Listen. It’s morning. Soon I’ll see your hand reach
for my watch, the water will agitate in the kettle,
but listen. Traffic. I want your dreams first. And
to slide my leg beneath yours before the day opens.
Wait. We slept late. You’ll be moody, the phone
will ring, someone wanting something. Let me put
my hands in your hair. Who I was last night I would
be again. This is how the future holds me, how depression
wakes with us; my body shelters it. Let me
put my head on your breast. I know nothing lasts.
I would try to hold you back, not out of meanness
but fear. Oh my practical, my worldly-wise. You
know how the body falters, falls in on itself. Tell me
that we will never want from each other what we
cannot have. Lie. It’s morning.
with thanks to april-is
There, next to me in bed, her small hand on mine,
the other one tucked in her blanket, the one I keep
trimming, the one growing smaller, I think she
looks diminished, all watery and loose, but I am
disheveled, not a proper mother, my hair frazzled
like some painter stroked red where my head
should be; we’re a pair, bedded by flu, but since
she’s only four, she doesn’t understand, knows
only the TV is on, and we’re coughing together,
and no one’s going anywhere. One of her hands
is larger than the other one; there’s a name for that
sort of limb discrepancy, but who cares? Right now,
she couldn’t pronounce it even if I could recall it,
but she unwinds her fingers from the blanket holes
they slept in and puts that hand on my face. Too big
for her age, this hand cups the bone beside my eye.
"You’re hot again, mama," she says, but her eyes
are pleased. “What am I gonna do with you?” She
taps my brow. Everything is an arrow from the bow
of this moment. I take her two hands and kiss them.
I haven’t been this gloriously sick in many years.
Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men — to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained.
from The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
75th anniversary of its publication is today
The best thing about a hand-made pattern
is the flaw.
Sooner or later in a hand-loomed rug,
among the squares and flattened triangles,
a little red nub might soar above a blue field,
or a purple cross might sneak in between
the neat ochre teeth of the border.
The flaw we live by, the wrong bit of warp,
now wreathes among the uniform strands
and, because it does not match,
makes a red bird fly,
turning blue field into sky.
It is almost, after long silence, a word
spoken aloud, a hand saying through the flaw,
I’m alive, discovered by your eye.
Love Song for the Woman with Beautiful Hands
each day I wait for your signs
in the morning when you awake
at night I count every finger of your hands
your hands of bones and summer blood
your hands which you say have forgotten how to dream
as if winter could ever wean its desires of spring
or birds in the morning tell lies
and refuse to sing
in late afternoon we were walking on the shore
several dozen feet above the waves a congregation of birds
seagulls, herons, pelicans
hungry searching for a meal
then in the next breath
dove a pelican
like a fleshy arrow into the sea
plucked a fish and went off
I looked for you
on the beach
I wanted to lie down
next to you
on the cool sand
I wanted to show you why it’s important
to recognize the shape of your hand
the look of your hand
the special way to touch the lines
of your palm
the roads and paths
marks of eternity
I wanted to tell you about the pelican
how quickly it reached a decision
how it knew what to do
how to live and not die
but your hands which you say have forgotten
how to dream
which I look for
The use of a former girlfriends’ name
In my poem prompts the wife to ask
“Why?” I shrug and hear “Why her?”
followed by “Why her and not me?”
the poem works better with the name
which is true but truth’s a bitter pill
conversation sours like day old cream
the sex is not as sweet and soon there
is no sex she whispers the damn poem
in her sleep then the poem is published
the entire world now asks “Why her?”
I think it can’t get worse until one night
I get a call a voice who asks “Why me?”
Not the End
Don’t let the quarreling near the end
Convince you the breakup would have been predictable
From the beginning to somebody more insightful.
Remember that any suggestion back then
Of the actual outcome would have been swept aside
By the evidence that the joys you shared
With your beloved would prove enduring:
The joy on workdays of cooking supper together,
The joy on weekends of rambling the woods
With no agenda.
The silences weren’t a sign of holding back.
They were calm and easy, your thoughts
Drifting away on a stream of association
And then returning with a sprig of woodland flowers.
Here, this is for you, each said, and meant it.
And remember the climb you loved, to the ridge,
The wide view of the valley that left you both
Feeling open to whatever the day might offer.
Don’t diminish those moments now by wondering
What you could have done to make them last
Had you been attentive enough to cherish them.
You were happy back then, remember,
And knew you were happy.
What you need now isn’t the work
Of regret but the work of gratitude.
And all it takes to be grateful is to feel grateful.
Go back to the beginning and embrace its bounty.
Beneath the story of cause and consequence
Another story is pointing another way.
In the forest of letters:
a road in cursive
a grid of clouds
a leaf of moonlight
a birdhouse of stars
real life got loud. Peonies, squirrels, teapots screaming
in my ear, though I knew it was the work of trickster
brain. Next, bird-smack on the slider, slammed thing
plopped off-kilter, cat come running to the glass, blood-
guttural in her throat. And my uterus wildly trying to make
more of itself. What were my cells murmuring? Ignore
the parade, keep to your quiet subtraction. Knit, purl,
clip, file, cry. Unravel the scarf of what you think
remains to you. A bit of good dumb human yarn.
The Massachusetts Review
Ceremony for the Closing of the Mouth
You and I were having a fight
in the street where we fell in love
with our accident.
Several artful lampposts instructed me:
How to point.
How to spin the lights.
How to sit one chair away from myself
in the auditorium of mistrust,
where a piano lid crashes
inside the stomach.
You taught me to connect
music to the will,
though I did not say loudmouth,
busy as I was bending
spoons that were the exact shape
my pain made.
The elk of Orick wait patiently to cross the road
and my husband of six months, who thinks
he’s St. Francis, climbs out of the car to assist.
Ghost of St. Francis, his t-shirt flapping, steps
tenderly onto the tarmack and they begin
their trek, heads lifted, nostrils flared, each footfall
a testament to stalled momentum, gracefully
hesitant, as a brace of semis, lined up, humming,
adjust the air in their brakes. They cross
the fourlane like a coronation, slow as a Greek
freize, river wind riffling the wheat grass
of their rumps. But my husband stays on,
to talk to the one who won’t budge, oblivious
to her sisters, a long stalk of fennel gyrating
between her teeth. Go on, he beseeches,
Get going, but the lone Elk only stares back,
their noses less than a yard apart. One
stubborn creature staring down another.
This is how I know the marriage will last.
from American Poet
Between me and the world
You are a bay, a sail
The faithful ends of a rope
You are a fountain, a wind
A shrill childhood cry
Between me and the world
You are a picture frame, a window
A field covered with wild flowers
You are a breath, a bed
A night that keeps the stars company
Between me and the world
You are a calendar, a compass
A ray of light that slips through the gloom
You are a biographical sketch, a bookmark
A preface that comes at the end
Between me and the world
You are a gauze curtain, a mist
A lamp shining into my dreams
You are a bamboo flute, a song without words
A closed eyelid carved in stone
Between me and the world
You are a chasm, a pool
An abyss plunging down
You are a balustrade, a wall
A shield’s eternal pattern
translated by Bonnie S. McDougall
Lately it seems that you and I
are trying to remember how to live without each other.
In the basement you warn yourself not to bump your head.
I wonder if I’m strong enough to till the garden.
Old habits slink out of their dens,
remaking themselves at home.
You scramble eggs and burn my favorite pan,
I go off to bed without a thought, the lights still blazing.
We keep seeing these unwelcome guests
as we glance over our shoulders at the dimming afternoons.
They chill the house with their feral weather,
chapping our lips.
We don sweaters, make room.
Our tongues taste metal and salt.
Give Me At My Hand 0f Course All the Time
Give me a book you wrote, if you wrote a book at all.
Give me a tissue to wipe clean my grief or if you can’t,
give me a cotton handkerchief for my mouth to ruin.
Give me money for new lipstick, if you have money.
At my hand is a bone-handled magnifying lens.
At my hand are the keys to the universe.
At my hand is the gift of queen bees being born.
At my hand is my other hand. Your ring is there.
At my hand is your opposite hand, sleeping.
Of course, I don’t mean to order you around.
Of course, I have no right to make demands.
Of course, I can’t make you do this.
Of course, I tried to force it.
Of course I did, for years.
All the time we could have played house, we played war.
All the time we could have had babies, we cheated.
All the time we could have kept together is gone instead.
All the time I misinterpret people’s expressions.
All the time I think time doesn’t exist at all.
All the time I am wrong.