Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where the Fox Cries Out All Night

Festivals pass, waving flags. Children
go from the hills, taller, not looking back
I give up counting

what doesn't matter or matters too much
Hold to what stays
framed by the window or my two hands

knowing your face too well
& all I can't
keep. Small animals

come again, nudging shreds & petals
white footed
mouse, skunk with her flower stalk tail

lean deer, flocks
of birds

to all we give away

Ben tells me bluebirds migrate along the ridge
here in the summer washed hills
old oak, six named grasses, the river

far below. We compare names of our dead
& guess the names of roses
beautiful women, old friends. Once again

you don't come into the room
through the far door flanked with roses
your dark hair wet, your eyes

green invitation

I write you margins
green blue map, country
we never saw

contoured under my hand
your finger's whorls, folds
& intimate soles

our feet pressed to the separate dust
Here is a new language
the awkward reach

our hands unbuttoning
these white pearl dusks
slide of manzanita flower

sheets dried in the fir sweet air
If I meet you here it is only this
mountain lion loping the hot air

desire a clean kill

(an older and far from perfect poem. Ben, who is my friend Tui's husband--one of my few matchmaking successes--always loved the line about the bluebirds. And they do indeed migrate along the ridgetops here, bright bits of blue light).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Open Window

Cloudy day. An open window.
I didn't want to catalog
the dead We missed each other
There was no shelter

in the burning gardens
all the browned roses, heavy
dahlias, scentless afternoons.
I did the best I could

child's hand in my own
a twisting fire. Heart
I have been pulling free for so long
wishing only the air pillowed

my plunging body
but small things keep me
faithful, earth
& my restless children, pure as knives

each one sucking a thin milk, love
& suicide, those fair heads cradled
against my scars &
all this world's howls battering

the doors. Pain is the simple geography.
As for me, I too sucked grief down
with my mother's milk
Loss was the gleaming legacy

goodbye the witch's charm, &
my innocent refugees
here I pass it on.

(no, it's no really finished or without flaws, and it is a poem from the time of the Possessions one--well, maybe a bit less old than that. Another grappling with life and death and love and obligation and what one hands on. That was a hard year.)


for Tui

It's not that the dead go away
so cleanly, dawn absolute
as a steel knife

reflecting the driven clouds
& that we wake
our arms stretched out

the bed flat, smelling of mint
& starch, white
as those notes we never sent

The door slams.
There are funerals in far cities
a line of golden poplars, &

see now what they leave us:
sweaters & crystal, knives & rings.
They leave us possessed of things

with their hands held out
tossing us their coats, their old shoes
the bottled pills, the torn music

this terrible stillness

The first version of this poem was written 10 years ago, when my friend Tui, herself a poet (her real name is Anna, but we've known her as Tui for years and years now)--when Tui and I both went through a series of deaths and aftermaths. One of the things we remarked on was all the--remainders and reminders. The original version rather prosaically catalogued some of the things we'd each been left--I had some poignant lines about a sweater beaded with tears, but in revising took a lot of that out. I don't think I'm finished with this poem--or with the theme. I find I often try to write the same poem around 10 or 12 times before I get to what it should have been all along. Like life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fourteen Names of God

Sometimes we are given maps
just a few blue lines

like the veins on our mothers' breasts
Green curves, a lizard

curled in your warm hands
this secret, all we own

Now in my dreams we set out again
towards each other

over the mine fields of this life
breathing the sweet air

For more years than you lived
I have tried to learn the words

the grasses tell each other
on summer nights

guarded by fireflies
as in that Tokyo sunset

when you tied my sash
& ran, though braced, still laughing

through the pyrotechnic flowers
towards happiness

I see you still, waving to me
far across the starfields

You have released the balloons
The ribbons slide from my hair

But I hold your faithful map
to the places of dragons

to that tender lair, the far
mountains, the acres of longing

Happy Endings

It is the season of new growth
Violets quirk their ears alert purple
& sunlight is better than found money

Your son is secure in his candy-red
world, one more glad somersault.
Let's believe in happy endings.

Winter lasted too long
though the snow glittered.
Let's believe in wishes

granted by new fir candles.
Let's think it's a joyful
procession, this life, climbing hills

upward, & across wood & water
for a clear view. The sea here
marries the land, the mist the sky

If you walk through fire
still you always come home
to this ocean ringed truth

to this springtime life
supple with blesssing
loving each other.

Black Swan

The black swan out of the north came
all warm feathered, eyes red, the setting
sun & all our dead were therefore covered

No, it's not like that, but I like to think them
held, those complicated loves. I like to think
them more than ashes or the squared

elements we return to finally, fire, ice,
the river you think I am. The old ones
knew this too, this ache, these small things

so it's not a new story, loss & loss. The moon
stays with us. The cats survived
the blaze. You say it was the house of love

burnt up utterly
& burning still

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Way Home

In this place joy is our birthright.
We don't need to kneel all night
on the closed stones, paying our way

with tears. Come to the clear light.
The wild irises stand on the slopes
each one holding her breath. We can fly

arms open, empty handed, into this story
where the stars catch in our hair
& banners are haven, glory, heart's rest

Nothing else to remember.

(it was printed in a little magazine out of the Mendocino region called Sojourn Magazine, not to be confused with the fine Christian activist magazine with a similar name. Reading this poem now I see I owe quite a debt here to Mary Oliver's poem about how one doesn't have to be good.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

the museum, the prison, the madhouse

in some long still dance of pain
you come to me
in a stone ship, your name undone
to pictures on the prow:
the lion, the hawk, the musician of the court

you stare at me with your blank eyes
and hold one hand free
waiting for the falcon to descend
or a blessing to bracelet it
litanies for suicides & priests

though I cover the mirrors
you are everywhere before me
in the leaf vein cup
of my hands, in the weathered stone
with its face of human grief

in this last asylum you turn
& turn again, bringing feathers & harps of bone
in this dream my lover, in this a death--
the delicate choosings; murder, prayer--
we are both dead beneath our masks

yet in this last we run
like the fallow deer
through the mist on the glass, the brier,
in the mouth of the wind, the wind month
where only the gulls are crying

(the acceptance from Hilda Raz of Prairie Schooner of this poem was waiting for me when I came to northern California many years back. The poem was written during my time in England, a time of many...dramatic life events. I used to spend a lot of time writing in the British Museum, in front of an Egyptian statue. The poem later was anthologized in one of the Borestone anthologies.)

Closing the Beach House

Turning back like a window
set to the change of weathers:
inside, old cabinets; the phone
pulled from the wall, roots hanging

I am come strange
a rootless garden

Only slowly words surface:
ghosts with sad mouths moving
staring in blank soil
and in the unclosing

hard conjugations, lies,
the dead

windows where we cried
at the flood-
time, the seedlings bent, all
leaves like feathers,
blood tipped

marriage an old house

Somewhere, Malibu, perhaps
the fish flap
silver bellied on the sand
moon spawn, fire
gutted on your spit

here my eyelids close
over my own

it is all fragment
an archaeology claiming
by touch, by pain
the doorsills, the dry rot

eating the heartwood

(this is a very old poem; it was printed in kayak. It was one of the first poems of my apprentice years that I really liked, that felt sound. I was touched to receive an email a few years ago from someone who teaches poetry who said this poem had reached him when he was a young man and going through a difficult time. He'd taken the poem and done a watercolor and framed them.
To know that for decades someone had cherished my words, reading his life into them, was a remarkable gift.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In This Lace Orchard

With you I learned to live in bed
& mirror, resting this gift
this salt & water: body
against your own
more drunk than fragile

& knew all roads were glass
& our grave nights reversal
since all comes back at last
silk of the turned apple leaf
hollow of finches

so I hold out my hands: noon
& I stand in my shadow
in this country of blown leaves, desire
in this lace orchard
where you are the light

(this was a kayak poem--that is, printed in that odd and lovely magazine edited by George Hitchcock back in the day)

Hexagram 36

Darkening of the light. I haven't seen you
for weeks. Meadows unfold brocade
acres of embroidery, brodaiea

& meadowlark. Even here, back to the sun
I keep thinking I could meet you
Yellow book says: Be crazy

If there is no bread, taste the stones.
Suck this bitter stem. If there is no water
wait. Rain tastes of tears or kisses.

Missing your life, find it. Throw it away.
Hawks fly from the dark daily
double winged, single hearted.

Here in this mountain town

Here in this mountain town
I think of you still, filling
shaky cups with milk

clearing the table
interrupted by voices
of owls & children

south wind on my face
rain bringer, one who rips
early flowers like sent letters

This wasn't your destination
blue starred hyacinth
above you, little daughter

(no, never sent out, one of the miscarriage poems)


We read the words of the dead
poets, love or grief, pale roses
crushed in their still jars

quick steps, quick vision, the final dark
& all these separate pangs
a simple breath, and ice

the smile tossed back
as daughters run ahead. Death closes
all the books we turn at last.

What final word? The days grow short
& all our woods are bare
my life, though still the quick

birds come
where all the aching summer shone

(yeah, I've written a lot of poems titled "November", possibly for lack of imagination. It's an iconic month.)

In the Dark

And the black car comes again
slammed door & wailing

in the dark, at the window
at the edge, in the street
by design or sorrow
in the act
of crying by fear, by love
by her own
hand, against the last wall

with their lost names
sweet against the dark, warm

with my last breath
with secrets
in pain in longing relieved
holding on letting go
in the arms of strangers
in known beds
with your body near me


They all die. Are you used to it?
You tell me the pretty names
of illnesses, speaking Latin
against the coming dark your warm hands

testing the pulse. Spring was a long time
coming, shouldering her way
through all those snowed valleys
My love

the irises are once again
open, holding their hieroglyphic sweetness
They last a while, rain on my mouth
Touch me again


In the dark, in terror, in silence
Reading this last poem hearing
the broken cry : towhee or black
raven Laughing with your heart
stopped With your hand open
Looking for someone Crossing
a street the room a bed Going
somewhere else

with you always before me

(no, of course this one never saw print elsewhere. I was pondering the various ways one dies.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

hold in the palm of your hand this

one leaf
its own galaxy
how the doors of the wind wheel open

how your pulse blinks clear
histories of birds, your cousined cells

applauding: green: sap: feather
all this kin
bright as our accidental time

or nebula
or blessings of this
joined deliberate flesh

(it was published in kayak, long ago)

Small Rain

It was, I think, our fourth
the shut house swept
& lanterned. Light escaping

through the leaves, the hinges, our
laced fingers
the crushed sweet briar
which smells of apples

Turning, returning
on my spinstered bed
we slipped the old

you with your wrists of oak
& the winter spring
bound in its narrow culverts
poured out, & that

continual rain
drenching the juniper, the cloud
grass, the sorrel &
our joined & disbelieving mouths.

(one of the many long ago poems published in kayak)

Holding Your Name

I have stopped numbering my pages.
The calendar curls back against the wall
blameless & white
repeating always the same day, the month
open, a smooth bed, empty

Empty the weather passes with your step.
I am always opening the door.
The rain comes in, blank, faithful as breath
holding your name. I have stopped
pretending reason; love is no safe room.

Though the stones are speaking I cannot
hear. The wind tightens on my face, the sky
broods its dull warnings. Grief
that mild bird has turned its head; O my dear
we cannot stop dying.

(and long, long ago, the Iowa Review printed this one)

In this inconstant heaven

In this inconstant heaven
stars glitter like hooks; tense
as flame the alders tremble
all their edged leaves fallen

I have walked from you on these
closed eyes, thin mouths.
They tell no shelter, though the stars open
or the stones say their hard comfort

In the hollow of my throat
in my mind's bending, you are;
beating my one pulse
inescapable as light.

(yes, see the semi-colon? very early. Printed in the Christian Science Monitor long ago).


Lines repeat like branches, barely
moved in this stalled air; all
your small deaths have entered
bone into bone, fine as ice

Your patterns crystalize: the harvest
mouse throws his life
pure from his own three wounds.
You will replace his blood

with river; give us back
tears neat as pods.
What loss are you growing?
What must we give

for our drowned hair; the rainbow
in our cells; this stellar cancer
intricate as Brahms; our graves
with their stopped mouths.

(very early poem. You can tell how early because it was printed in Yankee magazine back when they actually printed poetry, under the editorship of Jean Burden who was always encouraging.
And...from the overuse of semi-colons!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You showed me the dissolution of desire

You showed me the dissolution of desire
your unstrung body scattered on the waters
I have been falling for a long time

here, & without you, in this vertebraic land
rain as a rosary against my breast
& my heart its own drum. You gave

your skin to light the numbered passions
your hair for the warmth of sparrows
your blood for the orchards flowering &

at last the bitten apples, at last
the naked tree
this solitude of bone


Is death a permanent address?
I thought the country visible
just beyond those blue hills. There were deer

wearing the sunlight to keep warm
there were the lost children of the bobcat
The creeks pulsed with minnows

the ridge with small paws & ripples
I would give my heart here, a glad lantern
a cup of succor

to know the path where all I have loved
keeps vanishing

Yes, grief moved like the mist
over the yellow hills of summer, a banditry
that veiled your mouth, that covered

your blue eyes, and from this place
& from this place only the questions
echo & when will the rocks speak

when will the broken rocks speak
to answer again, to answer again
this heart's asking


No one else
could meet me there.

(in my actual notebooks this is marked "in progress"...but I will not return to it. So I release it).

Touching the Edges

I was in love then with the easy light
that slipped through the shutters of that rented room
touching the edges where your body vanished
into light or Florentine landscapes
each with its winding road-to-heaven
& that blue sky, tender & dissolving
I tried again, a kind of sugar & water
solution. Nothing came together
tears weren't glue
we were in those days young, unfocused
as my breath misting the glass
you held out to me. I wanted
to let go, to step out into that light
beyond our bodies' separate galaxies
along some braid of time turning back
again & always in that breath held space
before the angel's gesture or the fall
of petals on the perfect Botticelli grass.
Decades later the planets are still
turning while those inevitable orads
wind away & the summer birds
flare all through my distant woods
in fragile generations: no, here nothing stays
you are still gone. Over & under
I braid my daughter's hair
the light catching, again, for a time
on her skin, on my outstretched hand.

On the Climbing Bars

On the climbing bars
my daughter stands & balances
long yellow hair in the clear wind

this seventh drought year
her sixth year
she straddles the iron

flopping over, hands wide:
Look! A bird!
By night she finds the Pleiades

& asks me what will happen
when the world ends
will there still be moths

& bats, soft faced, umbrella winged
Will the spring frogs sing in the mud
& the hazels rustle

Small bird, I don't know.
But we hold in this life
to thin air & light

(oh, I have so many of these domestic poems, and I rarely sent them out, and only a handful were ever printed. But I needed to write them at the time. Daughter of the poem is now 24, so this was long ago indeed.)

Another Grimm Story

I am wearing your pink sweater
this month of the deaths of mothers

color of stolen roses & unscrewed
lipsticks, smelling of powder

& Faberge. I can't walk in your shoes
those rhinestoned stilettos

knowing the stories you murmured
night after night by my oak bed

the slippers danced thin as the new moon
the swans wings & nettles

This life's a glass mountain, truly.
It's a forest without roads.

Your sweater unravels. Your granddaughter
frowns into a dark mirror

smoothing her chopped hair. I stroke
this pink wool with my pricked finger.

(another never printed poem. I loved fairy tales).

Confession to the Agent

I have concealed weapons
& books you can't read
pressed roses from Algiers
sand on my black wool

with this needle I have
knotted coats & covers
I have lists of names
& I remember

In childhood I sat at your table
my hair a fused grenade
poetry a weapon's belt
You gave me calendars

of foreign landscapes
A pretty child, my seaglass eyes
slid to buckles
& fumbled fingers, the last stain

Watch me carefully
I cross the borders

(another one never sent out. It is true, however, that I grew up with agents.)

Though I Held An Insurrection of Grief

We didn't have the tongues of angels
but I wanted to stay
in your sunflower world, watched over
by the always-turning, madonna

with goldfinches against the blue
thrilled sky, & risen
heat. Yes, I wanted to stay
near your mathematics of sparrows

You believed every hair was counted
& so were you, translated
in the fluorescent corridors
of the very wakeful Trinity

& yes, with the hospitable clangor
of gongs & all the joy of cymbals
surely you danced then
to some coded, chemobright heaven.

(this one was published in the North American Review; it was written on my mother's death).

Long Before Your Face is Touched

Long before your face is touched
by this summer wind
you can hear it, the sweet breath
of this world, yes

appearances & vanishings
words on the backs of photographs
the bright dead
we loved here by the damaged river

I should have known then
when I guided you along the ridges
wild oat & star thistle
when you braced your body against my hands

our breath stays together
breathing with this earth
despite the broken summer
the paths grown over

(never published, never sent it out; slight music).

The Small Things Hold Us

The small things hold us
to this earth.
I wash the dirt from the baby's face
on his head the hair turns

a small nebula

Under my hands
he comes up gasping, astonished
in the fall air
trusting the light will hold him

if I cannot

My girl picks up the dead
butterflies like worn flowers
at the edges of the road
California sisters & painted ladies

she has learned to name them all

This hungry year
we cut pictures from the papers
she is learning to read: war, grief, fire
she makes houses for butterflies

lined with hard words

& her brother spells them out
in this fall, fighting free
of childhood as he fought
from my body

through the bright blood

That long ago blue wail
fixed me to this world
certain as nails: I am here
no betrayer

The road is narrow

past my cabin
lined now with the dead
leaves & next year's
young raspberries

they grab my hands as we walk

Come visit; I will show you
how these things
passing leaves, a child's hand
heart's blood

hold the door & keep me here

(never published, and I don't think I even sent it out, because it felt too discursive. But here it is; a poem that might be subtitled "and my kids keep me from killing myself, darn it!". A few years after I wrote this I did walk the edge again, for what I hope was the last time.)

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Family Album

Across the silvered pages
our shadows come
those small children
holding comicbooks & violets

grinning into the hard light
hand in hand as in the old story
At night, all night, they wander
brother & sister along the trail of rock

& crumbs, scattering some message
like the flight of wild doves:
gone. The air is bright
with absence. We were so young.

Leaning across the book
you tell me it is nothing
silver on paper
tears in wine.

(never published, as old as my daughter. It was written the year she was born, and the year my brother was released from prison. )

Letters from Nineveh

When the tower fell I was there
in my oleander dress leaning
from that high window
rimmed with rose & jasmine
not having your body to lean against

Here in Nineveh death takes a long time
also love, that clean unveiling
& the unfanciful bounty, body's truth:
when the skies fell how could my broken
hands not be open

who sought you so long
against the shattered daylight

The days go by in Nineveh
& the sharp nights
Last week the sea birds flew
here by inland light &
I could taste again the salt
dried on your skin

Then it was always summer
we tried words
on innocent tongues: apple
peach, plum; bird in the wet grass
sleek hair, my new breasts
in your hands

To reconcile
death, lust, grief, love
takes such a long time
In these long dreams
I meet you, holding out a glass
empty or full, sweet, bitter

I can't guess where we are
to meet again; some white room
or garden, some pleasant hell
accustomed as my cards
cups & swords, king here, lost queen
lost summer skies

How was it so easy once?
Now at the boundary
I hold to what is left, the broken
light through these plum trees
the empty air, the unmade
bed, door open


Against the boundaries
of our broken lands
I look for you, still water

these long times
In the south gardens
the early fruit is gone

& the foxgrapes come
& quince, scenting
the bare rooms

& unripe persimmons
bitter lantern
in the open woods

My children hunt for earthstars
the white angels, & the good

which smell of your skin
Rain settles
its familiar touch

on these intimate
bends of river, crevices
of sandstone

With my hair blown
across my wet eyes
how will I know you, my life

walking these dark roads

(this one was also printed in Prairie Schooner, back in the day. I wrote a number of Nineveh poems, but this is my favorite)

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What We Know

In the woods the summer birds
learn to fly, testing the air
& careful through sun & leaf the quick
fawn steps & stands
lured by roses and ripened plums

What we desire we cannot have

I know this; all my life
comes to this still moment. Between rocks
water wells up: call it spring
or miracle you say
smiling into the sun

on this hilltop where the hawks cry out

& the children pain
with stems of dried grass and wildflowers
making hearts & their names
on white cloth
your darkhaired daughter laughing

All my life these summer birds

have put on feathers & flown away
If I were
to touch your wet skin
to drink your clear water
dear my life, what could my hands

hold to

(Once again...and we shall see how this goes...I set out to gather up the poems of many years in one place, before they are all scattered and rainsoaked. This one was printed in Prairie Schooner)

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