Roots and Branches: 42nd Post

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THE LANDSCAPER

He feels for the roots
pushing cracked, lined hands through the soft dirt.
He removes the intruding hedge’s dark knots
to spare the thin struggle of a tree.

He wants assurance
that his new lady is the right choice.
He rolls a stone into place while
the earth turns on its axis.

I think of the farm my partner and I didn’t buy,
how we came to this house with no curtains instead.
The landscaper wants to know
if he will be a good parent.

The air smells of dislodged spearmint
and crushed lavender.
The blood blister on his palm swings skyward
as he cups a drooping branch and clips it off.

He does it over and over, the swinging and cupping.
What would mean “I don’t know” in my hands
is a pruning ballet in his,
the tall tree an answer.

I think of the child we didn’t adopt,
of her photo in the book: Kristy.
She had so many letters: ADHD, ODD, PTSD.
My lover couldn’t see the girl

in the forest of letters.
Next spring’s seed catalog lies on the seat
of the landscaper’s truck in the driveway;
a diagram of next year’s garden takes shape in his mind.

He hurries to lay gravel and sand
but loses to the rotation of the earth.
“Want to save this nest for your daughter?” he asks,
laying it carefully on the porch steps.

The daughter we did adopt.
The one to whom I am a good parent
most of the time,
alone in this house.

“Yes,” I say.  Yes to the lady, the good
parenthood, the nest.  Yes to the removal of roots
that held nothing so strongly that a mistake
couldn’t make it all fall down.

The Relativity Stare-Down: 41st Post

A Portal Through Mysterious Woods sm*

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

A tree isn’t “tall” except in relation to us,
who are “short.”  The heart of a hummingbird
fills the world.  Try
to apply this principle to loved ones
who shrink with age,
slow down and speed up according to
the weather, forget where things
are but remember how things were,
what it was like in Columbus Grove, Ohio,
how to tie a clove hitch, or a sheet bend,
but who’s that asking am I all right
and can I tell her who she is?
I’m anonymous as winter and twice as old
and she could be too—what’s the point of telling her
anything?  It’s a red and black flannel shirt
I remember,
with little rips in the shoulders
and soft threads that hang from the cuffs,
brushing against me like second thoughts.

Some Give Up: 39th Post

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THE WOMAN WHO GAVE UP SPEAKING

has heard enough.

The enterprise is not loyalty.
Daggers.  Blood.  Mermaids.

She has seen
best intentions

fall like the snapped bodies
of cedar
waxwings beneath
unimpressed windows.

The enterprise is stolen words.
Death Before Dishonor.
Jesus.  Mother.  Semper Fi.

She has tried to pull the no-trick
ponies from their sunken
groove.

The enterprise is cold so
bitter the tears
crystallize
before they’ve left your eyes.

She is not
a symbol-dove
nor a
symbol-donkey.

Along twisted pathways
leaves reach for
the back of something
that ran by
centuries ago.

Her anger
hunches close,

a staring ape.

 

Wishing for Harmony: 37th Post

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How nice it would be if both one’s internal and external dialogues could be peaceful…

 

REHEARSAL FOR AN ARGUMENT

I am a square-shouldered
decision, a kite
snagged long ago,
my tedious semaphore
unrelieved.

It’s snowing, but
I cut the sound:
everyone’s already heard
bloodthirsty barking,
the scrape of claws

on tree bark.
Let them imagine
the tap
of each crystal flake
shattering on impact.

Placing my ear
to a rock,
I wait patiently
for the translation.
A thousand frosts later

the answer is
mine in a
mound
of sturdy flour.
I spit

and knead:
a lunge of knuckles
and there’s bread
and blood
all over.

The Good Girl: 33rd Post

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While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.

 

Urtext

The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.

At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.

Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.

At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.

The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.

Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.

 

 

 

Good Writing Habits: 32nd Post

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Not About

Poems often are about
exactly what they are not about.
This poem, for instance,
is not about the person
all those other poems were about.
Good writing habits forbid my telling
what this poem is about, but I
assure you
it is not about
what it is not about. Here
you see no mention of smooth hands,
no sly references to sex disguised
as descriptions of long train trips,
rivers slamming into bridge pilings,
or autumn trees bursting into flame,
no metaphor comparing that person’s eyes
to whatever the next best thing was.
Not even anything like a simile.
Not in this poem that is not about that.

 

 

 

 

We Eat the Seeds: 31st Post

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This poem first appeared in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2.

 

FIVE PEOPLE (HOMELESS)

  1. Sally, Inauguration Eve

This dirt gone?—white.  I am
and Everyone says He’ll do the job
Give us hope but I was
wearing wool A-line skirts with
the very clouds above for shirts
last time, when my opinion
meant something.  Click click
my tiny Italians on polished
boardroom floors Gentlemen,
I said I fail to see I
did fail to imagine this cardboard
throwing its brown cast on me.

 

  1. This Red Scarf

White clothes mean sticks in the arm
but if you stay clean sheets
one night or two.  On the lake bank there were
white trees!  I had ice skates.
They had no leaves so the light came through.
The Polish girls wore scarves tied under their chins.
I was no Polack but see, I tie this scarf
tight and keep my head down
watching for ice.  You fall here
no boys laugh or help you up.
But if they stick you
they help you up real nice.

 

  1. Richard

I’m used to being in charge
so this will be about you.
I want you to know I appreciate the aluminum cans
so neatly stacked beside the trash can.
I see you see me take them, see you hurrying
to meet my six o’clock pickup daily.
I admire your scheduling abilities:
kitchen scraps to the chickens before work,
the soft globs of their droppings to the compost heap
before dark; the garden weeded Saturday mornings,
fruit plucked and distributed to neighbors in the afternoon.
I would have hired you in the old days—
kept an eye on you, as they say—
recommended you.
I keep you a secret now,
for the cans.

 

  1. K.L.

What’s left of this planet is my home.
Birds are not afraid of me, curled in this bush,
unless I jerk my legs, dreaming
I fly with them over the roofs
and across the highways.
We eat the seeds that drop
and peck at the not-ripe pears,
scattering when the farmer comes
to nail his straw-filled savior to a post.

 

  1. When I Was One of the People

All these things I shall tell you are true.

When I was a warrior my skin flowed yellow, red and green

like the sashes of the old ones.

When I was a warrior I devoured the night

and spit stars at the immaculate moon.

When I was a warrior my courage rode in front of me,

a blind slave stolen from an enemy camp.

When I was a warrior the wind and I embraced with great joy

and we brought forth spring, summer, fall

and the weaver child, winter.

When I was a warrior I kept sadness behind my eyes, mute as light.

When I was a warrior I could swell until the earth was inside me,

feverish and bloody,

and I could sweat until the earth was healed

and I could bleed until the earth was whole.

I am the owl and the darkness now.

I am the hawk and the light.

I am the crack in the clouds now.

I am the wind in the night.

 

The Mockery of the Swollen Garden: 29th Post

Sunflower & bees

 

After the Death of His Twin

—for John Fuller, age 80

 

The solo creak of his Naugahyde chair.

 

The excess of fruit broadcasting its ripeness.

 

In the closet, twice the needed pants and shirts, twice the needed gaping shoes, worn at the heel.

 

The nervous voice of his landlord, trying to remember which one passed.

 

The sniff and yip of the dog, double-checking under the table.

 

The mockery of the swollen garden.

 

The sports section left folded with the classifieds.

 

His unspoken opinion of the news story about welfare mothers.

 

The uselessness of the second bookmark pressed into the novel.

 

In front of the TV, half the snoring noise to waken him to his started insistence, “I wasn’t…”

 

The other narrow bed, tightly tucked.

 

The hearing aid left on the end table for the first time.

 

In the bathroom mirror, only two hips, two nipples, one penis.

 

The surprising regularity of his heartbeat.

We Call Our Game ‘Knowledge’: 28th Post

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What It’s Like to Be Adopted

Ah, my pretties, there was a stillness
think of it as sphere-shaped
a ping-pong ball without the ball—
and perhaps before that grand explosions
around other emptinesses. Our stillness
collapsed, smashed itself white and blue
flew red and purple
out, we say. Flew to what
we call here and there.

Sweet ones, the pieces moved this far and
that far until
divided by now and then we called their changes
speed, their journeys time.
We call our game knowledge
as we hold hands and live its fun and terror
for, dearest listeners, each particle attracts all others
so we know of gravity, love, luminosity,
and the shifts of momentum called history.

We play here
in this tiny history
the balls we toss falling
(where we call down) like the bits
of what we do not know
flying toward the center of another
stillness
before they what we call begin
what we call again.

 

Anything to Grab Onto: 26th Post

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Lament

–for my mother

The time

everyone else

had left the party but the music was still throbbing

and Stefan

two languages

away from me

had my blouse half undone–

that’s the light

I mean

orange

smelling of alcohol

dangerous with its promise of brilliant regret

The time

I jumped

heavily clothed into the water

for lifesaving practice

and the water

pulsed

above me

reflections subdividing like amoebas–

that’s the distance

I mean

deeper than

my arm’s length

resonant with resistance

The time

I climbed

on Trinidad Head

alone on black wet rock

shocked

by the sudden

brawl

of ocean too close–

that’s the texture

I mean

where anything to grab onto

is life

even if it tears your flesh like a cat’s claw