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THE BURDEN OF GOING FORWARD


I have been watching "The French Chef"
on TV while painting my fingernails. But I cannot
be the perfect hostess you expect me to become
when you entertain prospective
clients. You insist

that the time I spend trying to make
polite conversation is very important,
but I am secretly bleeding from within.
Forgive me if I say what I mean

instead of gossiping on the phone. I feel
claustrophobic attending PTA meetings.
I am tired of talking, required to follow
the rules of parliamentary
procedure and, angry

at our worn-out phrases, I have a mind
to contradict what I hear, embracing
the truth as if examining an unexploded bomb
that has fallen near our house.

Well respected in the community, you coach
a Little League baseball team and volunteer
at the Church. Yet I need to break
the connection, divide the photographs,
the furniture, solicitous

mutual friends, these objects from the past
out of which disappointment has arisen.
They define the boundaries of acceptable
conduct, but I must do what I can
to relinquish them,

because sympathy is an essential ingredient
I seem to be missing, an inclination
of light I need if I hope to recover.
I swing the pendulum of uneasy
counterpoint, seeking balance

when going to therapy twice a week
is barely enough to prevent me from thinking
that everything is my fault, or wishing
that the children did not remind me
so much of you. I accept

the burden of going forward attenuated
by the death of elm trees and the coming
of winter, by planting indoor flowers and trying
a new hairstyle. But when you suggest
that I take an evening class,

perhaps how to fold colored Japanese paper
into the forms of birds and imaginary creatures
with which I can line the countertop,
I decide to enroll

in Auto Mechanics so that I can fix my car
and know when my timing is off, without
depending on the men at the garage to tell me
if my distributor is sending the right
charge to my spark plugs.

The Kit-Cat Review,Volume 2, Number 4, Spring 2000

 

THE WORLD BEFORE BIRTH


Once the summer crowds have departed
and the lifeguard stations are removed
for storage, what few joggers who pass me
pretend to be too out of breath
to speak, and I take

my walks in privacy. Surprised
when I find a line of boot prints
in the drifting snow, I think
of the fossilized tracks of an extinct
species, the signs

they leave being effaced by the wind.
Through openings in the ice I can
tell that the sand still forms
ripples on the bottom, no matter
how cold the air becomes

above the surface, and the strident
gulls have been replaced by ravens
flying so closely overhead
I hear their wings whistling
in the silence.

They seem intent upon a destination
that keeps shifting from one
stand of pines to another,
and as I cut across the empty
parking lot

to skirt the picnic tables stacked
in rows, I am also uncertain what it is
I crave. Though my shadow lengthens,
looking back at the lake
through the leafless sumacs

I see a fire that burns through a break
in the clouds. I watch it turn
the gray world suddenly incandescent
and I expect a shape of uncompromising
brightness to appear.

The Larcom Review, Volume One, Issue Two, Fall/Winter 1999

 

A NIGHT WITHOUT STARS


There is nothing to deter me but the excuses
I make any day from dawn till closing time,
how I have to work to earn my paycheck,
that I need caffeine to stay alert,
and I wasn't accepted at the college
of my choice.

The shadows of the always soon-to-be restored
buildings in my neighborhood have more
influence than the spaces which reveal
strips of sky overhead, and there is nothing
to stop me from thinking

that the windows across the street catch fire
and smolder with sunlight, offering
an intensity that spills over, except
for how late I am each morning
and how tired I feel

when I return. I discuss business over lunch,
pushing my salad around on its plate,
and I leave the suggested ten percent
for a tip. On the weekend I will play golf
with one of my clients and cheat
to let him win.

I learn slowly and manage to progress,
though something keeps bothering me, such as
a name I cannot remember. Maybe it's not
important. Perhaps I'll feel better
after a good night's sleep.

The Kit-Cat Review,Volume 2, Number 4, Spring 2000

 

POND DREDGING


After they brought their bulldozer
and a backhoe to drain the pond
twenty years of fish died among the alders
on the low side of the dam
and the snapping turtle

crawled away without acknowledging
the existence of creatures that lived
to violate the nurturing darkness.
It took a winter's snow-melt to fill
the empty crater back,

double the size of the old pond
but nearly sterile in its clarity, and we
had to wait until midsummer
for the seeds we'd scattered
on the dredged hardpan

to sprout: a mix of meadow grass
and clover from the hardware store
struggling to take hold. The first
frogs of spring floated
belly-up in the water,

though their transparent egg clusters came
flinching to life in the sun and tadpoles
crowded the bottom. Water striders
skimmed the surface,
and at last,

as if they were a sign that our own healing
had begun, a pair of mallards arrived
with ducklings to follow, swimming
in a row between the stalks
of surviving cattail.

The Larcom Review, Volume One, Issue Two, Fall/Winter 1999

 

FIGURE GROUND


Sandpipers flew between the spruce trees
and the shore, where tufted strands
of dune grass held back the sand. The air
shone clear and cloudless over Fox
Island, and we stood

among juniper to watch the birds rise
in a flock, turning in unison. First
white and then black above the water,
they disappeared only to reappear
as a negative image,

reversing themselves as they changed
direction in that instantaneous surge
of wings shifting back toward the
mouth of the Kennebec. We learned
to look for that

kind of turning which came by surprise,
with the movement of sandpipers
between us and the shore, when we
tried to live as fully in the moment
and to turn mid-flight.

Earthtones: Twenty Years of Uncommon Nature Writing, Wood Thrush Books, 2005, St. Albans, VT


TEMPORARY PERSON


Take me for instance. I'm a different person
every day. I heard voices for two weeks
after I quit watching TV, until now all of them
are gone. Except the children
yelling in the yard sound like
cartoon characters.

My friends from school have grown up,
become firemen, or they read the meters in my
neighborhood. They've married and have
kids of their own, while I resemble the boy
in the five-and-dime, crying
because the men on the box

of The Last Supper paint-by-number set
look as if they are drinking real blood.
When I was that age I was always the final player
chosen in gym class baseball games,
and then because

everyone had to be a member of one team
or the other or else no game would take place.
I can show you pictures in my high school
yearbook of pep rallies that I know
I went to, but somehow my face doesn't
show up in the photographs.

It seems that I've fallen into the white part
of the page when they had to cut either me
or one of the cheerleaders out during my senior year,
and you tell me I need to get some new friends.
Only it's not as easy for me
as it is for you,

when I look twenty years older than I am
and none of my clothes ever fit me right.
My shoes wear out just when they are starting
to feel comfortable. So I buy cheap sneakers
at Woolworth's because of the work I do,
and they last a couple of months depending
on my assignment

from the job-service that hires me. Some days
I'm out clearing brush and planting trees,
and others I'm cutting parts in an oven factory.
In the morning I get up and look into a section
of broken mirror propped against the wall
and I have to bend to the right when I
want to comb my hair.

I see myself in the shard, irregular and pointed
on the top, a temporary person, never knowing
where they will send me next, and I look
for something in my reflection I might have missed
the day before to tell me why
I cannot take your advice.

The Kit-Cat Review,Volume 2, Number 4, Spring 2000

 

FALLING IN PLACE

They go up in smoke, spreading out
in all directions from the empty boxcars,
when the police spotlight comes on
to scatter them from their so-called
"free hotel room

with a view of the lake." They burn
but the light fades. They leave the earth
but they don't float away. They spread
the word and its sound is falling
in place, out of order

in the scheme of things, run ragged
from a loose frame. They tilt between
the trashcans and the green dumpsters
of the city, as if they could see a deeper
shade of green,

or some light shining just out of reach,
when they scour the back lots
of supermarkets and restaurants
to fill their duffel bags. They dig up
heads of lettuce and unfinished meals,
or they sleep half the day

after being awake all night, risking
cans of Sterno to kill their pain,
and they leave a series of chalked outlines
on the streets they cross, thinning out
until they can't be seen.

For they go to the margin of that page
that says pass through the eye of a needle
and then disappear. Here are the bells
without clappers, and they sing to you
in an unheard key. Here are the crows
which fly out over the lake.

Williwaw, Volume 1, Number 2, Spring 1988

 

SOUTHBOUND BIRDS


I save the flowers you throw away
after they turn dry,
and I arrange them

on my kitchen table.
The doctor recommends that I
change my diet
when he listens

to my heart which sounds
like a small, migratory bird
with a broken wing.

I have become a slave
to my grief, expecting sympathy

from complete strangers,
and I live in a room so dark
at night I find it
difficult to breathe.

I mean to say
I awaken in the night

and think I am living
in another city,
or I wish that the snow
would transform

the streets of this city
and I did not dream
about the love I am missing
in a woman's arms.

The Kit-Cat Review,Volume 2, Number 4, Spring 2000

 

THE WAY OF HEAVEN

He contemplates the patterns of rose
and chrysanthemum beginning
to wear thin at that section
of carpet upon which
he tends to walk

most frequently. Where fallen petals
cover a surface of indeterminate
depth, and acacia trees
catch the wind, he sees men
with conical hats

which shade their faces emerge
from the threadbare whiteness.
They move closer the less he tries
to keep them in focus, pilgrims
from a far-off country

come to drink from a Holy Well.
Their presence helps to calm him
when he feels uneasy, teaches him
to look for release

when the way becomes narrow, and in the darkest
hour of night they lead him toward
their gleaming city, existing
beyond a range of seemingly
impenetrable mountains.

Commonweal, March 24, 2000

 

GLOBAL WARMING


An iceberg the size of Texas has broken off,
drifting through the night, tons
of compressed blackness
moving in our direction,
and to the south

the expanding deserts ignore all boundaries
between here and the Equator.
The sound of rain penetrates my sleep,
and I dream of rising water.

Downstairs, expensive heirloom carpets
float among the debris of a lifetime,
the contents of my bookcases
submerged beyond recovery.

If this is what they call global warming,
why can't I ever get warm?
The mice have abandoned my house
as from a sinking ship,
and you also

will not consider staying to salvage anything
in the aftermath. My needs no longer
concern you, and you wonder
if they ever did,

while our neighbors go about their business,
the more adventuresome ones
taking brightly colored kayaks
out of storage, and maneuvering
down the street.

Earthtones: Twenty Years of Uncommon Nature Writing, Wood Thrush Books, 2005, St. Albans, VT