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. Deposit Photos Image 124351762_xl_2015.jpg
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She fell like seed
on good ground –
giving herself as final
gift to land she’d
walked and worked
the love of liberty –
her fierce, unyielding heart,
In memory of Anne Priest 1927 – 2010.