I sit at the foot of mother’s bed.
The institutional bedspread is blue chenille.
Between us is a box without a lid.
She pulls out a black and white photograph.
“Aunt Ivy,” she says of the woman in a print dress
and straw hat, which she wears on the back of her head
in a way that makes it seem as if she is wearing a halo.
“She was married four times, you know.”
“Cousin Luke,” mother says of the next photo.
A man in a white shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows
stands with smiling white teeth next to a dark DeSoto.
I learn as we go through the box that Cousin Luke
was always photographed standing next to a new car
and that he was a shirt-tail cousin, whatever that means.
Mother isn’t sure. It’s just what she was told.
“My brother, Dan,” mother says.
He’s in a sailor’s dress uniform.
I remember him married to his second wife,
and that he had gotten two women pregnant at the same time
after the war and somehow married them both.
I never asked how he managed that.
It’s not something the family talks about.
We go through the rest of the box
of cousins, cousins of cousins, aunts, uncles,
people we may or may not be related to,
me writing their names on the back of each photo,
not talking about a lot of things.
The door opens. Three girls shuffle in from the street
all wearing name tags,
two Megans (spelled differently)
and a Sonjae, with an e on the end,
a diphthong that sets her apart
from every ordinary Sonja.
Their flip-flops make that flip-flop noise on the tile
and that sound of rubber on bare heels.
Their skirts are short,
their legs, long and tanned.
It is the first day of summer,
the longest day of the year.
The door closes behind them
to keep out the unconditioned air.
I hope to die in winter.
January would be nice.
A January death would not spoil
a day like this one.
The bad weather would keep attendance down
at any service my family holds
against my final wishes.
January would be nice
but not this one
or the next.
Falcon Of The Inner Eye, Morris Graves (1941)
Oh, these are not the pretty
painted plovers of Audubon
but spirit birds of nature
that seek to nest
in that wounded wilderness of the inner eye,
maddened by the sound of machinery
and logged-off mountains,
myths of division and separation,
Taoist owls in times of change,
moonbirds with their haunted bouquets
singing in the next dimension.
The shorter one took a place
at the center of the room.
“Mr. K.,” he said.
“Who are you?
How did you get in here?”
I asked from my bed.
“Who do you think we are?”
His face bland as a monk fish
that had passed on.
“I’m sure I don’t know.
What is it you want?”
“We’re here to inform you
you’re under arrest, Mr. K.
Will you please get dressed?”
“Arrest on what charge?
What have I done?
Who is accusing me of a crime?”
“What do you think
you have done, Mr. K?”
“Why, I have done nothing.
I have broken no law.
I have done nothing. Nothing at all.
And what is that you are writing in that note book?”
“It’s your confession, Mr. K.
I’m taking every thing down as evidence for the trial.”
“Trial for what? Confession to what?
As I told you. I have done nothing.
Nothing at all.”
“Exactly Mr. K. That’s
what I put down. Now,
will you please get dressed.”
We are looking for good poetry.
We are not interested in rhyme,
how you have suffered for your art
or your unrequited loves.
What do we consider good, you ask?
Have you even read our journal?
We pass on poetry with one word lines.
Remember, don’t tell us, show us.
Simultaneous submissions will be considered
if you agree to let us know when some other
equally obscure publication was foolish enough
to agree to publish your futile attempt at writing poetry.
We will not consider material
that has been previously published,
not that there’s much danger of that,
given who you are not.
Include a third person biography
of no more than one short paragraph.
This should not be difficult since
there’s so little about you that we’d find interesting
One last thing you should know about poetry,
since far more people are writing it
than are interested in reading it,
we do not offer any compensation.
One look at those marvelous ears
and you can tell right away
the rabbit was made for hearing
the vixen trying to be so cleaver
at creeping through the tall grass
in search of a morning meal,
the scream of the hawk from a mile away
or the beat of raptor wings
(which is thunder in the leporidae ear),
the squeak of snow
under bobcat feet,
or the swish of a loose dogs tail.
This is why the rabbit, everyone’s prey,
is in a constant state of such arousal
that he can mate in an instant.
You were the nurse who came to stay
to care for a sick woman who died,
leaving you to marry her farmer husband
and finish the raising of their twin daughters.
This was the story you told me
as we walked to the general store
under leaves dripping from a summer shower
as the door of day swung closed behind us.
You introduced me to the storekeeper.
A tall woman who, like you, wore an apron.
The store smelled of flour. And, when she opened a jar
on the counter, of licorice, which she called anise.
You bought sugar and a box of tea, which you paid for
from a small cloth purse that held no bills, only change.
You let me carry the groceries home.
I felt grown up for the first time.
As darkness grew complete we sat on the porch
drinking the tea with the sugar and a bit of orange peel.
You talked to me as though I was not a child.
I imagined your life as it was and mine as it might be.
Later, as I lay in bed neither asleep nor awake,
from the barn came the rustle of an owl’s wings.
No one remembers the tune
or who’s birthday party it was
but when the music stopped mid-note
and we stopped circling the line of chairs,
I was the one forced to hard ground
because it was my turn.
It is always someone’s turn.
Each wave you face is the same
and each one different.
The same in how it looks,
the whiteness of it’s crest,
the deep cerulean of its shadow.
Different in where it breaks on the body,
one just below the knee,
the next just above,
sending an unexpected joy
of cold shock through the groin
and into the brain,
causing you to lift your weight
onto the balls of your feet,
making it feel as if you are lighter.
There is a sudden intake of air to fill lungs
which have become suddenly larger.
The web is not delicate to the spider
who, like the roustabout in a circus,
hauls on heavy hawsers of course rope
constantly taking up the slack of life,
tying the loose ends to the most secure anchors available,
knowing that tomorrow she may be starting all over again.
Perfect love has a breath of poetry
And fervour childish and simple
In a little lacquered box
This box, opened hardly at all,
Was the symbol of who loved her
And how she came to die in forlornness.
Dear owner of the yellow Cape Cod.
I am truly sorry
for running over your cat.
I thought about stopping
to pick him up
so your kids wouldn’t find him
but kids need to know
sadness in their lives
and the realities of life and death.
Besides, it would have made me late for work
and you’d have had no way to know
what had happened to him.
I will tell you
that he did not suffer,
that he felt no pain,
and that the last thing he did feel
was a sense of great surprise, as you can tell
from the expression frozen forever on his face.
The light in the room is old and light,
that is to say it is old and does not lay heavy
on the unpolished wood of oak floors
in the house of your last surviving aunt.
Yes, since you ask, light can be old,
which means it has been slowed
by its passage through yellowed curtains
and the heavy traffic of dust motes.
It carries with it a certain smell,
traces of mold, ozone and electricity.
You may also detect ammonia in the air
from too many cats that are gone now.
She will offer you something to drink,
tea most likely, and perhaps a bite to eat.
You will say no, explaining to her
that you had lunch on the road.
You will ask how she has been doing.
She will complain but minimize any real trouble,
not wanting you to think it might be time
to think about a nursing home.
She stays away from doctors, she says,
because they just want what little money you have.
She asks how you are, wants to know
if you are still married to, “what was her name”?
You tell her, “No. That was a long time ago.
The kids have grown . All moved away”.
She sighs, shrugs her thin shoulders
at how time has gotten away.
You agree. And now you have to tell her
why it is that you came. Why you drove
these three hundred miles when it’s been
fifteen years since you last came to see her.
It always begins with the letter E,
which is so large on the eye chart
that I should be able to read it in the mountains
from the floor of the valley below.
The F and the P on the second line
are just a little smaller,
still not much of a challenge.
By the third line
myopia begins to take its toll
and I wonder, perhaps out loud,
if T O Z isn’t a word.
Line four, I’m sure,
contains a reference
to the Los Angeles Police Department.
At least, I am certain about the L and the D.
The next line is a guess at best,
the first letter being a C an O or a G.
There’s no way to tell which.
Below that are what appear to be several lines
that were written by an unknown Russian poet.
This I can tell from the sadness
of the few letters that I am able to read.