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poems

From Willow Room, Green Door

 

THE COMPLETE AND
UNDISTURBED LION SKELETON

Rosie handed her the article because lion references were key.
“Maybe the lion’s importance is as a family pet rather than as a
representative of god.”  The first lion mummy was found in the the
tomb of King Tut’s wet nurse.  Years ago she wrote a long poem
about the Greenland mummy, and one famous author sighed as
she sat down after reading it, and remembered her name for one
night, and clasped her left shoulder, the shoulder where she kept
her power, and said, brilliant.  She decided to live on that word
for a few months; it kept her from her own impoverished feel-
ings.  The archaeologists always sound brilliant in articles — this
is true.  “It confirms the status of the lion as a sacred animal.”  Is
this really what we all were waiting for to confirm this idea? She
doesn’t think so.  Raggedy gold lions are sacred in so many cul-
tures; they may have taken over for the gods long before the first
myths were written.  She is disturbed.  The violent summer wind
she loves is not a comfort tonight.  She broods about lions and
lives in the city, afraid of raccoons and rats — she considers the
life in the sewer system under her city and has a panic attack —
private and almost serene in her fear.  They say the lion mummy
is artifact, not art.  She thinks: all lions wrapped in shrouds of
linen, resting with their heads on the breasts of wet nurses — all
these lions are art, even if there’s only one.

 

MAYBE HE’S GRATEFUL BUT
GET OUT OF HIS WAY

The Siberian tiger leaps from the back of the truck:
He’d been caught in a snare, rescued by Russian students
Deep in the forest, tranquilized, observed, fitted with a radio
Collar, woken up as if from a human dream for tigers,
Driven back to the forest, the cage opened, the leap
And gone.

Four hundred left.  Poachers demented with greed
Want every part of the Siberian tiger but never
The whole tiger.

 

SHE THOUGHT, I AM WALKING
AROUND MY COUNTRY

Shirley said,…she thought, I am walking around my country,
I am telling its boundaries, describing its edges, enclosing it.

Whatever mood she’s aware of this summer,
She can find the tone of it in one of Jackson’s books.
This doesn’t seem like particularly good news,
But she is pretty much at peace with Shirley’s sorrow.

 

From Kingdoms

NOT GETTING TIRED OF THE EARTH

He can go to the moon.  And Mars, too.
Take his patronizing face, vicious voice,
His appalling definitions of loyalty,
He can go.

The rest of us, we need to not get tired
Of the earth.  Need to care for parrots,
Even if we don’t, revere sand, and buffalo,
Butterfly weed and dunes.  We need to not
Get tired of the shattering beauty we live with,
Need to not get tired of wacky little city
Gardens, need to not be bored with
Starlings circling, the holy crows
Calling, the prairie grass replanted,
Blade by blade.  No Sleep!  No Sleep!

Or, at the very least, no sleeping
All at the same time.  The ones who
Want to leave for Mars seem never
To sleep, yet seem unable to hear wrens
Arrive in spring, the last lion roaring
Out his furious, golden protest.

I won’t get tired of the earth.  Will
Love the moon from here, will
Rejoice when those who do not
Love the earth can only imagine
it from their new permanent homes
in the sky.

(First published in Orion magazine, then a letter press broadside from Laurel Poetry Collective, artist, Georgia Greeley.)

BLUE HERON

We arrived carrying our usual human trouble, hoping to walk
Those troubles deep into the forest, hoping
To leave them there.  Not as burden for the forest, knowing
All too well the forest and its beautiful indifference.

At the dam I looked left to a hidden curve of creek,
Joe looked right to the still water past the small island.
Blue Heron lifted from the curve, her wingspan almost
Touched us, and she landed past the island, bowed to eat.

Right after my mother died, eight years ago, I saw Blue Heron
In this small valley, I knew then my mother had left
Her exhausted body behind and slipped into this new
Winged disguise.  I was happy for my mother’s new life.

We’ve searched these eight years now for one more sight
of Blue Heron.  And in our sorrows this day, three times
We saw her take flight, three times land, three times lean
Into shallow water for food and reflection.  She’s gone,

I said to Joe.  We carried the sight of her back to our city,
Our hearts strangely stirred and strangely at peace,
Her extended wings visible against the green of spring.





TRAVEL

People travel a long distance to be able to say: This reminds me of
some other place —

— #29, “songs of Zion the Beautiful,” Yehuda Amichai

Find the right place.  First rule of travel.
Once found, live there.
When asked, say, “Yes, this reminds me
Of some other place.  That is why I stay.”

 

From Good Heart

HIS RED CHAIR

A throne, really. I think we all agreed on that.
Arriving home to find it on fire, his cigarette
Pushing deep into the arm of the red chair,
With red flames to match, and he, asleep,
Not good asleep, that other kind, and we
Decided to save him, I guess, his arm seared,
His soft flannel shirt felt baked, yes, as if
Done, ready to come from the oven, so we
Lifted him, though not gently, saving his saving
And gentle is gentle, I think we sort of carried
Him to the lawn, then I went back inside,
Poured cool water onto the red chair, the flames
Kept pouring water down into the the deep recesses
Of the arm of the chair as if the chair was very
Very thirsty, and so was I, from saving him,
And from saving the chair, too, very thirsty.

 

From Happiness

 
COMFORT

“We have everything we need to believe
right here in front of us.”
                                          — Dabney Stuart

I put my mouth on the wound of the tree.
I breathed, a child in my father’s yard.
My breath was a Valentine, came from my red heart.

The tree lived long past the time of its wound.
My father went to his grave, and I believed in his death.
In the yard I would do his work, taught my children his name.

My mother inside the window watched us
and we turned to wave, her love for us involuntary,
streaming through the glass; she held her position.

My oldest son said, high in the branches of the tree,
“Here are his arms, I am swinging from his arms.”
The tree turned to me, promised to live until I could do

without him.

 

(First published in Shenandoah magazine.)

 

LOVING MOTELS

Feels American.
Shameless, somehow.
People I don’t know
love motels.  People
I don’t know love chlorine;
hundreds and thousands of people
I know and don’t know
love motel pools, whirlpools,
hot tubs, saunas.
People I love, people who love
me, those people love room service.
The sheer
intellectual weight: the idea of a phone,
wires, another phone, then food arriving.
Preposterous and sexual.
Sexy, like those bathing suits
you only wear in pools
in motels in Montreal, or
pools in Shawnee Mission, any pool
where no one you know will walk by
and know you.
Loving motels means loving
what has not rooted in your spirit.
Loving motels is loving
your very own ice bucket,
and the special shapes the ice takes,
is loving the shining cans of pop
sinking through the melting ice,
the sound aluminum makes
while you pretend to sleep,
is loving the hidden air conditioners
and the cable TV shows, and is
letting no one else, not even someone

 
you love, use your own wrapped
bar of soap, or your own little pack
of ten-months-old Sanka
or the sweet little hot plate
that just fits the baby coffee pot.
People like me and including me
love motels for the white towels
which remind us of something large
we have lost somewhere.  We love
the deep shag carpet we would hate
at home.  We love the key,
the number, the simple locks,
not like home where locks are hard,
needing a hip thrown against
the door, the dead bolt really dead,
we love the simple key with the simple
plastic shape: sometimes a fish,
sometimes a smooth, beige oval,
sometimes, if we’re lucky,
a shamrock, a clover, a doll or a dog.
We love motels for letting us
drive up, we get our own parking place
automatically, then we get love-
making that is not connected
to our own bed’s history,
and besides the white towels
we get white sheets
which we all love and never buy.
We get left alone,
we get the feeling of being alone,
and we need American to leave us
alone in the motels.

 

From The Only Window That Counts

 
SWANS

Cutting the swans free was the easy job.  They all knew the storm
was building.  They could see it move, county to county, then reach
the other side of the lake.  She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t
asked to take the laundry in, that was a hard job, strung on many
white clotheslines, poles anchored on either side of the canal, clothes
dancing like ghosts, barely reachable, as people leaned from either
side of the water to pull them free into the baskets.  The cabins on
shore already looked restless, as if they wanted to blow away just
from spite.  The summer people were frightened but competent.
When they told her to cut the swans free they gave her a hatchet.
She preferred scissors, but there was not time and the rope was
thick.  The swans were tethered together, tied around their necks
and then to each other. They were a group, not just three swans, or
six, maybe nine or thirteen, and the rope, though fairly tied, would
choke them if the wind threw them against the wall of any cabin.
Cut free, they could bob together through the wild waves, tied to
each other but not to the spike one of the summer visitors had ham-
mered deep into the ground at the beginning of the season.  The hat-
chet was easy to hold.  She swung it once and the ends of the rope
pulled apart from each other, swiftly unravelling until the ends were
like horses’ manes.  The swans drifted away from shore.  She
watched them for a long time, riding the lake’s waves like white
messages someone had remembered to send to a lover after too much
silence, after that time when certainty turns only to hope, but before
the dull vacancy sets in and completes the absence.  Cutting the
swans free was the easy job, and the wind was exceptional, and she
felt the shoreline wouldn’t be complete without her standing there.

 

From Household Wounds

 
THE DRIVE

The drive toward love
measures itself in the slant of winter
sun breaking on the city left behind,
curving on the bodies of hills.

And the drive toward love is written down
on maps that do not mislead; the map that names
the easiest part: signs, roads, what can be seen.

The car holds its course as I hold mine,
allows no mistakes.
I am the heart inside metal,
the hands that grip the circle,
I am a face in a small mirror,
looking backwards for safety,
looking forward to the “X”, the barely decipherable
“me” that lives on the map.

The drive toward love is no myth
though I felt the weight of a story already written,
no new ending requested;
though I felt the row of pines might circle
my car, force me back,
their needles threading the air with the winter word,
intruder.

In the drive toward love nothing is
safe: not the calculated miles of a changeable landscape,
not the words of his voice, “always head north or west”,
not the words of passion written down,
memorized like litany,
not even the love traveling the hidden bloodstreams
in all the trails of  my body,
all that blood
moving without question,
without hesitation,
toward my heart.

 

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