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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Willamette

The silt-slipped skin off a mounded barrow
clouding inlets as the rain carries a wet dust
down, tears mixed with mud on my cheeks.
Deckled edges—oak and cottonwood leaves
turning to coal, slime mold tumuli, drowned
grass. A slick of algae greases where I stand,
so I straddle a tine of tarnished water—a rill
forking from creek into river—unsteady on
a fallen branch. (The crows above me all see
how the river bisects me, how it seeps right
through me, all the chambers of my heart.)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Late afternoon

H. Pellikka, "Kaleidoscope," 2005

Dream-memory fragments, crumbs left
in the bottom of a sack full of childhood
places—as if I had eaten them all, as if
I could. Places I’ve lived, sweet and salty
as popcorn disappearing on my tongue:
dandelions pushing aside a sidewalk, or
naphthene aromatics from a fresh-oiled
asphalt road. Late summer in Rockland
County, shot through with veins of light
from Lake Mary near Flagstaff. The lost
bits of towns and cities. (I wake from my
nap, finger the broken pieces still muzzy
from sleep, lick the salt off my fingertips
from whose tears I don’t, can’t recall.)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday

The cat sits glowing in the sunlight that pools
on the bed. She’s forgotten to tuck her tongue
in after licking my thumb, and leans into my
hand, and purrs. The sun teases her (she’s so
damp, cowlicked from her ablutions), setting
opalescent diadems that catch in her fur. Out
the window, every green leaf’s now a peridot—
the bees rise then set on tourmaline fireweed.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Gorgoneion

Faye Wei Wei, "To prepare a face to meet the faces
that you meet
," 2017, courtesy Cob Gallery

I was searching for a word for this epoch,
our American anti-epithalamium, every
stinking breakage a muddy defilement of
our marriage bed—the marriage of polity,
one to another in community, neighbors
whose goodwill is now mocked, kindness
dragged half-naked from her home then
whipped through the streets. I dreamt of
the lexicon Sappho’d put under her pillow
to keep it safe from the outrages of this
present future—I’d like to weep; I won’t.

Instead I’ll find a tow sack and gather up
rattlesnakes, whisper the Gorgon’s name
to them, turn them loose, then watch as
every cheap imported Gadsden flag turns
those who’d break our bonds, to stone.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Catch

dcJohn, "ball and glove," 2005

The ball was as big as the sun and smelled like
glove oil, and leather, and fresh cut grass, and
I could barely hold it in my too-large mitt. The
sound, when it hit the pocket just right—a soft
cough of air; a single, hollow-palmed clap. My
dad, smiling, happy, playing catch with me. He’s
receding now, that memory pulling away like a
stagehand’s trick curtain, overlaid with news of
children who’re as old as I was then (maybe six,
seven) all sobbing for their mommas, their dads,
children tossed up into bright desert air, falling
among strangers in a nightmare game of catch.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Yardwork

As I soak the ground where the clay’s
packed tight at the trunk, loosen its
chokehold, soften it, a thousand tiny
black ants bubble up—this chitinous
fountain, ants clutching pale seeds of
larvae, bodies profligate as the tree’s
yellow blooms. The ants, as ordered
in their panicked disorder as the beat
of my racing heart. I shudder—they’re
hidden again. The afternoon sun gnaws
links off the laburnum’s golden chains
until they’re licked up by a north wind,
dust devil of petals spiraling. Drifts of
petals, gilding the asphalt as a fat bee
settles, dozes off beneath a leaf. If only
you were here to see all this with me.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Transparent

Thomas Howison, sketch of a gnarled and
fallen apple tree
, from an 1820 lithograph

My guess is, she was planted when the
cottage was built. Almost a centenarian,
neglected long enough that her water-
spouts were almost thick as her central
trunk; one low heavy limb snapped clear
off from the weight of her apples. That
was just after we’d bought the cottage,
before we’d moved in. She covered our
yard with windfalls; the cottage smelled
like cider for weeks, and it struck me,
how her generosity almost broke her.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Base line

Tom Gill, "Valley of the Shadows," 2013

Taking a measurement, in the sunlight,
before the rains come again. Unlike the
gentlemen surveyors who parsed and
parceled this earth with a Jacob’s Staff
and a Gunter’s chain, I frame my survey
by ear, by heart. Links in a chain pulled
tight—the base line the longest line in a
survey, made by our hands clasped, our
fingers twined until a measure’s marked.
Marked in loneliness past and to come—
the times when the chain’s folded away,
when shadows lengthen until we’re lost
altogether—this, my base line of love and
loneliness, scribed in the same measure.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Passers-by

National Parks Service, 2015

My mother didn’t see it, but I did—a
gray fox, tail tip black as the burnt pine
stumps we’d passed. It was hurrying
across the asphalt road, towards the
woods, stopped while we drove past.
A long look over its shoulder. It met my
stare with its own—yellow eyes in ash
gray (a gold inclusion in smoky quartz)
so feral, so present—and then gone, off
into its own day as we went into ours.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cresset

skeeze, 2009

I’d like to forge one in the shape of my hands
to hold chili pepper suet-cakes (not fatwood),
keep the flame of a mating pair of nuthatches
lit. Or maybe cast a cresset in a lost-wax mold
from a whorl of grand fir branches, bracketing
a wildfire with iron needles that’ll never burn.
Beauty made to fill with heat and light, like us.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Guanyin

Her makers knew his lidded gaze,
inward-seeing, outward-looking,
must take us all into the heart of
compassion as pure gift. Into loving
stillness. Her gilding an homage to
all the graces scintillating from his
transcendence. The venerated one
who listens to the cries of every last
living creature has been recast as an
exquisite mirror, ornament riffling in
waves on every surface, yet surfaces
empty of all but the light comprising
you, and me, and all her beloveds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shiva

Jay Johnson, "Alabaster Cave," 2012

1. Belay

A half-buried boulder or an ancient pine
will do for an anchor if I’m to come back.
Black basalt, soot-blackened bristlecone
where I set my tie-in, wearing the bright
biting jewelry (cams, nuts, hexes) for an
ascent later, jingling as I lean backwards
over the shaft—this hell-mouth whose
headframe timbers have rotted away. I
loosen my grip (rope smooth as a whip
snake) and glide down, down into dark.

Down into dark, the place where coarse-
grained rock scoffs at my descent, brakes
my entry. This is the place beyond light.
I carry a moon on my forehead, see the
shine as I scroll down from basalt to wet
gabbro. Weak orb smaller than my hand,
pinpricking light like stars in the faceted,
mafic stone. I can’t see my hands, now,
but I feel them—warmed as the friction
slows me. I’ll need friction to rise again.

O Geographers, there’s no map you can
give me better than my own fingertips to
guide me along the whorled topographies
of this crumbling mineshaft. I’ll orient by
by the rope remaining, by the silver dollar
of my headlamp—a coin tossed into the
seep so far below. I’ve come to retrieve
something, leave something, mourn my
beloved dead who begged for death while
alive. I’ve come to dig within the waste.


2. Taharah

I’ve come to retrieve my father’s body, to
free it from service to its own decay. I have
come to bury his body myself, in winding
sheets soaked in benzoin and slaked lime,
his body turning the color of tannic water
as he lay dying. He was light as a bird, flesh
tapering down to bone, and yet I know I’ll
find it impossible to carry him up and out
of here now he’s dead. If I can find him. If I
(dulled with grief) can find my way home.

I sat with him, at the end, talked to him even
though he gave no sign of hearing my brave
chatter—firstborn child, a daughter trying to
shepherd him safely through dying. What did
I know, did I think I knew, that would help? I
knew the names of so many things he wasn’t
interested in (although even before then, he
had been slowly collapsing within himself, no
interest in new things as the old things slid by,
unreal as a city shimmering in a heat mirage.)

He didn’t know where he was. All his maps all
gone, the man who never traveled without one
told the doctor he was in Connecticut with his
cousins, maybe, or an aunt. I never had a poker
face—he could tell he’d misspoken and yet did
not know how. We were in the desert, not the
verdant East, we were wandering in the desert
parched, waiting for Miriam’s Well to reopen,
but it would not. He had forgotten how to ask,
how to eat, forgotten everything but the pain.


3. Bottom

The moon’s below me when I look down, a sump
pump having trapped it in a jet black pool. At the
end of my rope and the climb down, edges bleed
into edges, dissolve into the shape of my shadow
cast on the walls. Knee-deep, stepping into it and
holding. Gathering my gear. A slow incline, a slow
walk—wading through the sharp-smelling runoff
towards a slight movement of air. A lateral shaft
that opens into a natural cavern. I mark an entry.
My small moon, lighting up pearls on stalagmites.

A room of salt, and calcium, and damp. So much
like the bodies we are, the bodies we were. Even
here, animal life—blind, translucent creatures—
move towards food and love, away from pain, the
way I do. (At the end of his rope, my father pinned
by pain—moving away from food, pushing away at
love. Every touch, branding by fire.) My father who
tossed me in the air when I was four, topsy-turvy,
both of us laughing as he’d catch me over again. I
stand, unable to cry, my cheeks wet from the seep.


4. Remains

Transformed in dying, he resembled those sleepers
found preserved in bogs. I didn’t want to wake him,
since every last waking touch had been agony; and
now, a mottled, desiccated wholeness—unwakeable.
What was left of my father was inaccessible, but not
yet gone. There was no comfort in being with him,
solace remote as the clouds beyond the mountains
to the east, but I stayed long as I could, wanting to
ease his passage away, away, to comfort him as he’d
comforted me when I was a small child, as he left us.

There was a service. There were words we said, in
Hebrew and in English. There were honors, and a
folded flag in somber ceremonies of presentation.
We were his children, his kin, his friends, but he’d
gone. After taps, the silence. The dry seed coils of
Chilean mesquite rattled in the wind, a thin snare,
scrub peyos. The seeds traveled from the Atacama
to attend. I took two brittle pods, these seeds that
traveled, so like my father, so like me, so far away
from where we came, not close to where we’d go.


5. Ascent

Months have passed, or minutes. One moon’s
burnt out, and a second, but I have a third full
of light thin and blue as skim milk, and in that
weak moonlight I find my rope, loop a friction
knot, hitch myself up out of the runoff. What
I’d come to retrieve I’ve found, and pocketed.
What I’d come to leave, I’ve left in a cave wet
with precipitate, with tears. My father’s body
helped create mine—it’s gone from my sight,
untraceable. A loop, a knot; I’m rising up, out.


6. Kaddish

Not the great howl of other poets, for me. I’ll
sit with my grief, I’ll say Kaddish (not as we’re
told—to pray it in a group—but alone, without
regard for tradition), I’ll forget the words. It’s
possible words have left me altogether. I will
continue this holy sacrilege silently, holding a
memory of my father when he was younger,
when I was a small child, when he’d toss me
up in the air, both of us laughing, and I’d fall
back safe in his arms. This will be my yahrzeit.



Sunday, February 25, 2018

Thaw

This music—when the alder and maple drop
their icy lace handkerchiefs on the soft mud
beneath Sol's melting gaze—songs made of
streams and cast-off shells, over then under
frozen ledges layered and fractured as mica.

This music sings me into silence. No sound but
my slow inhale, exhale—I hold still, even when
a pebble, frost-heaving down an embankment,
splashes, startling me. It's Spring, the creek is
playing, tumbling, singing its thawing. So am I.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Vernation

Amanda Slater, "Dicksonia antarctica,
Circinate vernation," 2014

The compost disassembling under fiddlehead
leaves, sighing out our collective breaths held
since last winter—stretching unfurling croziers
to shepherd us from chores to mysteries. Look
how the mist rises before sunup, washes out all
the color from the gifts I brought you: the lump
of sweet butter shaken from cream, jade horns
opening from a mat of pixie cup lichens, a loose
scrub-jay feather carrying the summer sky. Let's
set our old bones on fire, make ourselves a joy-
filled crucible for the bud-break post-vernation.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cormorant

Thorolf Holmboe, "Hekkende skarv (Nesting cormorants)," 1903

I glanced up and saw a smooth spot
in the river's current—almost a lens,
a focus for my eye, and I watched it.
In a moment both fast and slow: the
needle-beak piercing the scrim, then
the rest of the bird, dark as wet slate,
holding the wriggling silver crescent
of a fish, or the moon, swallowing it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Ballast seed

Perkons, "Purple Loosestrife," 2017

Also see Meyer's "How the Invasive Plants of
New York
Represent the City’s Colonial Past"

All potential, a mote, the glossy testa
keeping its secrets until the ballast box
is scraped empty, until the rains come.
And the rains do come, kissing every
pursed micropyle until (imbibing and
besotted, drunk and stirring) one coat
comes loose, splits open. An everyday
miracle, an invasion—a radicle nosing
down the way a newborn roots, eyes
closed tight, for another sweet drink.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Binding

Rembrandt van Rijn, "Woman Reading," Date Unknown

In a small stone building, dating back to
the Revolutionary War—this was where
we went to find treasures hidden within
a second skin of foil-stamped buckram,
or sheathed in Mylar. My small hand in
my father’s. The reverent hush, the mild
vanillin-tannic perfume of decomposing
lignin, cellulose. This was where time was
unbound, where a child like me could run
her fingers along a spine then listen in at
the grown-ups’ table, sit with ink-stained
dinner guests from ages past and to come.
I’d bring all my arms could hold up front—
my offertory, placed on a librarian’s altar.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Squall

simpleinsomnia, "Crying little girl reaches
for someone off camera
," uploaded 2016

The toddler—red-faced, wild. I can’t
recall how we’d soothe her, soothe
ourselves. Did we never learn how?
Her back stiff and arched, choking as
she sobs “NNNnnnoooooo,” perfect
tiny hands clenching then opening to
flail at the air. Oh, little one. Your cry
fades, decays as you’re carried past,
carrying me past now and backwards
to the edge of perception, to where
the audible spectrum dissolves in the
backwash of cosmic noise, your tears.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Harp

"Drachm of Ephesos with bee, struck under Prytanis,"
387–301 BCE, Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Even Charon needs a place to rest, in the stygian
twilight—a place to put his feet up, close his eyes
for a moment as he waits for the next passengers
to appear. A houseboat made of reeds, a gift from
Ningal—no, we’d never see it, even if we knew it
was there. Sitting low in the water, blackened with
tar, sagging from the weight of a thousand million
coins given to pay for passage—prow and stern like
horns, like the edges of the thinnest crescent of a
waxing moon made of obsidian. Floating shelter for
the ferryman’s break. When the wind catches a cut
edge, the scow moans like a blues harp, the same
tuneless tune Charon hums under his breath once
back at work, loading. While he misses his moment
of leisure, he’ll gladly palm the light off our coins.