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.
 
 

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. 
 

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.
 

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.
 

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.