On the day to cut your hair
the sun has shaken
its shaggy mane of light
over the near ocean
over the trees behind our house
after a night of hunting
after birds have refilled the trees
and death has slipped
into the deep woods, its memory
scant as a snail's thread on the patio.
I wrap you in a cape and snug it with a clip.
How careful I must be, rounding
your good ear with scissors, the ear
my tongue loves to kiss, apricot-sweet,
and loves, too, the bad ear and its ghosts.
I thread your hair with a comb to gauge
length, silver in my loom.
I cut your hair in rhythm, remembering
the day you shaved what was left
of mine, how we walked
on a trail through the marsh, through
tufts of fog and I was slow as soup
of low tide, slow against your arm
remembering what it was like
not to lean, to be bright in my bones.
I see light differently now
painting the branches
behind our house, early, before
you're awake. It's more the gold
of afterlife, I think, a glimpse
before bodies take on all
(Flying Yellow, Paraclete Press, 2021)
MARY ROWLANDSON'S REMOVES
"When others are sleeping, mine eyes are weeping."
the beginning she was called often
to relate scenes of blood and flame
from the Tenth of February,
with the goodwives crying to hear her tell
of her dead child turned under barren dirt
and left alone on a hill as she was led away--
how she marked with scripture each remove:
the camp of snow and fever, the swamp of sinking,
the ground where Praying Tom dangled white fingers,
the begging from fire to fire for any niche against
the frozen black void she read as inscrutable love,
for her mind, forged on Calvin, would not bend
sometimes, in the starved light before day
she would hear the child pleading for water,
pleading from just over the ridge,
and she would cry out, her wits unlashed
as stars withdrew their nets,
but her legs failed her, snared by sleep.
(What mercy, she would later say,
to quell her madcap flight and savage fate.)
telling of her inmost trial she came to fix in print,
could hardly believe it was she herself there in the tent
slabbering over a horse's foot snatched from a child
or swearing in the face of pagan taunts--how is it
she secretly craves that state even now as others sleep,
a manic flame to burn the ordered words,
the syntax that gives shape to every scream.
(Hungry Foxes, Aldrich Press, 2013)
The nets of God hang in every wild place
to catch the unwary migrant, one with the skull
still soft, the journey barely started,
another to fall from the sky on the ten-thousandth mile,
but when he holds one of those small, terrified
bodies like a jewel between his thumb and forefinger
and unfans the wing to measure it, secretly admiring
the bars he conceived to catch his own hungry eye,
and the little claw foot he rings with a coded band
that numbers the feathers and weds him forever
to the pulse in his palm that recalls his own heaving heart
the day he flew into a net and hung there thirsting
in the woods where only a wasp moved, flicking cobalt wings--
when he lets go, when he flings what he has marked
into emptiness, he follows the speck with his eye
to South America and farther, to white, unmapped fields
known intimately in the mind of those who fly.
(What a Light Thing, This Stone, Sow's Ear Press, 1995)
A THEME PERHAPS FOR THE PLAGUE
It's the memory of
your harmonies and the grim house
lifting in your ebullience that I'm holding against
this deadly fugue, the flight from everything and nothing
we the world have known.
I would be singing
somewhere in the house
and you'd come streaming into the song,
your strong alto current bearing my higher notes
into joy that was, I see now, a resistance
against the rage
smoldering within those walls
as you found the balancing notes from an inward spring.
How good to think of that now as I stir soup
inside my home holding strong from what's outside.
(Flying Yellow, Paraclete Press, 2021)
Bathing her, I feigned nonchalance. My neighbor Claire Evelyn was suddenly old and needing to lean. I filled the sink and washed her face and torso with its single breast and the white scar where the other had been, and she washed the rest. We finished off with a dusting of floral-scented powder that restored a bit of class, masking the rawness and glare. She needed me to select her blouse and slacks for the day and brush white hairs from her pillow and help ease her trembling form into her chair. I could not fail her now, for she had been my friend for many years and was "Aunt Claire" to my family. She was a schoolteacher from a well-mannered age who had always borne herself like a Greek column, had given piano lessons to my three children and attempted the same with me, and sometimes could be heard singing from inside her house, the balmy air of a summer evening carrying her strong soprano notes into the street.
She came from the era of women's clubs and belonged to several. I went with her to Study Club in a home of brocade drapes and mauve carpet. We, the ladies, held bone china cups on our laps and drank coffee poured from a silver pot and ate lemon cake as the Collect was read. They were a welcoming group with smoothly coiffed hair and diamonds on their blue-veined hands, smiling to have a younger woman among them, one who held it as marvelous that the club went elegantly on, even as it was reported that this or that member had suffered a stroke or taken a bad fall--even as the ladies were leaving one by one with none to take their places.
The mornings I cared for her, Claire Evelyn liked for me to make muffins and tea, and to sit with her in the den with its gold-painted walls and cabinet of collectible dolls for all seasons. On those mornings we were saying to lupus and cancer and all the ills that ravage the body, "We are, after all, human beings, and we will enjoy our tea."
(A Welcome Shore, Canon Press, 2010)