Poems from 2000

I was surprised to find so many poems from 2000 when I looked back, since Raian was born, poor honey, on Christmas of 1999. I just have a memory of feeling over- tired and constantly besieged (the maternity leave that wasn't really one as I had to continue book review editing and other stuff). But every little bit of work and seriousness does its part -- it's a discipline like any discipline, and I liked some of what I wrote after all.

Say a word like crown
and the thought settles,
comes to rest on the brow,
an invisible headache.

A necklace of names
under my blouse,
hard heavy jangle
against my skin.

I can stand apart,
I can purse my lips,
I can purge my heart
but I keep getting drawn
into sentences, whatever
I call myself --
never alone again.

How heavy is a ton of flowers?
Pink blossoms --
My fingers are dragging on the ground.

Starting up the sleeve,
I imagine your warm hand,
I start from the wrist,
that dear bone and the dark hair
like a ghost of wool against your skin.
The stitches fall into shape,
thousands of fish (5 mm.),
each biting th enext one's tail, flakes
of soft wet bark fin to fin. Links
of chain mail, scales, set me as a seal
upon your arm, as a shield from cold:
your arm has already been cradled warm
inside this blue moving armor.
For love is strong as death...

Thinking of my friend:
she lives in a foggy afternoon
in half of a white house.
One cat is slender black lightning
with bright citrus eyes,
the otehr is a vast baggy monster
and licks photographs
to savor the emulsion.
Counting the silver that weaves
in her crown, counting the teaboxes
in her kitchen, and one room
that houses nothing but a flat mat
and a bicycle.

My friend lives in time.
And where could the fog come from?
since it was a brilliant fall day,
the loveliest autumn, even Vermont
could not compare on that day.

Perhaps the trees between her
and the field became a cloud,
or perhaps those perfect white walls
siphoned the color away and left her
elegant in grey and sepia,
forever because perfect
never changes.

Every birth brings the thought of death,
the cold clammy face of loss in childbirth
that my fingers didn't dare touch
as long as my belly was still rising

even though I'd heard the story
of my grandmother's favorite sister,
the name my mother received later
and that I inherited too, inside,

tucked in the middle like the stone
of a ring turned in towards the palm.
And then there's the tiny frog baby:
is she still breathing? If I gently

shake her, does she startle? Little
dangling arms and legs would chill so quickly.
Until you are old enough to fear death
for yourself, I will fear it for you.

The sky opens, softly mottles
the earth. I go out to leap
from hilltops, but mud
clutches at my heels,
clambers up my hem.
Oh grey woollen clouds,
oh raw fresh breath
and flowers slender
as newhatched birds:

This was already my weak month,
I pierced my ears
and purchased silks to battle it,
I sought distraction in thought
and in companions.

Now when I would fly
I am encumbered with books
and lovers, with children
and advanced degrees --
my joys have made me heavy
and slow to dodge its weather.

I can only trudge through
one day by one day.

What a beautiful knit -- an ornament
like woven branches, like shapely waves
rising just to your shoulders, showing
only that small sip of skin. I ask
did you make it, I lust for instructions.

No, you say, it's old.
It's old as the sea.

My cooking had dwindled to one dull paring-knife,
to pasta and instant rice and peanut butter
and cupboards of good intentions, when I met
the man who loves sharp knives. He found
my neglected white-handled cleaver in the back
of the cutlery drawer, and bloomed
into a lecture on caring for tools.
I didn't have to explain how my first marriage
wilted once I showed him the carving knife
that other man had used, with a hammer,
to chop the bottom off a Christmas tree.
Later I noticed that knife had vanished,
smuggled into the trash, and on the counter
a hardwood block held black-handled
heavy knives, riveted through and polished,
accurate and precise as a set of silver pistols.

Once I loved a Polish boy:
no matter here or there,
his lineage was pure
and his aunt and uncle,
no less Polish, lived next door.
That round Slavic face,
the alcoholic stories,
allergy to polkas, photo
of tiny shoulders drooping
behind a grown-up accordion.

He told me about moss
and wild horses, willow trees;
about flowers, and the hot name
of summer that follows
the chilly Polish spring.
He made of me a maiden
in a costume of red and white.

Oh, and none of that is true,
I made it all up, almost:
I just saw a movie once
and thought, wouldn't it be nice.

I went to the witches for incense
to drive out bad influences --
you know, mice, kitchen disasters,
the mildew that lingers in the wake
of ex-spouses. They sold me frankincense
rolled in six black sticks. It smelled like God.

Is God really equivalent to a lack of demons?
Divinity abhorring a vacuum,
rushing in behind the cleansing smoke
to fill the space, to pack it tight with purity?

Spring comes in with her currency
of gold-into-green, her new view
of every room: wouldn't you be
more happy and more beautiful
in this expensive flowering garment?

Rattling pink coins and white coins,
colluding with that wandering sun,
oh spring I never saw the light
through that bush in quite that way,
oh spring the unsparing mistress
of beams and angles!

May Day, May Day, we are sinking
into a sea of relentless fertility.

The problem is, I can't stop
when I see a fault, a crack forming:
I persist and it yawns open,
I plunge back a generation
into subcultural explanations:
steps of basalt and obsidian,
tenuous mirrors in the schist
and caverns worn by lifetimes
of acid tears, and lava once deadly
frozen by the chill of years,
by their dread of saying those words
of love or loss or even indifference.
A guess is as good as a guide,
the temperature in each chamber
rises, and I venture further
from the bland garden where I started,
closer to the core of danger
that started all these processes,
all these ponderous etymologies.

We pulled off I-81 for ice cream and air-
conditioning. As we walked back to the car
Elvis was standing by a blue convertible
outside a church up the street.

How did I know him when we'd never met?
Perhaps the careless posture
as he leaned his famous hip against the door,
young and patient, hair bright black
in the Saturday afternoon heat.

The car said Just Married:
is he going to tell the groom he's nothing
but a hound dog? -- I asked my husband.
No, of course not, Love Me Tender!
-- said the man who had insisted
on a tiny and circumspect wedding.

I looked back three times to check
after we turned the corner:
Elvis was still on the empty sidewalk,
waiting for the journalists,
the opening chorus of female shrieks,
alone there in the shade.

It's so hard when you're dead
and the party expects you to stand outside.

Why do we see ideal?
The Old Country,
lost Paradise.

And oh, my mother's teat --
that soft pink gift,
and her sweet speech
in a Yorkshire accent
that thickened in anger
to Scottish:

is it because
everything that comes
to our tongues at that age
is nourishing,
even the bitter?

A farmer's daughter, but my nails were clean.
I made myself a new summer gown
of sprigged white lawn, and the roses
were blooming, the rhododendrons
holding up their plates of flowers
like pale fruit jelly. The mountain laurel
opened its tiny parasols, each so delicately
decorated, bleached in the brightness to fine lines.

I met Lorne under a mulberry tree.
He was a bit older, born in 18 and 69,
and I couldn't forget the risks
of purple birdshit out of that tree
as he joked and I slowly smiled.

Did I love him? It's hard to recall,
that's not among the pictures I have kept
or the secrets I would tell to someone
I trusted. He'd use a hickory stick
on the children if they misbehaved.
So many children! Enough to take
over the tobacco farm, and then some --
off to the railroad, up in Pennsylvania.

The grandson you are asking about
was going on five when I died.

Walking the sidewalk back
through the cross-hatch and right angles,
the concrete panels hefted by a root
and patches of brick and grass.

I love American towns, so square
and easy to find Right in.

The numbers dwindle on each side
as we head toward some invisible center
where everything begins again
in every direction.

The moment someone said it
I remembered: that green glass
was no prison, but a chamber
far larger than men would expect,
a room with many furnishings

and wide green windows
giving on a courtyard garden within,
well-fortified through the creases
and whorls of ancient silica distorted
the light passed from outside.

Anyone with a taste for peace
(after one too many masters
demanded use of her powers;
after one too many wishes)
would happily have taken residence.

My home was a camera
in which reality appeared
upside-down, but so much more
precise and permanent.

And I was the merry lodger,
the secret gardener,
going out or coming home
on a trail of mere vapor.

Those years of baths to be cleansed for Sunday Mass:

first your father, who never fixed the boiler,
then your mother, who carried water from the stove,
then your brother, four years older, who expected
you to iron his shirts, that golden boy,
and only then you. My children's washing
has taught me to imagine the white tub,
lukewarm, scummed with soap and skin.

Easing your thin legs over the side.
of course you doubted that you were Queen.
The limp towel was damp and greyed.

You sleep so firecely,
your little brow furled,
your little mouth puckered,
your pale fists drawn up
to either side.

Time isn't racing you yet,
it isn't daring you yet,
it's still the milk that stretches
your legs and grows your hair,
it still offers a kaleidoscope
of voices to turn to, of bright
toys and forbidden grown-up
objects to reach for.
You can stretch and half turn
over, you can nap some more.

is like visiting a holy well reguarly
or reaping a field I inherited six years back
from an unexpected relative. A dogwood
moves from white flakes through green
to red leaves, each branch bright
with teh rags of old wishes, stories I told
the last time I reversed directions here
to begin the next line, or to make sure the last
was smooth enough. And memories
spark from the roots that remain.

Last time it smelled like Colorado,
this time it's damper. The bumblebee
blunders from its hole. The back is done,
the front is ahead of me, thick
with poison and other ivies.

My garden angel, promised since the day
I first broke bread, with me in sun
and in sleep -- my marble example
of grace in stillness and of arms
that never tire of gesture or generosity,
no matter how heavy the offered bowl.
I can choose to plant it with herbs
and the angel will be a chef-consultant,
I can plant it with a trailing flower
so it will offer bee-beauty in its white hands,
I can scrub the marble clean, let it catch rain
and water or bathe the birds (this is called
support for the vocal arts), or it can hold
fruit for my favorite human visitors.

My garden angel keeps me wondering
what I am supposed to learn, it never
moves to look at me or to speak.
I am puzzled into godness, deciding
which this time should it make me be.

and the apple tells
of a cold breeze, of leaves
turning clear gold in slanting light.
The apple tells of departing green
and a brief riot of red,
chill against the teeth
(for warmth means wasps):
for a moment that bloom
(A dream of falling petals)
before the skin breaks,
and then spring water, gathered
and cooled in tart filters, wet
and bright. The apple says
its round word, its fistful of seed
in limited language
against death.

After the final dance
the ground is scattered
with fallen gloves,
fans and hands,
the bright lives drawn
to the darkening ground...

That sun beneath shields of clouds and dragons
steps quickly from its red bath and, clad in gold,
pierces my eyes between each tree. Sun chips
runes off the frozen snow, dead ground
flat as a coffin lid or the tiles of a grave.

A razed table, the sun brags. How can any barb
flung from that angle, like rays skipped off
the surface of icy ponds, ever strike its target,
that circle tiny as a needle's eye? How can it be,
every time it aims it meets my eyes
with that flat sharp flash of fire,
with explosions of weightless metal?

A god who throws hammers, dammit!
A goddess who does nothing but sharpen the points
of spears and needles.

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