VIGIL

She is sixteen when leukemia claims her
a girl of nut-brown hair and letter sweaters 
the brightest star in the local firmament.
She outshines her brother even in death.
The church overflows onto Route 12
the April afternoon of her funeral.
She leaves behind a mother, a brother, a father.
Each evening the family sits at her graveside
as if awaiting benediction.
That summer her friends bring picnics to her grave.
The red votive lamp on her headstone is always lit.
It shines in easy view of the family’s kitchen window
and glows warmly through
	blizzard, rain and star shine.
Deer walk daily through the churchyard 
	years sift down like snow.
The son graduates, moves to Bradford.
The father works and works and works.
The mother sits
	by the glowing lamp.









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PERSISTANCE

Why so many rules, Shepherd?
Have you no faith your flock will return
Wiser and grateful for your fences
Glad of food and shelter?

Our boundaries are our own
Close or far, sharp or smooth
Set by instinct, fear or faith
Curiosity or passion.

Not all live long
Some return their bodies early
For soil to recycle but
Matter abides - ours and theirs.

And what of spirit?
If the world wastes nothing
Do not spirits too persist
Awaiting their next vessel?

FLYING FREE

To go in a puff of feathers, a glory of days,
Soft as clouds of air
Gone – gone – gone.
There are worse things,
Lying there
Suffering in white sheets – tethered to machines’
Endless beeping – intake and outtake monitors -
The blue of fluorescent lights pulsing about you.
A constant parade of people checking, checking, checking,
Reluctant to let you go in case they might save you.
            ‘For what?’ is the unasked question.
            ‘For what – please?’
It’s late in the day for golf.
Americans fear death like quiet.
            Both are becoming hard to find.
            Shop Rite makes me bless my deafness.
 
Feathers and glory
It isn’t all bad to explode out of life
Rather than wait for some soul to pull the plug or
An electrical storm to do what people fear.
            Please God send a power outage -
            I’m outta here.
 
 

FOXCROSS FARM

When I think of the farm
it’s the stone bridge and country
road curving by the low barn.
It’s Tony’s tomatoes, white peacocks.

When I think of the farm, I see pine
trees, green pastures, the
bramble roses by the creek
sheep standing in the field.

When I think of the farm
I watch women spinning wool
the whir of wheels descant to
soft voices and gentle laughter.

When I think of the farm, I see
Airedales, Romney sheep,
a rabbit and Rhode Island Reds,
a well-fed Peaceable Kingdom.

I do not think of the ground
we walked last night when
one of their flock went missing
fearing death had stalked a lamb.

When I think of the farm
I don’t see Anthony striding the fields
Julie peering into corner and cranny
in tense, sweaty anxiety.

Death’s but a hair’s breadth
away each day. It makes
sweet our brief walk through time
I don’t think of that.

SMALL ABANDONMENTS AND LEAVE TAKINGS 

I thought elephants danced in the car
as my aunt clasped me, age two with pneumonia
and mom drove to hospital – I screamed when they
left so the doctors forbade future visits.
I was alone with nurses and needles
for two long white weeks.

Pat left me tied, age five, to a phone pole.
She didn’t do it. Gerard and his buddies did
but my sister, my protector, walked away
left me bound ‘til dinnertime alone
next to the street, a kindergartener
in suspenders and red Keds.

In 9th grade, Sandi broke up with Tom.
He asked me out – the blond boy of my dreams!
Sandi coached me for a week on
dancing, clothes and French kissing.
Then, outside Grunnings, his friends laughed,
teased me – the date was a joke. Didn’t I get it?

Jamie had a sister – institutionalized.
I had no brother. We were siblings for each other.
I felt safer with him than anyplace I know.
He married young, grandson by 52. A mole grew.
Jamie, who could corral whole rooms with laughter,
called one afternoon to say he did not feel
like he was dying. But he did.

Glenn “with two n’s, like Glenn Miller”
had wave blue eyes I swam in.
Knew me better than I knew myself.
Is married now to someone else.
He called to make amends –
apologize for choices he knew better than.
Said he loves me still – he always will.

I saw the color fall from mom’s face.
“She’s going!” I said.
Pat and I grasped her hands.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.”
This is it. So gentle.
Then gone. Her final gift to us.
Death, fearless, light as air.

PASSAGES

Midnight wings unfurl
into updrafts of spirit.

Does seed fear the ground?
Waves the sea?

A dog barks in a mountain village
as color falls from treasured face.

What’s the weight of a breath?
The heft of a sigh?

A husk drops to the ground to
rattle and roll down the hedgerow.

In their earthen den, two cubs root
for a nipple as the sow awaits spring.