Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It began with little changes. At first, I noticed his cat seemed to be outside more often. Then the strange cars began to appear. I assumed family was visiting. Yesterday an oxygen vendor made a stop there. Today, another car was there. Its license plate holder bore the word, "Hospice." Now it makes sense. My neighbor is sick. Leaving-the-world-soon sick. I feel guilty. I've never talked to him. All I know is not much. One should not live feet away from another human and know so little. Observation shouldn't be the lifeblood of my memories of a man making ready to die. Goodbye to the man who lives in the house with its bright turquoise trim. Goodbye to the lawn mowed in perfectly straight rows. Goodbye to front-porch whirlygigs glinting in the sun. Frost said, "Good fences make good neighbors." Why, then, do I feel so bad?

Monday, April 18, 2011


Design says
is bestowed upon
the male while
the female
perfects the pheasant art
of blending in.

Design says
if any root remains,
the fallen tree will
grow sideways,
curve sensuously
around the standing.

Design says
wind can be seen
and swaying
is the loudest sound
in the forest--proof
that strong doesn't mean
not bending.

Design says
nothing is immune
from dying,
even a little at a time
whether lightning struck
or riddled
from the inside.

Design says
that mushrooms
are hard like mussel shells
or shingles hanging
and so hard--a house
and a door
you can knock on
but you'll never be
let in.

Design says
there is no such thing as
too muddy, for
you can always
cross over
the bridge you make
of what's fallen.

Design says
soft hair of moss
you held in your hands
stays green long after
it's stopped living.

Design says
you've strayed too far
from the country
because you can no longer
name what needs naming.
Each pussy willow
is merely a bud.

Design says
it doesn't matter
who made the poop.
The pile is wildness
come and gone before you,
maybe still in your midst.

Design says
lungs will burn
you winter clean, free
the cobwebs from
summer memory
remind you
are alive and dying.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Your Mother Goes Square Dancing

What does age do to the wallflower?
Does it make it any easier?
She leaves in her elastic-waist jeans
and orthotic shoes, having stood before
the mirror for only a minute--
long enough to draw on lips and to
run a brush through her silver hair.

Every Thursday I consider playing chauffeur
because I fear she won't get there safely.
Not long ago, our cars passed, I waved
and she seemed oblivious. I was traffic
and not the familiar, her daughter.
Does she notice the sliver moon and
the clatter of stars above her? Does she

sing along to the radio? At 64, does
she sit in her car, steaming up windows
until courage is a corsage she can wrap
around her wrist? Does she mingle
or sit in some dark corner alone?
She tells me she is one of the young ones,
the swinging single surrounded by

wedding bands sunk into skin. These are
swans who mate for life, and she
sashays left or do se dos
and someone swings her only
when the caller says so. It's hard to recall
a time she truly had a partner.
I wonder what cruel luck allows some

to dance all their lives, over so many
waxed wooden floors and what sweet sadness
must she suppress in order to keep flying solo
knowing each outstretched hand is artifice,
offered for these few fun hours.She never sours
of trying and told me once that I should come with her.
She said, "You'd like it. There are people your age."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Everything, it Seems, Is Pink

my recovering lungs,

this Lewiston sunrise after rain,

the 2 lopsided apples sitting

at my desk, the lips

I painted this morning,

and after having found

the Audubon calendar

stuck on March, I turned

the page to find

the outstretched wings

of the roseate spoonbill,

whose legs, even in flight,

seem grounded, whose face

only her hungry child

could love, and whose nest,

for all intents and purposes,

must look as if it's blushing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meditation on Brown

It's April brown. It's cabin-crazy, Sunday brown

and we haven't seen the sun

for seasons. We'd rather see brown

than be blue, and so we are driving

the gravel-sparse county, not knowing

where we're going. We feel the pull of it.

It's caution that turns our music down

and makes us realize our stories

have no end or beginning.

It surrounds us: ditch and patchwork fields:

the straw and the clod, the fissure and crack

of a wet wound healed and reopened. We ride

parallel the slope and climb. We tic off time

in terms of sand and loam and clay unbaked.

We witness slide, the silt, and off-kilter hills.

Run off makes for unplanned ponds.

The feathers of ducks are the only green thing.

Otherwise, it's dead grass

in the unfenced yards of people who

know no neighbors. If they planted flowers,

they planted them long ago. Wild bulbs

make their maybe promises of crocus,

hyacinth, daffodil. The house on the hill

is a fortress, whose fence opens out to field.

This dirt is machine worked

or hand sifted by winter that knew no

letting up. Don't shoot the messenger.

Winter is a precursor to that thing

we've been waiting for. I'm sure Spring

is tucked somewhere out here

past the city limits signs. Bless its softness.

Bless the sometimes disappearance of snowflakes.

Bless the impressionistic tracks

and the roads still closed to traffic

that doesn't exist. Bless the paw print

and the hoof beaten sod, the dust we grind

into the welcome mat. Bless the boots

drying outside the door, bless the cat

who chatters at squirrels. Bless the cold

linoleum. Bless the steeping cup of tea,

and the hands making prayer hands around it.

Bless the returned lovers trading heat

and hoping winter will soon be over

under this familiar white blanket.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Isn't every kitchen yellow? And doesn't everyone have a radio sitting on that room's version of a mantle? It was there like clockwork, like whatever saying explains reliability. The day began and ended with that leather box. KRLC 1350 and coffee, call-in classifieds while sitting around the table eating weekday Shredded Wheat and toast more butter than bread or weekend feasts of meat and eggs served sunny side up and dark with the grease she cooked them in.We were unapologetically country. She whistled mainly, but occasionally I heard the rasp of her voice working its way over a choice line. Hank and Waylon and Willie offered advice for living, and I took it. You can't be a daddy's girl with no daddy, but thankfully there was always grandma and the country. Then cancer and its own gravel roads: radiation with its tattoo scars and peeled skin, the pain pump, hospice and that final January day. I'm not sure if music was playing when I cooked the food she couldn't eat. Grease was its own medicine we'd pretend and she'd move it around on the plate as if spreading it out was taking it into her body. There was no sound at all those nights I watched as she moved her lips, speaking to no one I could see. When she could no longer drink, I learned to wet her tongue with the sponges they gave me which reminded me of childhood lollipops. There was no soundtrack then, only my dog sleeping beneath her bed and crying coming from other rooms. I can remember when I thought it morbid that she had it all planned out: flying over the farm, my uncle and her friend tend to her land once more in this different way. But things don't always go as planned. Sometimes young die before old, friendships grow cold, and a plane becomes a hand. Sky becomes the distance from hip to winter-killed grass. What songs were humming through my head then, holding ashes with more bone than I'd imagined? What songs were echoing through a house being emptied of all she'd ever owned? What songs were contained in that tough leather that I took when told I could pick 3 things to remember her by?

Friday, April 1, 2011


Andrew Wyeth, Eat Your Heart Out It's perfect timing that the little stranger has accompanied her daddy to class this day when I introduce ethnography. It's about why do we do the things we do. We'll study one bird to have something to say about the flock. Earlier, this little bird piped up. As I turned my back to write on the board, I heard, "Are you the wicked witch of the West? 'Cause that's what my daddy says." Her honesty is perfect and my cheeks burn beneath it. Her father dances a jig. He's danced before in a discussion about the power of words. We'd read an essay encouraging women to think themselves queens in a world where rappers pronounce them ho's and bitches. He compared those words to nigger at which point the static roared and I couldn't hear. When he was done, he apologized to the one black student in the room and the discussion resumed as if they were collectively trying to bury a body. There are days when they say what I could never teach, when the lesson isn't written in the plans. Then and now, I feel helpless. I want to erase it from the air, where it hangs long after they've left. I think witch stings a little but it doesn't burn like nigger must. It's not skin. I go on: Susan Orlean brought us "The American Man at Age 10," and I model technique on his daughter who has spent the hour doodling. She is 6. She likes 'ghetti best for dinner. Yellow is her favorite color. I ask, "Who is your favorite person in the world?" thinking she will say it's her dad, but she says "dog" instead and the students laugh and soon the air is lighter. At the end of the hour, the students leave with whatever they gather. I'm erasing when I feel the smallest pressure around my thigh. She is hugging me. She says, "You aren't really a witch at all."I'm left spinning, circling the way my dog does when he's trying to find the soft spot of a hard floor. My dog is, indeed, the world's best person because he doesn't speak but knows the certain number of rotations that makes the slumber easier. Whether my lesson plans hit or miss escapes him. He doesn't have time. He lives even in sleep: running limbs, the whimper, the always satisfied sigh.