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
is bestowed upon
the male while
perfects the pheasant art
of blending in.
if any root remains,
the fallen tree will
around the standing.
wind can be seen
is the loudest sound
in the forest--proof
that strong doesn't mean
nothing is immune
even a little at a time
whether lightning struck
from the inside.
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
there is no such thing as
too muddy, for
you can always
the bridge you make
of what's fallen.
soft hair of moss
you held in your hands
stays green long after
it's stopped living.
you've strayed too far
from the country
because you can no longer
name what needs naming.
Each pussy willow
is merely a bud.
it doesn't matter
who made the poop.
The pile is wildness
come and gone before you,
maybe still in your midst.
lungs will burn
you winter clean, free
the cobwebs from
are alive and dying.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
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
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
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
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.