ADRIFT

Adrift in time,
days wash by
without regard
for date or name.
A whole week
vanished in August.
There is nowhere to go.
No one wants our dollars.
Once we modeled democracy.
Our story now's a dark comedy.
The President says the virus
will vanish like a mist.
No problem, he’s got this.
Magical realism is fine for
Isabel Allende and
Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
but has no place in a country where
       people die alone in crowded hospitals
       city folks swarm to the country
       morgue trailers line city streets.
A pandemic’s not a minor event,
a slight inconvenience.
It stops the world.
No magic can blind us
to the growing 
pile of corpses.
 
 

SCOTTIE

Warm at my back, black Aberdeen
dreams his fourteen years
chasing - never catching 
cat and deer.


Awake he seeks me if I 
leave his sight.
Howls the agony of
my upstairs to his down.


His almond eyes
give the lie to a gentle way
companion in migraine
patient with children.


He cannot hear me
when I call – stares heavenward
for long spells.  Smells better
than any dog I know.


I carry him upstairs,
set him on my bed,
turn out the light.
Warm at my back, black Aberdeen


Goodnight.

REDUCTION IN FORCE

As I walk the old railroad bed away from town
violets and periwinkles peer from bright green ground cover
and the funky protozoan scent of the Raritan fills my nostrils.
A cardinal’s scarlet flashes from a Sycamore overhead
and two gold finches,like acrobatic dandelions,
frolic through the green haze of trees. 
The path is lined with skunk cabbage, daffodils and buttercups,
their mix of intention and happenstance so like life’s.
High above, almost out of range, a hawk circles.
The hum of the nearby Interstate hardly matters here.
Its slinky spasms and urgencies are no longer my problem.
I’ve traded those for the white flowers of May Apples,
emerald velvet of moss and the disappearing tail of a red fox
trotting into the trees.
The world of commerce and its stresses
computers, paperwork, clocks  
and what they count
roll off me in a grateful sigh.
 
I have lost my job and gained the world.
 
 

WOMEN

We arrive with our eggs

carried like loose change
until time and sperm meet
and a baby grows where
nothing has lived before.

We cast the best eggs first
save lesser ones for later
like unmarried daughters
spinster cells - homely but
good at housekeeping.

The price for children is pain
mental and physical.
Childbirth is the well-kept secret
of forcing a bowling ball
through a buttonhole.

Unmentioned too are cramps which
yield only to tub, hot pad
or drugs - the feeling of one’s
innards being yanked out
like a dropped transmission.

And Lizzie Borden days when PMS
changes our minds to war zones.
Anger and profanity replace finer
feeling and a flat tire is reason
to call the suicide hotline.

Did I choose the wrong gender?
I wonder until 20 hours in
when they hand me you, made in me.
A miracle to erase
the memory of pain.
 

PROMISE

Please no box, no steel
to seal me from the earth.
Return me when it is my time
to all I was and wish to be again.
Release me to be born anew,
green and wonderful each Spring –
shoots sprouting from my heart
each part of me blooming.
Promise me.

NOTICE

A blue jay struts across the porch
to forage in our planters.
The red streak at eye level's a cardinal.
White “ribbons” wrap the trees - plastic prayer flags
to a God, gnome or Goddess unknown.
A cuban lizard pulls one off
the live oak on the corner.
As I leave Johnnie’s Bakery,
an Agama, his head and tail stripe
the color of children’s aspirin,
races ahead of me.
Johnnie’s bread has the taste of hope
hand-made, crusty, fresh.
So too does the air, laced with scent of
gardenia, magnolia and surf.
Beauty confounds the thought of so many dead.
Mourners bereft of goodbye are blind
with grief while fear heightens others'senses.
How can such extremes of bliss and horror
cohabit this planet?
The return of wildlife, clean air and
quiet seas make it clear
this earth can shrug us off
without notice.

GIFTS

My aunt gave me the sea
in a book big as me.   
Curled in a chair, I
wandered tidal pools
despite the Christmas chill
held hermit crabs
and starfish
inhaled salt air.
I walked that book’s pages
with childlike devotion
an eight-year-old explorer
baby beach comber.
 
Robert Frost’s snow drifted
into my 4th grade class and
I listen for his horse’s bells
as I practiced writing
and first used an ink pen.
Line by cursive line
his poetry became mine
along with the smell of ink,
the feel of good paper,
the love of pens.
I began my own poems
in solitude, sweet solitude…

TERROR

Dad dreams we flee the Nazis,
our ‘55 Buick low on gas.
We drive by the sea.
They come with guns.
They come in submarines.
He wakes sweating and terrified.
 
He shares his fear with me.
Nazis enter my dreams
dragging the stench of Dachau.
They come with guns.
They come in submarines.
I wake sweating and terrified.
 
Neo-Nazis march in Charlotte
armed - flags waving,
hatred palpable and near.
In dreams, I hear
the thud of boots
on the night stairs.

FLU

Hold every cell still
palm under chin
legs and feet balanced.
Stay in the trough
between cough and ache.
Sleep without waking
the dragon.
Forget how
tooth, limb
and eye
throb and cry
for relief.
Dream,
pray
hope
this will
pass.

GRANDDAUGHTER

She touches me
as if I'm rock or tree
immune to time
and gravity, 
impervious to woe.
The twenty years
we’ve left
(with luck and grace)
invisible to her.
 
In her constant now
our cardinal sings
the mac ‘n cheese is hot.
We walk the stones in her backyard
our sacred spot.
She will have time enough
to seek me
in rocks and trees
when I’m gone.

Today she leans
against my jeans 
and turns me
briefly immortal.
 
 

PERFECT DAYS

These mornings are it, life’s glory
disguised as just another Spring day.
Sunshine, leaving for work in the soft air -
a bit of traffic, not too much – an easy commute.
The sweetness of it, life here and now -
The no big deal, the simple day, the normalcy.
It’s what I yearn for when life turns cruel
     to drive over the bridge into town
     to breathe the smell of the river,
     to ride down Main Street as cherry trees blossom.
Give me a day like that, I think
one with no special thoughts or agonies,
a day to enjoy my habits with nothing amiss.
Sometimes I walk right by them without noticing,
these perfect days, driving down Main Street.

TREE MAN

Squirrels remind me of a man
I loved, who with rope and spike
mimicked them
climbing trees and swinging
limb from limb.
“They are my brothers”
he said.  Came home crying one day
because he crushed a nest,
killed babies, when he felled
an oak.
 
I stop to watch
a tree man work today.
High in the air he swings
in chain saw ballet. As
I watch him cut,climb     
leap from limb to limb,
my young life returns to me.
I see my love without a net
fearless and free
against the sky.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

INVASIVES

A flattened Cane Toad lies
in the street.  Its poison can kill a dog. 
They hunt by the garage at night
under the light - run when I come out 
leap into the garage door
with a THUD.  Invasive.
Poisonous. 
Not bright.
 
When the temperature drops
below 40 in South Florida,
iguanas fall from trees like rain.
“Don’t touch them” we’re told
these colorful creatures are dormant.
They advise us to kill them -these visitors
from the Jurassic. I cannot.
How could they know they’re trespassing?
 
Purple stalks of Lupine carpet Iceland
their color pops against green moss.
Their beauty out-competes
local flowers - poses for photo ops
with tourists picnicking by “Keep Off” signs,
blankets old lava flows and glacial melts.
Visitors stride from ships and planes to seek
this island’s treasures - yet urge it to trade
silkies for Sea World.
 
Loosestrife blooms each August at riverside
in my old town.  The mill wheel turns.
Art hangs in the stone museum. 
People come for the small shops and fine buildings
but stay for quiet streets overcast by ancient trees.
The area booms when the Interstate is finished -
corporate folks out-compete farmers. 
Agway loses to Walmart.
Commuters careen past hay wagons
on country roads.
 

WILD HORSES

Las Vegas. How glorious.
It’s a hot diggity dog free-for-all.
No planning, no zoning – 
            dump it all out there
            on dry-as-a-bone high desert,
                      a pawnshop, car-wash heaven.

Million dollar-gated communities rest flush against
junked car yards with razor wire fences,
            graffitied underpasses and washed out arroyos
            with undocumented poverty up the                          
                      wazoo.

In the middle of which someone has dropped
a statute of liberty, a sphinx and a pyramid
            stitched together by a roller coaster -
                      “Oh, say can you see!"
 
People flock here to drop millions.

 
“They’ve shipped the wild horses north.” The park ranger told me.
            “They couldn’t survive here.”

ORIGINAL SIN

To which sins shall I confess?
Panic when as an infant, you’d hold your breath and faint?
Complicity moving away from Grandpa?
Weakness, letting you visit your father who was still drinking?
I apologize
         for the dogs you did or didn’t like
         for shopping trips where you spent money like a Sheik
         for not punishing your $300 pre-Christmas phone bill
         for loving you when you were your least loveable.
We refract the light that spawns us
Blue permissiveness from black strictness
Green sprouts from shiny white bread
Time unearths our original sin,
imperfection.
 

SELF-MADE MAN

No one comes from nothing.
Who birthed him – potty trained him
taught him to tie his shoes?
The concept’s blind to the myriad
lives that touch our own -
    The workers who create roads
    The teachers, who teach math and language
    The plumbers who keep the sewers working
    The linemen who climb poles to keep the lights on
Who made the shirt he wears?
His shoes?  His socks?
His BVDs?
Rich or poor we all rely on weaver, seamstress
garbageman and priest
to help us through our days.
In this time of plague, we’re reminded
no infant can change its own diaper. 
 

NESTS

The whole place we built by hand
not just paper and paint.
We hung rafters from the sky
a chimney and bright metal roof
which sang in every rain.
We walked blank land and invented
life anew in the Blue Ridge
as if anyone ever starts again.
Years later a blind date remarked
“You’ve spent your life on houses.”
True. Like a nest-obsessed bird, I’ve
painted my way from town to town
designing space for friends and music,
tables to sit at and chairs to read in.
I envisioned a family unlike
my scattered patchwork
which rarely gathers where I live.
All that time and work
for a life dreamed of
a love desired – perhaps that’s
why birds have not just nests
but wings.

HEARTS

I did not know when I birthed my son
that he would take my heart with him.
 
At night, desperate for rest
half asleep, barely present
I’d attempt to nurse him.
The choice frustrated us both.
 
One night when he cried, I took
him downstairs to my rocker,
made tea, made us comfortable
and realized he was my life.
 
He grew. I watched my heart
learn to walk, read
navigate friendships, school
and grieve a first love anew.
 
He became a man
who with his spouse created
three children into
whom he placed his heart.
 
Together, powerless but present
remembering our own youth
we watch their spirits grow
as they navigate their lives.
 
We’re participant and spectator both
since we freed our hearts
to beat, break and love
inside our children.