of paradise
and hummingbirds.
He smiles again,
from a different keyboard,
writing computer games
in fourteen colors
on a luminous screen.
He beams
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

 

 

15. Switched-Baby Syndrome

A staple of opera plots, it spools out
joy in the comedies, grief in the tragedies,
chimes with something in us
that lives aslant
from where we find ourselves
or where we’ve come from,
the mezzo in the kitchen,
tenors and baritones parted at birth,
gods unsuspected, sisters, wives,
the masks, debts, and redemptions
familiar enough. Imagine
that your gypsy mother never told you
the truth. Now the moment comes,
feared, hoped for, to the audience
as it comes to the stage,
and didn’t we know it,
taking deep breaths, resolution rising
from the pit of the orchestra,
the scrims, the lights,
the song we were born for
suddenly in our throats.

 

published in South Carolina Review

 

 

16. 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

 

 

17. Dress Up

The little girls are wearing
three skirts each,
blankets wrapped underneath
for hips. Looped
with shoelace bows,
sashed, festooned with tea towel aprons,
plastic pearls, they dance
into the garden.
Leaves in their hair,
stolen bobby pins leak out
between their fingers.
“We’re looking for flowers,” they say,
giggling up to the lemon tree,
stuffing sets of bulbous fruit
down their dress fronts.
They do not want me to see this.
They come back to the house,
arms folded before them,
spill into the smallest bedroom.
There they take turns consulting
the mirror on the wall.

 

published in If We Had Wanted Quiet (anthology)

 

 

18. 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

 

 

19. Painting the Eaves

The wood has been scrubbed, sanded, primed,
a hundred spiders shooed out, run off, drowned.
They have all come back,
like the sunny end of the nursery rhyme,
like children to school in September,
like your sins to haunt you.
They hunker in their corners
more determined than ever.
I lift a brushful of green paint,
sway on my ladder. They pulse
up and down on their hammock legs.
I spread my paint: an embalming tide
of pinetree-colored latex.
Unreconstructed spiders by the score
will hold up the walls of my house
for as long as anything holds.

 

published in Advocate

 

 

20. The Comet Visits the City

We stood in the backyard,
and we reckoned from the fence
to the telephone wires,
binoculars in hand.
Behind the grey of streetlights,
houselights, carlights, there it was
after all: head of the comet,
strange, soft, like the rumor of a planet,
over our heads as we spoke,
over the chimneys, over the power lines,
over the neighbors’ houses.
And the city received its light
into greater light,
as morning receives the stars.

 

published in The Kenyon Review

 

 

21. Real Facts

“A pigeon’s feathers are heavier than its bones.”
— printed inside a Snapple cap

Hollow bones support the simple weight
of life toeing a plaza full of crumbs.
The pigeon dips its head to consecrate
my offerings, and the small park becomes
a minor metaphor of good and grace:
what is this bird to me, that I should feed it?
And yet because we share this common place
it brings a kind of kinship, and I need it.
Fueled now, it shakes its heavy wings
and leaps into the air which parts, receiving
the pigeon into more celestial things,
and me into the prospect of believing
that burdens may have usefulness unknown.
Spread, wings, and lift me up to see my own.

 

published in Christian Science Monitor

 

 

22. 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

 

 

23. 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

 

 

24. The Dove in the Traffic Light

She has nested in the red light,
a stained glass annunciation:
dove of the traveler. Those who pass
from day to day, from time to time,
journey under the standard, where
the dove waits for her deliverance
while the light comes and goes
and the world stops and starts.

 

published in Glass Works (anthology)

 

 

25. Downwind From Disneyland

All of the balloons must land somewhere,
the ones with ears, the yellow, red, the blue,
though they’ve slipped the sticky hands of children,
escaping in a parody of flight,
bobbing up against the tears of parting,
they must all come down, somewhere, to rest.

Some to the mountains, some to sea, the rest
perhaps on a suburban yard somewhere
toward the east, where morning curtains parting
reveal a lawn knee-deep in red, yellow, blue,
a field of shredded color like a flight
of crazy finches, riotous as children.

With all the curiosity of children
the housewife rises, wondering, from the rest
of breakfast and descends the chilly flight
of steps into her garden, til somewhere
before they plunge into the red, the blue,
the yellow fragments, she looks at the parting

clouds, and wonders if it was their parting
that made these fragments drop like tired children
onto her yard, a hail of yellow, blue,
red, covering the neat beds where the rest
of the colors bloom on quietly, somewhere
beneath this parti-colored sudden flight

of fancy. So she goes back up the flight
of steps to the porch, fetches her rake, and parting
balloons by reams, says “Have to start somewhere,”
wades in, and sighing as at naughty children,
gathers them into swaddled heaps, that rest
like bandaged rainbows underneath the blue

and red and yellow sunset. And the blue
and yellow flowers, and the red sun’s flight
to its own respite, show where she, at rest,
stands leaning on her rake, the fine grass parting
like the fine and downy hair of children
who grow and part and go away somewhere,

who go somewhere the yellow, red, the blue
balloons will find them: children who know flight,
and that is something. Parting is all the rest.

 

published in Harpstrings

 

 

26. The Auction of Abandoned Safe-Deposit Box Contents

How safe they were, the watches, stick-pins,
cufflinks, precious metals:
against a sea of death and pilferage
they have prevailed into anonymity.
These are not your great-aunt’s pearls,
sewn into the lining of her coat.
These are not your grandfather’s coins,
nailed up in a boot-heel as he stole a horse
and rode from the old country
to a ship across dark seas.
They have escaped,
their past scraped off.
In the imagined weeping of false heirs
and misbegotten claims,
I take them up one by one
and breathe over every facet
my notion of its worth,
until each of them
becomes a possession again.

 

published in Kansas Quarterly

 

 

27. 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

 

 

28. Lost Anniversary

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

 

 

29. The Autobiographical Age

“The writer, striving to touch the universal,
      experiences the revelation all by himself again.”
                                                       –Tracy Kidder

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

 

 

30. Muttontown Road

If there were really sheep,
perhaps they came down this road
to the village, to market, led
from the great estates:
perhaps they gave their name
to this paved passage;
or perhaps, instead,
it was never anything
but a dream of country life:
the costumed shepherdess
something less pure
than she would like to seem,
and the entire landscape
something less
than we would like to think,
who stand and sigh amid
the new construction, looking for
such innocence
as never met the eye,
sheep grazing where
they never grazed before,
cropping green and even,
lawn after lawn,
such plots as we
can build our stories on.

 

published in Aura

 

 

31. Five P.M.

My paper is no longer white.
Thinking to describe the sunset,
I have crossed out every color.
Patterned like a skyful of winter branches,
words unequal to the task
tangle the page to its margin,
where they become a list of errands,
a long plan of menus.
It is not yet time to fix dinner.
I fix a cup of tea. It cools slowly,
like the colors in the sky,
until the surface stills,
becomes approachable.
I sit at my kitchen table.
Slowly the windows turn to mirrors.
I look back at myself,
a woman in a clean room,
pausing between the lines
in a notebook, with a pencil,
drawing conclusions.

 

published in Once Upon a Time

 

 

32. In Praise of Paper

Scraps from things that grew in the sunlight,
ends of things used and abandoned,
sheaves of the shredded and drowned,
the humble thin in stacks
blue-lined, sharp-margined,
marshalled in metal spines,
the fat voluptuous, creamy, dimpled,
the lacy fog of their deckled edges
sighing for watercolor,
the tinted, the dyed, the bleached,
the self-absorbed archival,
profligate yellowing newsprint,
promiscuous tissue, military index,
weighed in the ream and not found wanting,
the watermarked and the unchristened,
fill my arms, fill my basket,
fill ranks and files of tall brown bags,
let me run my hand over every surface
like night waiting for its dreams,
trembling, inky, terrified
by all the things it has to say.

 

published in Diner

 

 

33. Century Plant

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

 

 

34. The Snowman

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

 

 

35. Venus, Or Maybe Mercury

The evening star, that is not a star,
comes out, but was there all the time,
over the sunset, that is really
the earth’s turning;
and this is what we wish on:
may things be what they are not,
may blessings uncover themselves,
may we be restored to our rightful place
in the center of things,
the sky inflamed with our desires,
crowded with messengers
anxious to carry them out.

 

published in Poetry

 

 

36. 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,
taking notes.

 

published in Kalliope

 

 

37. The Star Factory

1.  “… constellations… so romantic… yet so useful…
a way of ordering chaos.”

The sky was full of random facts
waiting to be made into figures
when Orion walked
on water, chased the Pleiades,
and found his meridian.
Now he stays put, except
for rolling over in his sleep,
all the starry parts of him
not in straight lines at all
but each at different depth,
a map of hummocky sheets,
dented pillows,
the usual passages of night.

2. “The Star Factory”

We’re given to understand
it’s hydrogen and dust, and then,
“like lumps in oatmeal,”
but I see it more like
under the living room couch:
stuff that came from nowhere,
that just always was, yet
suddenly appears.
If we could wait long enough
we would see it sparkle at last,
the ring under the cushion,
falling out again through
the center of the universe.

3. “… gravity must have something to do with it.”

Born to age and die, how
can we not love the stars?
Their coming and going,
a force determined
by the weights of many things
at any given moment,
they stand for us where
we have no footing,
our small lives on heroic scale,
the protostar accreting
its protoplanets,
red Betelgeuse waiting
its supernova turn.

 

published in Poetry
all quotes are from National Geographic

 

 

38. 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.

 

Advertisements