Past lives

When you haul out the old photos from the box, they

lie on the table, faded black and white, names written

on the back long ago, by someone preparing for the day

 

no living friends would summon them over for coffee,

or offer a ride to the beach. Today your grandson looks

on as you pull up relations like weeds from some long

 

untended garden. He has the easy part, to hold the edges

still, while you decipher faces, unearth connections.

His feet, in long purple sneakers, stretch beneath the table.

 

One early photo shows his great-grandmother riding

her husband’s shoulders. She laughs. Even though you both

know she never did in later life, her small face always pinched

 

and pruned. The pile seems never ending, one old photo

after another. Early autos. A pony. Someone’s calico

cat. Domestic scenes. The military. The boy never complains,

 

says nothing, until you come to the photo of him as

an infant, lying against your chest, both of you with eyes

closed. Look at that, he says. We are all asleep.

 

Published in:

Eclectica

Oct./Nov. 2015

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Truthsayer

a rim of sorrow

circles my cup

my mouth hesitates there

unhappy with the words

that have come of late

unhappy with the way time has caught us

pinioned by our separate desires

miserable and weeping in our tea

 

is this the song we sing then

a song of parting

nettled with despair

or will we continue sitting

brittle and blank as new eggs

buttering our toast

swallowing in grim gulps

sipping at our tea

my fortune eludes me

there are no leaves to read

within my cup

 

Published in:

Voices International (winter 1982)

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My neighbors are morose at the village store

They stand square-shouldered, thick coated,

boot treads leaking dirty snow on the linoleum floor.

Storm after storm covers roads, driveways — more

 

than I ever thought possible. One day

drifts into the next, white on white. Customers

jostle each other in line, arms thick with bacon,

milk, wine, all the last minute items needed

before we are caked in again. Back home,

my feet sink into the unpacked snow, entering

the house each frozen step beneath me groans.

 

The flakes are fat this time, wheels of frost

that twist past my window. They fall

unheeded on the stream, a bed of ice

except where the water falls over stones

from the old dam, breaking free in one cold

moment, a flash of blue against all the white.

 

title taken from the poem High Water by Jane Kenyon

 

Published in:

Off the Coast, Summer 2015

 

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Last Stop

Long before the train huffs into the station, before

the windows swim with gray pecks of birds and blue

smoke from the end of dying cigarettes, I wonder

 

what I might say to keep the music going or even if

it’s worth the effort to shake the tree and make

a final apple fall between the two of us, a last resort

 

to gather the dry stems of something once crisp

and young and weave them into – what? –

a basket or a backstop or any damn thing. Or maybe

 

just call a last hurrah, have a drink and be done

with it, a cod standing on its last legs like a dog

that hasn’t been fed a decent meal in over

 

a month, now riddled with fleas, fur matted with

burrs, mud, unanswered texts and calls, drinking

from puddles muddy with hope. Spit on it.

 

Nice guys finish last and nice girls just sit

beside the phone until it rings. An old story.

I think about the sequence of events, hear

 

the names of the stations called as I near

the last one, the last laugh, where I may (or may

not) make one last ditch effort to entrance you

 

forever, to fill you in on every last detail of what

is wrong with my life without you, of what a stupid

shit you are for moving to this god forsaken

 

twin bed without even an extra pillow. I stand

on the shivering floor, reach up to extract one

small carry on, keep my feet in the lurch

 

and last gasp of the train and the cry

of the conductor as he hawks out the name

of the final station and I step cautiously

 

along behind the row of other numbed

travelers, my brain primed at the last minute

to bark, to shriek, to wail.

 

Published in:

Off the Coast, Summer 2015

 

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Widow with empty hand

My vision’s full of holes–the empty cup

of earth beside the river where the boulder lay,

thin footprints in mud, the shoulder of ice

on the lawn with caves of air.  I ache

for warmth, shuffle into soft bits

 

of forgetfulness.  On a hook in the entry,

his worn brown sweatshirt cradles the hoe.

I slip it on, step into fertile air, make a row.

I kneel in dirt, dropping small seeds.

 

Another spring.  Tongues of snow slip

back into the woods.  The earth

turns up rocks, leaves, a rusty worm,

the mole’s small bones.  The gravel rakes

hard, scratches into piles. Raw green leaves

 

of skunk cabbage push up, turning

for a bit of sun.  The dog paws over

the soil, eager for what’s below —

pine cone, severed root, shriveled fern.

 

My knees leave twin hollows.  The earth packs

down beneath my palm, moist, expectant.

 

Published in:

Blast Furnace, Vol. 5, Issue 2

 

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Brooklyn, 1952

Shades kept light at bay, their crocheted tassels hung

in meager sun, behind draped inner curtains and darker

patterned brocade. The old apartment, a cave, a lair.

Armchairs rested on their haunches, moody under

fancy antimacassars, ancients huddled on the oriental rug.

In the kitchen, smoke and words swirled. Backed into the corner

the coal hod sat beside the stove. The white lip of the kitchen

sink curled, a place they rested elbows, leaned, pondered

the unfairness of the world. The boy they sent off

to the basement ­­ out the wide front doors, then down

the concrete steps. He lugged the trash into shadows

of boogeymen, slanted eyes of rats, the sound

of threats and laughter from above, older boys who

flicked the wheels of lighters, coughed and spat.

The girl crouched beneath the table amid sensible shoes,

one finger traced the leaves on green linoleum,

waited for someone to lift the scissors, snip the cord

tied around the white box, take up the knife and slice.

On good days, a carriage nestled beside the curved entryway,

a great­aunt on the first floor rested a pair of flattened

forearms on the windowsill, watched the baby sleep.

The mother knelt in the bathroom, breasts pressed

against the tub, held the board, slapped heavy sheets,

scrubbed, short wet hairs clinging to her neck.

 

Published in:

Blast Furnace, Vol. 5, Issue 2

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If I hadn’t picked up the turkey feather

it might still be lying on the ground,

slightly mangled now by rain, by wind,

by the peculiarity of dirt’s domain.

 

I might still be staring at a passing car,

caught in the thick craw of going or

not going, harpooned to the moment,

 

forgetting to look down, to caress

the careless treasures found in the garden

by the roadside, the gravelly seeds

 

of the fallen, the abandoned, the dispossessed.

I might be humming a lullaby, my arms

empty as the turkey footprints depressed

 

in mud. I might have forgotten the way

home, the rich drape of sympathy roosting

in my bed, the beauty of loss.

 

Published in:

eclectica (Jan./Feb. 2015)

 

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Let’s go visit Millie

my husband says on our way back from Home Depot and for a minute

I picture us pulling up beside his mother’s home on Front Street

in the shadow of luxury yachts. Then I remember he means

 

her grave and the oddness of it settles into me. I never

went to the funeral, having ministered to her in those last

days before she slipped away, her blood refusing to move.

 

I said what I said. Too late for her to hear anything now,

but my husband went with a small group of her last friends,

laughing at her oddly splattered reputation. No service.

 

No solemn rituals. Funny how he went fifteen months

without speaking to her, yet he wants to see if the rosebush

your ex-wife planted still grows above her head.

 

You’re fat. Lose some weight, she scolded.

Paint your house. It’s an eyesore.

You should get a job.

 

A haiku of accusations, insinuations, betrayals.

I listen to the impartial grumble of the truck, one brake

catching slightly, groaning. We turn right beyond

 

the Youngstown Inn into the cemetery, drive

to the end, near the last headstone, and park.

His footsteps bend the August blades

 

and I follow, not knowing exactly where we are going.

He kneels down, fingers the cut stem, the remains

of the plant. They’ve been mowing over it,

 

he says and wonders why. There’s no marker

I answer.  Only a vague rectangle still exists

in the grass. I point out other graves

 

without stones, with wooden crosses,

with whirligigs of ducks, endless American flags.

Next time he comes, he says he will bring

 

a large rock, a stone, dark and heavy,

something he has lying around, something

easy to throw in the bed of the dying truck.

 

 

Published in:

Eclectica (Oct./Nov. 2014)

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Dry season

After the spring thaw when the damn snow there melted, left

behind  brittle etchings in dirt, the time came for me to move,

carry the last hay bale to the barn, scratch the goat, feel her

dry bag sag low. Time came for me to let the dog free,

ease her collar over her scrawny neck, give her room

for one last drink from the dented aluminum bowl. Time to

gather my clothes in the burlap sack. Take my spoon,

half a jug of whiskey, the fine lace tablecloth, white faded to

ivory with just a few holes. Turn the latch, greet the thin

jittering day. Birds, like torn leaves, kick song in the bush.

Kind of like this morning’s a bad draft. Too many

loose vowels and crossed off lines. Too many bitter

moments like off-kilter rhymes. I step in the dust-mottled yard,

notice the black sprawl, piles of wood ashes. Makes me think

of the days when I had a little smoke house out front,

plenty of ham, bacon, tied with twine, and me always with

quick piles of green apple boughs to keep the burn going.

Right now don’t mean much. Right now I think I should have

sold it all in one punch.  Not that anyone would come looking.

Too far out. Roads like black scrawl. No electricity. No water

unless you use the pump. Too far gone now.  Never had many

visitors, except maybe when I had those chickens.  Don’t know

why I sold them.  Bright little bunch.  Claws that made little

x’s in the ground, hunting bugs. That was their life — laying

you eggs, spending the rest of their time digging for insects,

zig-zagging some crazy path. No sense to it. None.

 

Published in:

Comstock Review (fall/winter 2013)

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How to be a toaster

Remain steadfast. Do not

have great expectations f

or yourself, but be ready

to rise on demand.

Heat things up. Let the air

above you waver with

irresistible smells. On some

days, you will just burn

for no discernible reason.

Chances are you are stuck

on something and need

a good shake up to clean

out your insides. Mediate.

Let life come to you.

Never stay down too long.

Jealous sidelong glances

at the microwave serve

no purpose. Be thankful

that you are not toast.

 

Published in:

dirtcakes (Spring 2010)

 

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