Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rumi's "wedding night"

It is December 17, the date Rumi lovers call his wedding night, for it is when he went to join the Beloved, the day he died in Konya, forever ending the agony of separateness:

A craftsman pulled a reed from the reedbed,
cut holes in it, and called it a human being.

Since then, it has been wailing
a tender agony of parting,
never mentioning the skill
that gave it life as a flute.

The earth is frozen around me, feeling as if Life has gone. But Rumi's call is always to that inner heat that brings spring to the spirit.

Outside, the freezing desert night.
This other night inside grows warm, kindling.
Let the landscape be covered with thorny crust.
We have a soft garden in here.
The continents blasted,
cities and little towns, everything
become a scorched, blackened ball.

The news we hear is full of grief for that future,
but the real news inside here
is there's no news at all.

* * *
This is the day and the year of the rose.
The whole garden is opening with laughter.  
Iris whispering to cypress.
The rose is the joy of meeting someone. 
The rose is a world imagination cannot imagine.
A messenger from the orchard where the soul lives.  
A small seed that points to a great rose tree.
Hold its hand and walk like a child.  
A rose is what grows from the work the prophets do.
Full moon, new moon. 
Accept the invitation spring extends,
four birds flying toward a master.  
A rose is all these,
and the silence that closes and sits in the shade, a bud. 

And lest we forget, the cycle goes back the other way, too. The full moon becomes less. The flower opens so far that it falls, petal by petal, becoming the ground. If there's one thing Rumi's taught me, it is that when one thing comes, its seeming opposite is also right there coming behind. The wise man followed by the fool, crying followed by laughter. There is an ocean, and all of experience is in it, all different ways of knowing God. We're in a river flowing toward it.

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.

If you are not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Another year closes, just one of our inept categories, like insufficient words to express the mystery we follow. Truly, every next moment begins a new year. Go back to the river. Start flowing again.

Maybe this is one reason I love winter: It feels like a clean page.

— all Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

English advising office

Outside, below my sixth
floor window, campus sits
in a snow globe, just shaken.

Black figures walk
precariously, cars and buses
creep along lines of a mini-world.

But I am the one inside,
helping students plan next semester,
to peer into worlds of Whitman,

Thoreau, Wilde, past the glass
of their own bubble,
which I discern from my side

of the desk—tapping, turning
it ‘round and ‘round,
seeing what parts are movable

and which are fixed, and in my own
pleasure, seeing ahead in that crystal
that if they are lucky, when they step

from sphere to sphere, each writer
will shake loose what happily
obscures our all-too-clear vision

Monday, December 2, 2013

A walk at the beginning of winter

I leave the house, pass
the dried hydrangea and
the sunflower, black, lying on its side,
pokeberry stems crumpling
to the ground, branches and trees
snapped in the storm,
their raw points
straddling a new age.

Walking through leaves
my eye falls on a few—
silvery Russian olive,
spread loosely like a pattern
on a hall runner, gingerbread
oak and fans of poplar,
caught and hunched
at the wall of meadow grass—

and, quickly forgotten,
soon buried under falling snow,
they are as all the days
of all the years fallen since
I lay alone in childhood, the first   
to bed, lamplight from the street
twisting shapes and the day’s
play into amplified terrors:

Will I die in fire?
Will a tornado tear the house
      up by the roots?
Will cold fingers touch and clutch
     my arm?

In the dark we played combat
around the Methodist church,
where Nazis hid in brick
and shrub. And now
in the black woods
behind our field at night
they are almost visible,
running to me.

In daylight I round
the meadow path
at the foot of those trees
where lies a soldier
in army green. He looks
like last year’s fallen tree,
sweatered in moss. I step
over him. I step over him

as winter steps over autumn,
without compunction,
as God steps over the earth
in the wind, not pausing
as he snaps us free

Thursday, November 21, 2013

coffee, tea, they and we

In a week and a half we trundled between four houses. We visited friends in Ohio one weekend, back home for the work week, then a weekend with our grandson in their apartment while his parents got away. We arrived home Sunday with a storm that took out power (and a mighty spruce), so we moved into our son’s house in town until power was restored two days later.

Personal rituals and routines lay dormant in our dark farmhouse, next to the broom and dustpan. Meditating or talking in the hot tub under our particular night sky rising from behind the barn. Reading, writing and correspondence with morning coffee in my hand-thrown mug and its chipped notch. The familiar dark, lit by a wood fire, alone while my husband sleeps. My little closet with clothes, shoes and necklaces in my mother’s baby blue jewelry box. Without home habits I felt like a leaf or branch skimming along the surface of the grass.

I didn’t feel ill at ease in anyone’s home. I slept well, the food was very good. I drank morning coffee in a mug chosen from a pretty array in each house. I bore the weight of having all our needs and preferences closely attended, of being conspicuously happy. We had clean sheets and towels, nightlights and conversation. It became humbling, really, to be the focus of comfort for three sets of hosts in such a short time. You must submit to the pose of receiving, and breathe.

Intimate things happen when staying overnight. The sound of feet passing on the wood floor outside our room. The dog’s nails stopping at the door, her nose reaching for me still in bed. Entering the kitchen shyly in freshly washed face, pajamas, taking coffee back to the chair chosen the night before as temporary territory. Being under the same roof for days on end, surrendering to the routines of others, playing at them as if they are your own.

At our son’s house each evening they offered us tea made in the Keureg machine. We rarely drink tea. But our son and his wife pulled out big white bowl-mugs they’d picked in their bridal registry last year, and read the list of teas, sounding irresistible. They chose sugar cookie the first night, cinnamon the second, so we took the same. I felt my soul reach for this tea, in this living room, with these our children. I was a genuine tea drinker for two days, joined in their ceremony that was just a vehicle for conversation.

Thanksgiving is next week, the start of holidays together with our children, their spouses and our grandson at the farm. I’ll experience the other side, as host, sharing our space and habits.

Rumi said that

When you are not with close friends,
you are not in the presence.

It is sad to leave the people you travel with.
How much moreso those who remind you of God.
Hurry back to the ones protecting you.

On every trip, have only one objective,
to meet those who are friends
inside the presence.

If you stay home, keep the same purpose,
to meet the innermost presence
as it lives in people.

Be a pilgrim to the kaaba inside a human being,
and Mecca will rise into view on its own.

Ultimately, we are all wayfaring strangers looking for home, the inner presence. Rilke said that even in very unfamiliar circumstances, our solitude can be a home and support.

This is where I want to be this holiday, inside the kaaba of human beings I love. And in my comfort, they will hopefully find their own.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

the wind teaches

wind billowing
teaches me
what to do with rain:

hear it, feel it
(my face its pool)
carry it, puff all 
around it, ride it,
line it up, then

unframe the drops
as the ocean
unframes the shore

for Roger

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reuniting at a funeral

Pain in thumb pads as I type
out the seductive joy of sorrow.

We age, we die, or we remain
crowded and alive like grass

in the room around the casket,
swaying with memories,

leaning into a dimple or curl
I want to recognize, but can’t

seem to bring back your face.
But I know it is you, daughter

of the deceased, my childhood
friend, the one I lost 43 years

ago to a random move away
but who holds my arthritic hands

so firmly, this pain the place
from where we now live,

the tiny beads of sweat I loved
on your nose in summer, gone.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the world spins

It gets to a point where so much matters so much that nothing seems to matter at all. It’s not that it doesn’t matter any more, but one ceases to consider its mattering in a way that could possibly matter.

I took a class in college called Contemporary World Affairs. Professor Frank wanted to challenge our young minds past the soft white light of our existence in that small Christian college on the affluent north shore of Chicago. During that semester Haldeman, Erlichman and Mitchell were convicted and sentenced to prison, the grizzly bear was declared a threatened species, and thousands of Vietnamese refugees fled from Quang Ngai province. We had to report on something in the news every week. After class one day I told Dr. Frank that I was getting overwhelmed by it all and felt that one person couldn’t make a difference.

Was I feeling sorry for myself? I knew that my existence was privileged, and I had nothing to complain about. But a human being wants to do something, fix something when it’s wrong. When the wrongness takes control, victimhood extends even to the comfortable.

But I was on the wrong track. I listen to myself feeling sorry for myself then, when I believed I was truly sorry for someone else. Yet I joined the ranks of the informed-without-change. Like a sandpiper living at the edge of the shore, I picked at meaning for daily sustenance and have done so ever since. There were times I dove in and went to great lengths to be part of change. But I hit a wall of my own discomfort and turned back.

I have asked myself, how is Wendell Berry one of the biggest influencers of environmental activism, yet he does not own a computer? He pushes a plow behind a horse to cultivate his land. He works health into and out of the soil for the long haul. In some way he is timeless, yet everything I have read of or about Berry has been on a computer. In fact, most of what I learn about the world is washed ashore right here in my lap, and I am frantically skittering through the surf with fingers and eyes picking at meaning to gobble up.

My professor wanted me to be informed. Gradually, exponentially even in the nearly 40 years since my college class, we have become the most informed human beings in the history of the planet. What has this done for the planet?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

forever — is composed of nows —

I've just listened to artists describe what they have created out of inspiration from Emily Dickinson's poetry. I think of her, writing in solitude and isolation, and what this meant to, and for, her. I think of what we try to say, with difficulty, but are still compelled to say. Just as life goes on birthing life, we've no idea how this works, really, but it does, and it must.

Words pencil-written
to the very edge
of an envelope 
veins in a leaf
pointing to the bright
rim at leaf’s edge —
that green life
not ending but giving
its own light to the air 

Title is from Dickinson's poem.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

smaller still

Who is to say what a human being
should take from this world?

This as I sit in a tiny cottage
on a weekend getaway with my husband
on rolling hills, in mist. Ground
growth is green and wet,
cut stubble golden, trees
orange, yellow and tawny.
Farm buildings unpainted, weathered black.
The big lake a mile away, sapphire
at the horizon, turquoise to the sandbar,
silver and clear where waves
fold over the shore’s stones
like tattered lace curtains, blowing.

Enormous summer homes
dwarf the narrow snaking road
through trees along the lake.
They, too, are built from
small stones.

We wonder
at ourselves
and why we don’t live
smaller still than this.

Monday, September 30, 2013

in the yellowing

The first yellow leaves separate
from their tree-bodies
dry and light like sloffed skin
lifting off into blue space
one by one, elliptical
confetti in a continual float
at the end of the parade,
spinning across the barn’s
coffinal roof where walnuts thunk
like falling teeth, spiraling
around empty sunflower heads
lolling against shoulderless stalks,
or circling round and round nothing
like ashes—nothing that looks like
something, for the wind—
until after almost all down
hovering above the grassy ground
they bump against yellowjackets—
madly drunken satellites droning
in a shapeless galaxy around soft pears,
already languishing in ferment under them
at the end or may I rather say
at the beginning of their slow mellowing ride

Thursday, September 26, 2013

If I could change one thing

If I could change one thing
in the raising of our children
it would be me, change me
cooking supper in the pearl light
of the kitchen, away
from them the first time
all day, wrestling with daddy
in the other room, and again
after supper, escaping
to wash the fragile dishes, alone,
ferociously alone, without them
with me, learning slowly together
about this practical, breakable life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The unsolved mystery of sumac’s fire

I invited silently.
(so sure)

“Speak to me,”
I implored then
with a little sound.
(less sure)

“Show me what is inside,”
I pleaded out of a rising spring
of words living with hope.
(even less certain)

My feet heavy with dew.
Morning sun walled behind the pines
though its arms wrapped around the meadow
and would soon snuff out
evidence on the sumac
     —flames upon flames—
                beads of water shining
                    atop each burning leaf

      I cried!
in frustrated tears!

O excruciating desire

not to hear them say!
not to hear them say

To hear myself
say some, any thing
from inside
that disappearing flame.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Too much salt in the oatmeal

Too much salt in the oatmeal
and too much heat for September.

I make these judgments
surrounded by thriving stands

of bamboo, pine and cedar.
There has been enough

rain so all is green.
My belly fills and sloshes

— grain milled for easy prep
and milk, berries, pecans —

deconstructing what I feed it
as it always does, morning

after morning. The orchard
drops and drips fruit. Frost

will come perfecting the apples, that’s
a fact, nothing subjective in it.

There is too much salt
in the oatmeal, and too much heat

for September. It can be argued
that these are the fault of man.

But there are also the berries,
the blackberries sweet

and soft, the ones we picked
from among thorns.,

knowing how they would
balance everything.

[Note 1: Trying it without the final couplet; see comments.]
[Note 2: Adjusted penultimate stanza; see how that works.]

Thursday, September 5, 2013

If I were to swim for misery

If I were to swim
for misery in the sea
would it be less
than for bliss?
Each wave marked
with its own beginning
and end, I would skim
only the thinnest
taperings, not
the expanse, the ever
out and down, the bottomless
dive, the somersault
in velvet black. If
where waves end
were always it
right where sea
dissolves in sand
where the smallest
life invisibly thrives,
if I championed loss
crawling and crabbing
along the ever diminishing
feed — if this were all
I had, would it then
be misery?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Now is the time

and I
have been dry
seeds rattling
for so long.
Do seeds
to be
when the
fruit ripens?

Do not
forget what is
always. Although
hidden in the
dark cool center
a new livingness
waits to be

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

a stone's frugal life

I ogle stones
in a bed of sand
through the veil of a clear lake


one speckled stone catches my eye .
my hand reaches
through distortions
for its heart


one stone heart
in my palm
turns my hand to sand


it is thus
the hammer beats us
back together


in the night
I hear the strokes
in my blood

sand water sand water sand

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

With every breath

I stand perfect, arrogant with life
in this field, refusing to choose which
is more, the golden hills of rudbeckia
tumbling after one another,
Canada thistle foaming around
spindles of Timothy grass. Not even
doilies of Queen Anne’s Lace,
a neck above the rest, court my favor,
nor I theirs.
We are all winners
or there are none. Bee. Moth.
Hawk. Vole. Sky over. Sun falling. We
proudly pose until the next rising.

Friday, July 26, 2013

lake haiku ii

Is honesty the same as truth? This question came to me yesterday as I read Henry Miller's ranting essay "When I reach for my revolver" in which he lists the many ways he is disgusted by the American way of life. (This was 50-60 years ago, at the height of the cold war.)

I think that maybe honesty is the closest thing to truth that we get in this life.

In some subtle way, writing haiku this week (combined with the Miller readings, which are brutally honest) is making me look more honestly at myself and my world. Maybe haiku are essentially for the writer herself, even more intensely than other forms of poetry. They enunciate a moment she has experienced in the most condensed form. Can another person understand what is true in that moment? Yes, if he or she is also quickened by his or her own such moments.


blue damselfly long
aligned with the grain of wood
must not be a poet


silos on a hill,
tines of a jet trail, duets.
I am not alone

morning mist, kayak,
purple pickerelweed, sun,
drops from the paddle


blueberries in a
pancake, midnight planets and
no less mystery


kayak in mist, no
memory card in the camera,
clicking away with joy


linoleum blocks
uncle carved ­­— violin, birds,
a small dove, alive

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

lake haiku

I am on vacation at the lake in a family cottage my parents got fifty years ago when I was seven. 1963. Coincidentally, one of my primary pleasures during this time is reading Henry Miller's Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, published about the same time. I was an English major who thought that all Miller wrote were [banned] novels. But his essays are some of the most inspiring and fruitful readings I have read (thank you, George). 

I have read and reread (and reread again twice more) the chapter titled "Children of the Earth." I feel there is enough in it to inform me for living the rest of my life. I plan to use passages from it at small in the coming days after vacation (link at sidebar). This chapter was just what I needed to read at just this time, when the chaos of the world gets more chaotic, and a person looking for meaning could lose her mind.

Before my vacation began, wanting to pare back to the simple seed-pit of life, I decided to write and post a haiku a day with a photo at small. Again coincidentally, when I began reading Miller the first day of vacation, this passage at the end of "Children of the Earth" rang its synchronous bell:

When all is said, I nevertheless concede that as long as I continue to write I remain perforce a propagandist. Only one kind of writing have I ever found which is devoid of this lamentable element, and that is the Japanese haiku. It is a form of poetry limited to so many syllables wherein the poet expresses his love, usually of nature, without making comparisons, without the use of superlatives. He tells only what is, or how it is. The effect, upon the Western reader at least, is usually one of jubilation. It is as if a weight had been taken from his shoulders. He feels absolved. "Amen!" is all he can exclaim.
To live one's life in this spirit which informs the haiku strikes me as an ultimate. . . .
 At small you can see a photo and read one lake haiku a day. Here at washed stones I will post those haiku as well as others in this lake series. Writing haiku is practice in looking, listening, and finding the smallest connection a moment offers. At least that's how I see it. It's what this respite is all about.


over the water
with weeds the paired Dragonflies
confound Time and me


moon rising on the lake,
a child’s face from behind
her mom’s skirt flowing


wind rustles the trees,
American flags madly
wave across the lake


minnows watch for bugs
while my paper and pen blow
onto the surface


three turtle heads up,
farther off three fishermen
trade places in a boat


two pileated
woodpeckers high in the oaks,
an acorn hits the roof


five brown ducks swim by,
find the fallen tree, line up,
preen, and fall asleep


a  flycatcher, still,
on a dead branch emptying
sky. a small plane flies

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I waken from a nightmare
and see its fears light
the room like fireflies.

Everything is evil
I feel, although,
in spite of everything,
before sleep I would have
said nothing is.

This shift is internal,
the way a piece of wood
takes flames along its shank
and then in an hour or so
glows from within.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The reunion

I am scattered, so scattered.
Weeks on end of this after that
and not enough stillness.

The family crowd too
hums in many directions:
On the porch inside screens behind me
three clusters, two at each end
of the farm table after dinner,
one discussing roofs and the other
competing at Rummikub.
Then those on the couches lounging with feet up
looking like they’d rather sleep than converse.
Another set of talking heads
on the deck too distant
for me to surveil, but it seems serious.
And in the water at the bottom of the hill
the children akimbo in equal parts splash and squeal.

The baby and I alone in the hammock
swaying under glowing oak leaves,
singing our farm song with motions,
he mimicking with his arms
“feed the chickens”
“pick the apples”
“hoe potatoes”
“milk the cows”
then the oak leaves
mimicking us
and then nothing
as we rest from our labors
gathering in our arms
the fruits of familial solitude.

Friday, June 28, 2013


If I knew
the names
of all the grasses
in this pasture

Would I see them
in a new light

Could they suddenly
beyond their language of wind
more specifically explain
the life in me

that I try
and try to resurrect
in these dead letters?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Possums are so chillingly detestable to me that I cannot bear to look at them. As road kill, it is hard to decipher what is outer and inner, so grotesque is their skin. A mother and babies at her teats under the car in the driveway, pink and gray, look like squirming aliens. One moves across the pavement and disgusts me with its slow, seeming blindness. Its hideous nose relentlessly pulls its hideous body and worm of a tail, dull and useless.

On a rapturous summer morning in a week of them while my seventeen-month-old grandson visits, I pull him to the meadow in our ritual of sunrise, wind and birdtalk. He holds the sides of the wagon, and occasionally I brush mosquitoes from his temples. He looks serious while we encounter a golden cosmos flower, a few blue dianthus, tall grasses and sumac. Bending poplars whisper and wave. Wrens and sparrows leap in the trees around the perimeter of the meadow bowl. We don’t speak, or if we do it is hushed, hoping not to disturb all this. It is a pretense, and I sense in my gut that we don’t belong. Yet there is no resistance to our being here.

We reach the tree swing, and he grins, waves his arms and points, preparing for me to pick him up. I wrap my right arm and hand around his waist, set him firmly in my lap, take hold of the rope with my left hand and balance us trickily on the wide wooden board while my feet run backward steps on the ground to start our descent from as high an arc point as possible. And release. Wind. Celestial wind. My chin on his head, his hair fine as spider silk blowing across my lips. The branch is high, so the pendulum swings long and slow. In silent appreciation we feel part of this grace, this cool wind and shade in hot summer, these creatures driven to survive.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a possum, big and fat. He is crawling slowly in our tree’s shade, in the mown circle with us, at the edge of the tall grasses, so slowly that he doesn’t seem to be moving. I have a decision to make: Welcome him, ignore him, or wish him away. I whisper to James, “Look, a possum.”

“Der,” he says. (“There.”) Enthralled, we watch this animal be with us, watch us. We keep swinging, with my periodic ground steps to restart the pendulum. For a full ten minutes we watch each other without another word. Possum's eyes are huge, aware. He walks slowly away, into the grasses. James lifts his hands in his gesture of “where is it?” and I whisper, “he’s going to sleep in the grass.” We swing a while longer, and he asks a few more times in the same way, “where is possum?”

For once I know the possum, a little. I see him in my mind’s eye. He is not ugly (this one, at least, is not ugly). I doubt he will ever be ugly to James. The possum lives in “our” meadow. He welcomes us. He shows me what is ugly in myself and changes me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Will they ever find Jimmy Hoffa?

Apparently the FBI has revived the hunt for Jimmy Hoffa in a field in suburban Detroit, after a tip from mobster Tony Zerilli.

* * *

Muffled, hooded and knocked on the head,
steak and baked potato just eaten,
lips greasy, dark wine forever,
then a field, alive.
What matters
in this body of the world
that opened to him before
he was dead,
making his Mother Earth
an accomplice, enfolding him
into his final lap of sleep?
The meaning of life
is that it stops, Kafka said.
And yet we never stop digging.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Custodian

Last summer the meadow foundered
under the blazed stare of the sun.
Goldenrod browned, shriveled
and listed like masts in a dry marina —
no sails, no wind, no water.
All summer long I hardly
dipped my toe into that dusty font —
the whole sanctuary abandoned
by God, bird and woman.
But what Nature ruins, Nature can
repair, having the keys. Today She
overturns her silver box,
gliding rain into all her little locks.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Anguish in the garden

Sometimes when you want to cry, you just have to laugh. Events both universal and personal coalesce in a week of distressing times. I am seeking peace and openness, or hoping for it at least, when my will is weak. Some days peace hides, until unexpected messengers break it open in spite of themselves, and me.

* * *

Anguish in the garden

Away from the house's story
peopled with damp fears

I am looking for quiet in the sun
among the blooming chives

when there erupts the relentless clucking wail
of a chicken trapped

behind the wheelbarrow in the barn
and an echoing spastic cry

of another from the coop below 
which ignites yet a third from the hydrangea—

a trio of irritating sirens
screaming the three alarm fire in my head

and we all burst into flame
of charismatic confusion

burning hot and quick until over and out
we move on in hulked silence 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

my sister's 70th birthday

I didn't do much from another state, but we plotted and schemed, and now she arrives innocently at her very own home in a strange reversal of her life. Here waiting surreptitiously inside are the friends she has served pot roast and pie week in and week out, with eager eyes and hushed giggles at her door. Then Surprise! Here is the woman she befriended at the shoe repair shop opening arms, I'm glad you're here! and another she took in like a daughter, whose own little girls now call her "grandma" Come in! We have decorated a cake and drawn pictures with Xs and Os just for you! Most of them are strangers to me.

At thirteen she was like a mother when I was born. She wheeled me in a buggy around the small town, hoping she would be imagined that way. I think she was born a mother.

Dozens of us are packed tight against each other to see her face. Some standing and clapping, some sitting because they can't stand. Her second husband and love of her life at the back strains his neck to see. Everyone is young again for a few hours, because she is young. My sister is young although she has brittle bones and broken discs. Young though she has endured excruciating pain since her thirties. Young with love, young with generosity, young with selflessness. She is never without pain; it is only a matter of relativity: Is today better than yesterday?

After half the party has left, we intimates hunch around her, sluffed but regal in her chair, smaller than I remember, her hair still red without chemicals, a basket of cards and a handful of gifts on the ottoman at her knee. Nothing extravagant. All pink and vibrant.

I begin to see her as I've never seen her. Here in her world away from mine, I see that I am after all not one of the intimate ones. I grow quieter and believe I might have disappeared, which I would like. My forehead is heavy and I am in its shadow, my mind is dark with wondering what I have done with my life as I watch and listen to her effortlessly thank each one whose card she has just read, one at a time. Each one someone who receives a call from her every week to see how they are, someone who finds that they need her because they have no one better. And who could be better?

On the table at her elbow, stems of white bridal veil spray around pink roses in a vase. My eyes fill and blur while I think of her twenty years from today, surrounded by the same friends, some absent because they have passed. “All life is an act of translation,” Fady Joudah said. The question is, what are we translating?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Russian olives and honeysuckle

I was surprised, and delighted, to suddenly see the bushes and small trees of honeysuckle and Russian olive as shapes of countries as outlined on maps. . . .

* * *

Step outside into the syrup
of humidity and sweetness

run along the path through grasses
and rising goldenrod

and around the meadow
you can tour Russian olives and

honeysuckle blooming together
side by side like countries on maps

Here is a pentagonal olive bush France
there a zeppelin of Turkey floating

above two seas then
Paraguay and Uruguay small

and spaced just right easy to miss
the profile of Chad reclining

in white honeysuckle
under Niger’s rosy face and look here

a perfectly stylized Russia
in pink honeysuckle

bordering a broad Russian-olive
white-blooming replica of the United States

while we run and chase two chickens
who stay ahead frantically on the path though

they and we could so easily cross
the path’s edge and disappear
into each other and the ocean of grass

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lily of the valley

Mother robin
shuffles inside
the cedar branches
unbeknownst to me

on the side of the house
no one goes
except to mow 
fill the propane tank
or empty the septic

but I have come to fetch
lilies of the valley
squeezed against
that side of the house
hidden behind fanning ferns

and as I bend low to clip
one two three . . . fifty
slender lily stems
she screeches
to frighten me away

from her nest in the cedar
and I think too
from these flowers
so like eggs tumbling down

into their cave of ferns
so sweet and almost safe
from my hands

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Visiting Chicago in May

The surface of the city
is peeled back in spring
the same as in the country. The same
tulip heads ripple from cavernous
troughs of stone
on the balcony above
a museum garden
shaded by low hanging trees

Where sunlight drops in pools
on straight beds of spring bulbs
flowering blue, pink, yellow and
weeded by two jovial gardeners
with surgical tools
next to loungers on the lawn

Inside the museum each gallery
is neatly hung and corralled
against the chaos
of the artists’ lives

While outside
on the street women open
like dancers at café tables, homeless
men hawking newspapers shout
in the vernacular
of a circus’s main event

Even the stoniest buildings
bounce with light,
with the impression of water

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The last day of April

Green grass in unmown tufts,
root-bound daffodil spikes without blooms,
dandelion buttons, purple deadnettle
shawling the tomato bed, ground ivy
weeds big as couch doilies, mole tunnels
like varicose veins on the legs of the ground,
the whole uneven landscape bounding
in undisciplined exuberance

just hatched flies half-sized on the car,
unmoved when my daughter opens
the sunlit door on her way
to celebrate her thirty-second birthday

beautiful in a strapless dress with beaded belt
like American Indians made
that I remember
from camp in the wild north.
Like the one I made: tiny beads of red, blue,
yellow, green and black hooked with a needle,
organized there at the start of a life
utterly unconcerned with how it would turn out.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

spring of his second year

It’s warm enough
and he opens and closes
the sliding screen door from the balcony

the first spring
he can use his right hand to slide it
then hook with left fingertips and close

the first spring rain
pressing lips against
looking in and gutterally “Bah!”

and giggle, the beginning
movement, the bare feet
puddled, shuffling side to side

over and over, back and forth, surprised,
complete, propelling, clicking closed
opening easy, how had he not before known

the momentum of the door
the smooth, intoxicating
possibility of hands

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The first day that shines  
like spring
I walk until I fear
I might get lost
then turn back
on a beeline to the big pine

where sounds of birds
drive from my head
our morning fight —

the same one
we always have
about nothing
then afterward

I rake the garden,
        leaves black, sodden, trapped,
        tines of the rake awkwardly
        clawing more fence than leaves

blown to this border every autumn,
buried under every
snow after snow,
pressed until they hold so tight
to the ground

that when I scrape them free
the bare dirt releases gasps
of bright grass as if
for every birth a death
must begin the greatest joy