Sunday, October 10, 2010

There aren't cards for the dying

There aren't cards for the dying
The leaves let go now

no epitaph
Not so easy for us

We want the flocked swans
an italic verse

the hallmarked time
so gravely pocketed

The Lies I Used to Know

I miss them, the safe stories.
You couldn't fall

out of those happy endings
legs tucked under

The doors open to sunlight
& cornered gardens

brick paths, lilac & stinking privet
those transparent organdy kisses

I need a novel with no last pages.
Here was that truth

of rage, the burning sofa
the nights of smoke

My whiskeyed dad & Cinderella dancing
past dying. I was never sad.

Not Much Left

Things disappear
I'm on my knees again
cleaning hair & dust
from the rug garden

fraying I learn
the knotted pattern
four arched heart
wild geese flown

The sand I built upon
blows through the weft

If We Had the Dominion of Dust

If we had the dominion of dust
principality of glaciers
though ice shatters
though the Isaac eyed children
peer from newsprint
though we can't stop explosion
we might go hand in hand
a cut paper chain
singing our way wholly to paradise
those ivory & gold gates
the boarded walls of chrysophase
where birds fly up shining like oil slicks
& the dead rise from the mass
grave of our longing
lamb eyed, & so young

(untitled, still toying with this)

Setting choke, pulling chain. Sweat.
Hey, my love's kerosene & sweat & the bills
to pay. She sings sweet as the meadow
lark, late & noon, my sharpened tool
all through these tough woods,
despite them fools & their black masks.
But one day, as I recall, the light cut through
the grove, sharp as glass, green glass
& sliced my heart. That little wire fern
right where we called that timber down
I moved it, took it, sweet green.


There is too much gone now. I tried to tell you.
Here the morning opens like ripped silk
with the slash of copters. There is still grace
the varnished leaves of the poison oak
their own perfection, & the small lichens
a pointillist delight
across our mother's torn body. Sudden
as a heart attack the trees are falling
& the hot grass explodes
The quail have surely their own quick prayers
Diesel stench & the pulled chains
Setting choke,riding cat. At the end
all elements fly apart. I want
to hold to this tough ground.

(Well, yes. Living in the north woods, being part of the struggle to save the last redwoods, I met a lot of people on both sides, including some very interesting loggers. One guy told me about saving a wire fern once, and I've thought and thought of the counterpoise of stories. But probably poetry is not where this energy is going to best spin out.)

Grief's not the blank screen

Grief's not the blank screen
I tried to tell you, but then
love's not the black phone

the missed connection
Rain blows in
You liked my southern perfume

the bruised gardenia
your sweat slicking my skin
a storm of recollection

landscapes & torn pillows
the hot, bent yarrow

the lives we ended

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Concrete Has No Memory

Goodbye. Give me back the photographs
of home, fragrance of cedar & balm
Let's close this house of straight chairs
& let the gardens go under

Concrete has no memory.
But remember the white cups
painted with red flowers. Remember
our bitter coffee & fugitive touch

moths or kisses against
the broken screen. We were aware
of burning. It was a time of war.
Pretend, as we close the door

ours was a grave romance
flamable & stern, inevitable
as numbers. At your cuffs
the buttons are tarnished. Yes

love too hangs by a single thread.

All I Can Tell You

for M.C.

You asked for my message from the war zone
I can tell you the peach trees have come
once more to their paper doll blossom

You asked for my message on fear
When the thunder sounds from the west
my child wakes up shaking

The names of the dead
are broken glass, shining
these shattered windows

Will I see you another morning?
All over the troops are massing
leaving wheatfields and dogs

You can't forget the babies
those little fingers, those heads sweating
that smell of milk

that smell of burning

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where the Fox Cries Out All Night

Festivals pass, waving flags. Children
go from the hills, taller, not looking back
I give up counting

what doesn't matter or matters too much
Hold to what stays
framed by the window or my two hands

knowing your face too well
& all I can't
keep. Small animals

come again, nudging shreds & petals
white footed
mouse, skunk with her flower stalk tail

lean deer, flocks
of birds

to all we give away

Ben tells me bluebirds migrate along the ridge
here in the summer washed hills
old oak, six named grasses, the river

far below. We compare names of our dead
& guess the names of roses
beautiful women, old friends. Once again

you don't come into the room
through the far door flanked with roses
your dark hair wet, your eyes

green invitation

I write you margins
green blue map, country
we never saw

contoured under my hand
your finger's whorls, folds
& intimate soles

our feet pressed to the separate dust
Here is a new language
the awkward reach

our hands unbuttoning
these white pearl dusks
slide of manzanita flower

sheets dried in the fir sweet air
If I meet you here it is only this
mountain lion loping the hot air

desire a clean kill

(an older and far from perfect poem. Ben, who is my friend Tui's husband--one of my few matchmaking successes--always loved the line about the bluebirds. And they do indeed migrate along the ridgetops here, bright bits of blue light).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Open Window

Cloudy day. An open window.
I didn't want to catalog
the dead We missed each other
There was no shelter

in the burning gardens
all the browned roses, heavy
dahlias, scentless afternoons.
I did the best I could

child's hand in my own
a twisting fire. Heart
I have been pulling free for so long
wishing only the air pillowed

my plunging body
but small things keep me
faithful, earth
& my restless children, pure as knives

each one sucking a thin milk, love
& suicide, those fair heads cradled
against my scars &
all this world's howls battering

the doors. Pain is the simple geography.
As for me, I too sucked grief down
with my mother's milk
Loss was the gleaming legacy

goodbye the witch's charm, &
my innocent refugees
here I pass it on.

(no, it's no really finished or without flaws, and it is a poem from the time of the Possessions one--well, maybe a bit less old than that. Another grappling with life and death and love and obligation and what one hands on. That was a hard year.)


for Tui

It's not that the dead go away
so cleanly, dawn absolute
as a steel knife

reflecting the driven clouds
& that we wake
our arms stretched out

the bed flat, smelling of mint
& starch, white
as those notes we never sent

The door slams.
There are funerals in far cities
a line of golden poplars, &

see now what they leave us:
sweaters & crystal, knives & rings.
They leave us possessed of things

with their hands held out
tossing us their coats, their old shoes
the bottled pills, the torn music

this terrible stillness

The first version of this poem was written 10 years ago, when my friend Tui, herself a poet (her real name is Anna, but we've known her as Tui for years and years now)--when Tui and I both went through a series of deaths and aftermaths. One of the things we remarked on was all the--remainders and reminders. The original version rather prosaically catalogued some of the things we'd each been left--I had some poignant lines about a sweater beaded with tears, but in revising took a lot of that out. I don't think I'm finished with this poem--or with the theme. I find I often try to write the same poem around 10 or 12 times before I get to what it should have been all along. Like life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fourteen Names of God

Sometimes we are given maps
just a few blue lines

like the veins on our mothers' breasts
Green curves, a lizard

curled in your warm hands
this secret, all we own

Now in my dreams we set out again
towards each other

over the mine fields of this life
breathing the sweet air

For more years than you lived
I have tried to learn the words

the grasses tell each other
on summer nights

guarded by fireflies
as in that Tokyo sunset

when you tied my sash
& ran, though braced, still laughing

through the pyrotechnic flowers
towards happiness

I see you still, waving to me
far across the starfields

You have released the balloons
The ribbons slide from my hair

But I hold your faithful map
to the places of dragons

to that tender lair, the far
mountains, the acres of longing

Happy Endings

It is the season of new growth
Violets quirk their ears alert purple
& sunlight is better than found money

Your son is secure in his candy-red
world, one more glad somersault.
Let's believe in happy endings.

Winter lasted too long
though the snow glittered.
Let's believe in wishes

granted by new fir candles.
Let's think it's a joyful
procession, this life, climbing hills

upward, & across wood & water
for a clear view. The sea here
marries the land, the mist the sky

If you walk through fire
still you always come home
to this ocean ringed truth

to this springtime life
supple with blesssing
loving each other.

Black Swan

The black swan out of the north came
all warm feathered, eyes red, the setting
sun & all our dead were therefore covered

No, it's not like that, but I like to think them
held, those complicated loves. I like to think
them more than ashes or the squared

elements we return to finally, fire, ice,
the river you think I am. The old ones
knew this too, this ache, these small things

so it's not a new story, loss & loss. The moon
stays with us. The cats survived
the blaze. You say it was the house of love

burnt up utterly
& burning still

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Way Home

In this place joy is our birthright.
We don't need to kneel all night
on the closed stones, paying our way

with tears. Come to the clear light.
The wild irises stand on the slopes
each one holding her breath. We can fly

arms open, empty handed, into this story
where the stars catch in our hair
& banners are haven, glory, heart's rest

Nothing else to remember.

(it was printed in a little magazine out of the Mendocino region called Sojourn Magazine, not to be confused with the fine Christian activist magazine with a similar name. Reading this poem now I see I owe quite a debt here to Mary Oliver's poem about how one doesn't have to be good.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

the museum, the prison, the madhouse

in some long still dance of pain
you come to me
in a stone ship, your name undone
to pictures on the prow:
the lion, the hawk, the musician of the court

you stare at me with your blank eyes
and hold one hand free
waiting for the falcon to descend
or a blessing to bracelet it
litanies for suicides & priests

though I cover the mirrors
you are everywhere before me
in the leaf vein cup
of my hands, in the weathered stone
with its face of human grief

in this last asylum you turn
& turn again, bringing feathers & harps of bone
in this dream my lover, in this a death--
the delicate choosings; murder, prayer--
we are both dead beneath our masks

yet in this last we run
like the fallow deer
through the mist on the glass, the brier,
in the mouth of the wind, the wind month
where only the gulls are crying

(the acceptance from Hilda Raz of Prairie Schooner of this poem was waiting for me when I came to northern California many years back. The poem was written during my time in England, a time of many...dramatic life events. I used to spend a lot of time writing in the British Museum, in front of an Egyptian statue. The poem later was anthologized in one of the Borestone anthologies.)

Closing the Beach House

Turning back like a window
set to the change of weathers:
inside, old cabinets; the phone
pulled from the wall, roots hanging

I am come strange
a rootless garden

Only slowly words surface:
ghosts with sad mouths moving
staring in blank soil
and in the unclosing

hard conjugations, lies,
the dead

windows where we cried
at the flood-
time, the seedlings bent, all
leaves like feathers,
blood tipped

marriage an old house

Somewhere, Malibu, perhaps
the fish flap
silver bellied on the sand
moon spawn, fire
gutted on your spit

here my eyelids close
over my own

it is all fragment
an archaeology claiming
by touch, by pain
the doorsills, the dry rot

eating the heartwood

(this is a very old poem; it was printed in kayak. It was one of the first poems of my apprentice years that I really liked, that felt sound. I was touched to receive an email a few years ago from someone who teaches poetry who said this poem had reached him when he was a young man and going through a difficult time. He'd taken the poem and done a watercolor and framed them.
To know that for decades someone had cherished my words, reading his life into them, was a remarkable gift.)