“Sumac,” “Mayumi,” “Sister” in The Valparaiso Poetry Review
“Politics” and “Winter Day on the Whirlpool Trails” in Norwegian Writers Climate Campaign (NWCC) (Forfatternesklimaaksjon)
“Yahrzeit,” “At the Wedding,” “Gigan: October” in Diode Poetry Journal
Five poems from The Bones of Winter Birds (Terrapin Books, 2019)
I have returned to this loft among redwoods
in the California mountains.
Gradually the night steadies itself around me.
Outside, the tiniest rain begins to heal the desiccate hills.
Rain, small sweet rain, bringing these hills of my childhood
back to tenderest green. I have carried so much fear
that those I love will suffer. As they will.
Pools begin to gather where quail nest in the darkness.
I think we are provided for,
said my dying friend when I asked him
if he sensed what lies beyond pain.
Let the mothers rush toward their babies
and wrap their arms around them tight enough
to hold back even the sea if it would harm them.
Let the anguish melt from the fathers’ eyes.
This summer, the birds are going crazy with melody
in the jungle of wisteria and privet
that shelters my house, and at dawn the air
is fresh—there is sweetness in my life—
One Christmas Eve when our five were small
they asked to sleep on pallets so they could
be near the tree, these children of divorce
who came and went, who were apart from me
for months at a time. I sneaked into the room
just to be near the beloved tumble of arms
and legs, just to hear them breathe. That
bodily adoration. One whispered in her sleep,
one held her brother’s toe, and the tree
with its shadowy packages loomed over them
in the dark, lit by a slant of light through the door.
When I first learned about war, I would
lie in bed brute with horror that a man
could tear a baby from its mother’s arms.
That a man could choose to tear a baby
from its mother’s arms. But so we see it now, each day.
Patio with Black Door
Adobe wall and door,
four rhomboids of sunlight,
and in the upper left a wedge of sky—
in Abiquiu, in August,
even the lizards seek shelter
when mirage shakes the desert like fever—
nothing but water and earth.
Nothing holds desert at bay
like the smooth, shadowed flank
of this adobe.
Because you are far
from home, you imagine shelter
and tell yourself a story
about inside. Apricots ripen, tawny
against the worn adobe.
Carp glint like sullen flames
beneath the moss-green pads of lilies.
Gaunt in long black cotton, a crooked-fingered woman
stitches a fine seam
in the blue lace dress she sews
for the statue of the Virgin.
Her dog, half coyote, thumps his tail
and dreams of rabbits—the old quick chase
through the creosote. His lips twitch
as he sprawls in a spill of sunlight.
Out of the earth they come,
and all things gather their separate radiance.
In Abiquiu, in August,
flecks of quartz and mica—the least
barbed quill, the ice-fine needle aureoles
around the barrel cacti—leaf-green, poppy-red,
splotches, scales, and claws of every mountain boomer
blaze in this dizzying light.
But the door—
as if a woman
opened her dark dress
to show you heat
while around her, viridian leaves
shifted and turned in the dappled summer.
The carp wait sleepless in the moonlight.
Heavy with nectar, the apricots wait.
Crickets among the branches
begin to chant, incessantly chafing and stirring,
and you stand
before the patio’s
But you lived here. You brought the baby home here,
driving as if on eggs in the old yellow Plymouth
up the curving half-mile drive planted with daffodils,
past the front lake with its Canada geese, past
the Angus bull in his field and the Angus cows in theirs,
past the low white house and the swimming pool
nestled behind a squared-off boxwood hedge
where, in summers, your kids were welcome to swim
from ten to noon (chop chop, out by lunchtime!
your landlady, the famous beauty, would tell them)—
you brought the baby home to this tiny rented cottage
on the vast estate south of Charlottesville, with its
three barns, its fields, the steep hill down to Ray’s
the farm manager’s house, where his hound dog
flopped in the sun, and beyond Ray’s into the forests.
Your kids picked forget-me-notes down by the stream
that ran through the woods, and rambled around
to find stuff for “The Nature Table”—lichen-furred
sticks, flaps of moss, a turtle shell, striate rocks,
and once, lambs’ tails, yes, actual curling lambs’ tails
that had fallen off when Ray cut the circulation
with rubber bands. Did you think it would not change?
Did you think the enormous king snake would still
twine itself in August through the pool’s boxwood,
and the cows would still bellow for their babies,
and the children would still— Ah, there was sorrow
even then, fights sometimes, and because all but the baby
were children of divorce, wracking sobs at partings,
did you think you could remember without pain?
But there was so much love. And to go back
after nearly thirty years, and to see the fields empty,
geese gone, cows gone, sheep gone, peeling paint
and broken windows on the big house, pool a stink
of algae, flagstone terraces choked with weeds,
and your own little cottage derelict, capsized, moldy—
you peered through a grimy window and what
did you see? A plastic doll, some trash, a box.
Nothing, nothing. Not even the ghosts of children.
falling on him when I first knew him, as he leaned his head back, eyes shut, to the sun, in the Plymouth convertible. Falling on those strawberry fields that long-ago June twilight when we stopped after the violent thunderstorm, and on our muddy feet as we walked with our baskets, row after row. Falling on the berries, bruised, almost overripe, to be eaten quickly—then that night at the Monterey Inn, when I sat in the bathtub eating strawberries, strawberries, strawberries.
Sunlight doesn’t stop just because we do. Hard to think there are lovers now who are just as new as we were. Sun is its own thing—may go out in a few billion years, as the scientist said, to which a lady in the front row gasped and asked him to repeat it. He did, and she replied, “Oh, thank God, I was afraid a moment ago you said a few million.”
And here right now as I sit on this path on the campus where we teach, lawn equipment whirs around me, and students pass with their Ah’m gone go Southern soft voices and the squich squich of their flipflops—here right now, sun’s all over this page except where shade is, sweet scalloped shade breaking the Mississippi glare. Rainbow on the page, the way my glasses and eyelashes reflect light, prismatically. And sunlight stroking the birds’ throats so it comes out as song.