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.