Friday, February 12, 2010

Poem #37: Upon Making Her 24th Valentine

Dearest Rose,
for whom finishing things
is always challenging, with the only blemish
on your folded report card:
Does not complete work on time!
angering you so. For a cardinal
out the window, the fire truck passing,
books waiting on shelves, adult
conversations with all those words,
and your little brother—everything that pulls
at you, like a never-ending tug-o-war.

But here you are, belly to linoleum,
elbow-propped, pencils and crayons rolling
out from you in every direction. Focused.
Project mode. Spread across the kitchen,
construction paper love for every friend
and all four second grade teachers—
not just your own! A sticker stuck in your hair,
pink fingers, black smudge across your face,
you carefully scribe messages like:
“You are the best math teacher in the world!”
You use up four green markers and boast
over this, and fret about Sarah, left off the list,
forgotten. You will give her half of yours!
Though it takes a full day, you finish
the 24th card. When it comes to giving,
you have no problem. Giving, always giving
away little pieces of your heart.
Love, Mom

Poem #36: Loaves

~ for Richard
Up before anyone, you nudge the house awake,
coaxing lamps, placing your hands gently in drawers,
shuffling pots and pans, pre-heating. Above,
I bury my face in blankets. Another snow day!
The children breathe deeply in their beds,
so I retreat, let sleep take me back
into its arms. What we don’t see:

the large bowl you fill. In the beginning, an egg.
Floury innocence, all-purpose love. A pinch
of patience. A sprinkle of this and that. Vanilla,
which itself is love. Your sleepy musings. You turn
it all round with a wooden spoon. Sometimes,
you add chocolate chips like secret kisses.
The day before, I would have grimaced
at the oily bananas on our kitchen counter,
called them spent, swatted at the fruit flies.
But you see potential, an essential ingredient.

The warm scent seeps comfort through
the walls, meanders up stairs, into our dreams.
I conjure steaming pots of coffee.
Do the children dream of milk?
Your wordless love speaks to our stomachs,
which answer, without our knowing.
When the bread is done, and the timer has sung,
our eyes finally wake. Like a gift, it waits
on the range. The oven door an open mouth
greeting us. We huddle in its breath.
Sometimes we are grumps and say, “Another
bread!” But, if we tallied your love in bread,
we would be rich in love, rich like a bakery.

And then the butter! The melt, the spread,
the bread warming us from the inside.
You and I smile at each other across the table.
Rowan licks his lips. Rosabelle licks the drips
down her wrists. This is love! Yours for us.
At times, life is as simple as this.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Poem #35: The Thaw

In every other yard, the gravel eyes of snowmen and women slide
a tear-like procession downward, carrot noses tip and tumble
from Picasso faces to land in gritty snow, where they shrivel
and become host to spongy black mold. Buttons jump off one by one.
Mouths sink inward or fall completely away. Rains fall, cleansing
it all. Tree limb arms cannot hold themselves up. To make the leap
from the playful occupations of children to death, the ravages
of disease, or a loved one slowly leaving seems adolescent,
like the poems filling the local college literary journal, titled
Footprints or Airy or something like Fate and Fury,
but it’s February and the sun has been absent for weeks.
I’m not alone; this neighborhood breeds artists and writers
and others who must see more than merely snow when driving by
all these melting shapes. I write these words: "The slip from
whiteness and form to nothingness summons something like sadness," and consider submitting to the aforementioned journal.
Almost no traces of the inches of snow that fell over the weekend,
except these grey, jagged half-bodies—a solitary round ball
wearing a skirt, a headless snow-being holding a broom,
as if chores must still get done. The collapse, the melt,
the thaw—torsos hanging on, but letting go. And those of us left
shuffling around in galoshes, picking up the mess,
the clothes in a soggy pile. Scarf on a lump. Standing there
staring down at what was. Did we even snap a photo
of this? A damp hat in hand, I wonder where to put it now.

Poem #34: Tom Waits,

Pour me another absinthe and holy water—I can catch up. Thank you
for the poem-songs, the nightmares, the fiction, the grit and gut.
Take me with you; I’m on board. Thanks for the roundtrip ticket
to the strip club—or was it a church?—housed in a jangling lyric,
for remembering sons newly home from war. I’m almost there.
For sounding like my grandfather, a preacher, my dying lover,
a Victrola, the choke and smoke, the gravel in your throat,
the blues and gospel hour, the sugar-tongued-coffin-salesman
of love. Speaking of love, I love your percussive thump, your bull
horn, your bag o’ tricks, the slap-of-a-toilet-seat instrument,
the high school marching band glockenspiel, your broken guitar,
your pump organ, your anything-makes-a-noise. Don your tall hat
and plume. Let me waltz with you, get lost in your ghost land.
Hold my hand. Lean me against the jukebox, feed it sleeping pills,
let’s sway to the sax. I will close my eyes while you sing, lose
myself in the inner workings of your dreams, like a timeless clock,
with the tick and tock and unexpected knock of cuckoos. Let’s run
through the carnival of your soul, casting away spider webs
and sunsets of worrywart, with the soundtrack on the wrong speed,
while digging deep in our pockets, which are more like wells,
for one last locket holding a photograph of someone we might
have loved, a century ago. Keep on rummaging, churning music
out of everything—like the bar drunk bellied up with the tattoo
of an eyeball on his forehead buying shots for the amputee
in love with the vampire-turned-Christian for the sake
of his mother-in-law. Someone said, “Tom waits for no one.”
Or was it time? Slow down. Wait for me, limping along,
kicked but inspired. Until the red velvet curtain swings shut,
until the song ends and another begins, I’m grateful.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Poem #33: Tapestry

Like a solitary droplet of blood,
a barn sewn onto white snow.
Envision a needle poised sky-high,
an eye the world could fit into,
an unimaginably large hand, god-like.

Not too far from the barn,
a patched clapboard church,
churchgoers speckle the hillside
coming down, as if to a ringing bell,
for a morning of winter worship.

The sun frays outward, rays dangling
like strings, melting things. Imagine the maker
breaking thread with teeth, like an ordinary artist,
while pulling it together—stories, lives,
the fabric of it all stitch by delicate stitch.

And out from the church in the vale,
a small town with a school, a hospital,
and a museum, and then other towns,
and cities, countries, continents, and bodies
of water. All the busy people!

And if something were to get a grip
and pull and rip, tearing at the pieces,
unraveling the stories, the lives,
finding the threadbare, the weak spots,
could the holes wrought ever truly be mended?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Poem #32: Nashville National Cemetery

My son thinks the headstones
resemble teeth jutting up
from an earthen mouth.
He mimics the toothy grin—
laughing in the face of mortality.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poem #31: Hibernation

A tiredness long as shadows in the sun.
Breathing slows. Eyes roll.
Heart beats a holding pattern,
remembers first love. Legs twitch
and sprint through grassy fields,
hands cup petals and creek water.
This test-run for death. January
somnolence. Second gestation.
Laying down in hollowed-out darkness,
moon rays casting, nature’s snow
blankets covering, soundproofing.
Snow quiet. Just before the stretch,
the yawn, the new dawn, the pencil
to paper—the poem, the song, or child
who becomes the mother of a child
who becomes the mother of a child
who becomes the mother of a child.