For days she wore only the aqua sweatshirt
spaghetti stained with grimy cuffs,
the brontosaurus beaming out at us from her chest
the words EXTINCT IS FOREVER, which she cannot read,
floating below his happy face.
He is her friend
she wears him like an emblem
through the lacquered afternoon
stomping through the house, her private rain forest.
And we know as we watch her
that she expects to spot him at any time
around some corner, in the garden, or at least at the zoo
where surely all creatures are saved and celebrated.
How she would pat and embrace him
her hand a white leaf against his skin.
She would feed him bits of bread, rice, sliced banana, anything
to see him tremble with joy
down the length of his great uncomplicated body.
Then one morning she approached us
just risen from sleep and said “All the dinosaurs died”
with a grief so deep and pure we could only
nod and apologize and regret—
she learned so soon that what we love
moves on sometimes across the dreamy landscape
long before we ever hold it in our arms.
(from How the Garden Looks from Here)
In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God~Saint John of the Cross
Your father married for love
an orphan below his noble station.
Discarded by his wealthy kindred
they say your parents nurtured you in poverty—
and the bread was as sweet as any bread
and the days offered their shiny hands
and their little streams of water
singing in the glades.
I see you wandering happily as a boy,
the sun a crown on your small head,
your bare feet scuffing the dust.
God chirped like a wood lark
in the throat of afternoon
and the lonely months in prison
were far ahead beneath the great shadow
of the future.
I try to follow you there, O mystic,
to watch you defy your greedy brethren
monks who will reject your reforms, your love
of less, of days returned to prayer and fasting.
Fat and threatened, they silenced you
in a narrow stone cell, one tiny window
like the one in the soul where day after day
the voice of God pierced your suffering.
Out of emptiness, a full heart—
out of abandonment, a poem of seeking—
out of utter darkness, a gleam of pure light—
love’s last trembling boat waiting for you
to get in, and row.
(December 7, 2017 SWWIMM.org)
Nineteen years is how a lie gets disguised as over it. Where did you go? After all this cold river melt downstream I miss you most when one daughter flicks her wrist just so and her sister borrows your pretty legs to kick beneath her short black skirt. I just got middle-aged— tiny, intricate webs, my smile’s sad afterimage. And suddenly—the way you left—spring starts up like that Sunday morning in April— all ache and blossom, church bells, your inconsolable daughters. And what then, Mom, what? (Hamilton Stone Review 2017)
The hushed slide of the back door
was the dream gone slack, my mother
not a ghost actor after all, but the horse was
a black vanish, silk slipping past the needle
and the day mumbled forward
inside all the interrupted clocks.
Later I watched the moon’s little path
of white fire across the lake—October
moon hanging in the throats of coyotes
beyond the boundary of night wire, a song
of blood and light.
The rattle I heard then was not death.
It was the day’s engine ticking, giving in,
an old wind wrangling the last leaves
from trees out there in the dark.
(Two Cities Review, 2016)
I have a German Shepherd
the sheriff’s department would love
for his giant chest, his hundred and twenty
pound frame, his desire for honest work.
He helps me feed the horses
rummaging for mice behind the grain bin.
When the mares get pushy, his bark
booms across the frozen lake
and foxes slink away in their thin red sleep.
The growl from his throat
is prehistoric, a rumble from a black cave
where firelight breaks the rock in tattered shadows.
He knows there is danger in the world, and fear
is neither influence nor abstract.
When the doorbell sings its one chime
he looms quiet on the other side.
Being ready is a solemn job. He could do it forever.
In the cave of his ribs his heart is an ember.
(from The Light at the Edge of Everything)
Dog eyes, crow feathers, black shoes beneath the bed,
the burnt pan of potatoes on the stove—and then night
wrapped a veil around my sick mare as she walked
restless circles in the corral dirt, a shape
of rib and air, sweat blooming
its little rain along her neck.
When she lay down and I lay down with her
I understood that a vet an hour away
is a vet in another country.
And the dark around us was not
an ocean of grace or loss but a black bowl
that, if we let go, holds us
without pity. But it holds us.
(in the collection The Hours I Keep)