Friday, December 18, 2009

Moving to Hospice

Arlo sings to me right now,
Can you dry every tear...take every hand that death has consumed?
I know Barbary needs a hand
when her sister passes she'll have a river of tears
that not even my cupped hands will hold.

My dog stands behind me
She's crying and pacing
for her boys, my boys, who have gone
out to play in the field
outside the gate where she can not go.

The sky is light blue, dusk will soon fall.
I see our willow tree greening up along
its strands that hang like pearls,
like a rasta-man's dreads swaying in the wind.
The willow is dying, too.

Now Arlo has played the last notes of
"Gambler's Blues" and the people clap
their hands, whistle. I'm sure they smile
to one another, nod their heads, sigh.
But what of Barbary's sister?

Maybe she's sighing, too.
Maybe she's listening to Arlo right now
remarking in her head how she used to
listen to Guthrie when he first started strumming.
She sighs, knowing he'll keep strumming
even when she no longer can listen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Memory

That was a bright and bitter day
The phone rang
She called, for the last time,
simply to say, "I love you"
and nothing more.

It took me a moment
to grasp her message
the way her breath caught
like snowflakes on lashes
a thistle seed on argyles

But when at last I understood
her meaning,
it was too late.
There was nothing left
but an empty dial tone.

Felicity

Felicity was the girl everyone wanted to pick
on because she was slow that way,
you know what I mean.

And one time, when she was playing
right field, she wet
her pants.

She didn’t yell at us or
anything mean, though she did walk
away crying

her blond hair sticking out
of her head like
straws in a haystack

her nose snotty and red
using her sleeve
for a Kleenex.

How many times had she heard the words,
be a good sport,
so she was.

Felicity was the girl everyone wanted to pick
on.
So we did.

A Writer's Vice

Carol Jean always takes her coffee black
Like the inky sky on a moonless night
Digging in her pocket for a Salem pack
A pair of essentials so that she can write

Like the inky sky on a moonless night
She needs a smoke as well as a lamp
A pair of essentials so that she can write
She scrawls with a writer's cramp

She needs a smoke as well as a lamp
Both burn holes if left forgotten
She scrawls with a writer's cramp
Black words, dark thoughts--all rotten

Both burn holes if left forgotten
The torment of an elusive word
Black words, dark thoughts--all rotten
Stanzas: first, second, then third

The torment of an elusive word
Digging in her pocket for a Salem pack
Stanzas: first, second, then third
Carol Jean always takes her coffee black

Monday, November 30, 2009

Abecedarians

Sibling Rivalry

After begging candy, Deedra E. Freeman got harmfully ill.
"Jeepers, kid. Like, mitigate nauseous old puke," quipped Ruby.
Sister tattled--unfaithful varmit!
What xxxx'ed your zipper?



Space

Alone
Being
Cosmos
Dione
Existence
Fool's Paradise
Godliness
Hole
Infinity
Jetsons
Knot
Lost in
Manned
Nebula
Open
Pica em
Quantum
Room
Spool
Tool
Uncrowded
Vacuum
Wasteland/Wonderland
Xyst
Years
Zero, don't you know how wonderful you are?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sail Away

I’ve had my ear to the rail forty-six days and counting.
Three yards up the line, my sister huddles,
waiting, same as me.

Hearing something
I jerk my head up,
study the horizon.
But, no, it is nothing,
perhaps the whine of an airplane overhead;
its contrail divides the sky in half.
My sister clears her throat.


In the alfalfa field small birds
like warbler and nuthatch, flit from stalk to stalk.
I lay my ear down once more.
The steel rail warm and soothing against my skin.
Its smoothness is like a sharp, sharp blade,
ready to slice a tomato.


Now I hear rumbling.
Under the palm of my hand, vibration.
With my head on the trestle,
I see a plume of white, smoky steam
unfurling in the sky.
A finger pointing,
but not at me.

The vibrato becomes a shuddering.
The grumble, a deafening roar.
I crouch,
horrified and immobile.

With a scream, the locomotive is upon me,
shaking me senseless like dice in a cup.

Yet it misses me,
as if I were invisible.

I sit up after the last car passes,
watching my sister as she sails away,
her brown hair laughing with the wind.

-------------------------------

I'd published another version of this poem much earlier in this blog's life. It's here now, closer to its final form.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kleptomatic

Pearl Ocean swung her handbag over
the cart’s handlebar, smacking
the plastic seat protector so soundly
it cracked.

Mrs. Chevalier shook her head
“I heard that, Pearl,” she scolded.
The newlywed smiled sheepishly,
“Jes not used to grocery shopping, I guess.”

“Mrs. Ocean, Mrs. Ocean,” the clerk
waved her slender hand in Pearl’s direction.
Pearl kept walking.
“Ain’t used to her married name, neither,”
muttered Cleomaude Chevalier.

Catching up to the young bride,
the clerk handed Pearl a slip
of paper, a five dollar bill, and 42 cents.
“Your change, Mrs. Ocean.”

“Why, thank you Bettis,” she
smiled, shoving the money into her bra.
Bettis raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

Finally home, Pearl opened up her purse
and dumped out two dozen plastic forks,
seventeen plastic spoons, and eight single-
serving sized bags of oyster crackers.

“Cheap as chips, but I cain’t stop with one,” she lamented.

A No. 2 Pencil's Fallen Glory

Somehow it has come to this, even after all I’ve done
Without regard, sagacity, for a thousand years they’ve used me,
Like slate and chalk, a paper journal, rejected; I feel your shun.

I was good enough to tuck behind your ear, sub as a mock-up gun
But those days are over and you’ve sailed on to another sea
Somehow it has come to this, even after all I’ve done

Stubby me with Susan, you and your teenaged son
Recording par or eagle, maybe an exultant bogey
Still, like slate and chalk, a paper journal, rejected; I feel your shun.

It’s all electronic now. How posh, exuberant! How fun!
Bah! When batteries wear out, erode, where will you be?
Somehow it has come to this, even after all I’ve done

Pencil sharpeners in every class room, those were the days, now none
Can be found, tossed out with Dick and Jane and baby Sally
Like slate and chalk, a paper journal, rejected; I feel your shun.

Laptops, computers, Jello-green monitors, screens—they’ve won
I’m useless, bent, a discarded possession. Are you happy?
Somehow it has come to this, even after all I’ve done
Like slate and chalk, a paper journal, rejected; I feel your shun.

Les Blues des Routes

One day you picked up a guitar
Ran your thumb along the strings
Imagined yourself a star
With a house, a car, bedecked like kings

Ran your thumb along the strings
Following notes on the page
With a house, a car, bedecked like kings
Slowly coming of age

Following notes on the page
You listened to Hackberry Ramblers
Slowly coming of age
Your dream of music felt like a gambler’s

You listened to Hackberry Ramblers
Learned the six-string, then the twelve
Your dream of music felt like a gambler’s
But a musician’s bounty you could not shelve

Learned the six-string, then the twelve
Looked for jobs in the Times-Picayune
But a musician’s bounty you could not shelve
Ending up singing in a dank saloon

Looked for jobs in the Times-Picayune
By moonlight you read Cajun Music by Savoy
Ending up singing in a dank saloon
Playing until your fingers were raw

By moonlight you read Cajun Music by Savoy
Imagined yourself a star
Playing until your fingers were raw
On the day you picked up your first guitar

Cajun Music as a Rectifier

Nothing could stop carcinoma cells from multiplying as they sought to dominate her healthy cells. She lay in her hospice bed, lungs gurgling, oxygen elusive. Then she was quiet.

He played his fiddle five-hundred miles away. The tune once belonged to his friend, hit by a car, dead. I listened to the song on the radio, fingered my imaginary strings, stroked with my make-believe bow.

Then the segue, the bridge to move from melancholy to exuberance. I rode along, sitting on the E-string, swaying to music neither my sister nor his friend would ever hear again.

His music mended me.

Turning the Calendar's Page

In the august of my life
A curtain of clouds blocks the sun
A jet slices through like a knife
In the august of my life
Why should reverie cause me strife?
The heated dream-plays remain undone
In the august of my life
A curtain of clouds blocks the sun

Bastille Before the Revolution --a prompted tritina

"A glass of water, s'il vous plait, sir?" she asked in a voice quite humble.
He stared as if she were a Wiccan faerie, then tossed in the air his baseball.
"Get the bloody water youse-self, ye bitch," raged he, "Pardon my French."

"You see, sir, I've cut my finger. Water to bathe it, oui? It was the beans sliced french."
He scoffed and slurred out, "Ye a wench and I won't humble
meself to helps the likes of you," he sneered, dropping his baseball.

The leathered toy rolled under her stool; she held out her hand, balancing the baseball.
Snatching it, he glared at the blood streaked across the white, "Damn French."
La petite fille closed her eyes, held her breath to maintain her disposition of humility.

Chastened and humbled, without recourse she sat while the American played baseball, laughing at her snarled coif, spitting out O-Vwah, as if he were French.

How Angels Come To Earth

No one tucked her into bed that night, so long ago
Still, she said her prayers and kissed her own hand,
Waited, then whispered to no one, "If you say so..."

She was an easy child, she made no demand
Perhaps that was the red flag and we chose to ignore
Hasn't everyone once stood like an ostrich with head in sand?

Her prayer to angels unseen began like before
"Angel of God, my guardian dear..."
But mid-way she began to implore

"God, please let me know you're there, that you hear...
...for I have sinned in the worst way and don't know
what the consequence will be. Death, I fear."

Nestled in her trundle, on a patch of a Texan plateau
She tearfully, fearfully cried out to her Lord.
That's when she said, "If you say so...."

What answer did she hear that restored
Her faith and quieted her uncertain grace?
Silent in life as in death, she found her reward.

Dawn shed rays to no avail upon her waxen face.
She lay, for now, in purgatory's space.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Want to Live Until I'm Too Old to Dance

I want to live until I'm too old to dance,
like a fountain that's bubbled its last drops,
let me flow--
into an ocean, into the sea.

I want to live until my skin
has wrinkled and my hair
has grayed into a fifty-cent piece
with John F. Kennedy
still smiling.

I want to live until I creak
when I walk
and I'll walk all over the Universe
singing "We shall overcome!"
while my lungs burst
like a glycerin bubble.

Let's bubble ourselves
all over and live forever
as we sail in a sieve
gone to sea.

November 22, 2006

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lambing -- a triolet

It was drizzling when the ewe gave birth
That never fails to amaze me
Pungent breeze and guttural sounds unearth
And it drizzles when the ewe gives birth
The wet, fresh lamb instills in me mirth
I breathe in miracles, I look and see
The drizzle as the ewe gives birth
That never fails to amaze me

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Learning

I am learning today
some Arabic words
as I read the Reader's Digest
in the dentist's office, waiting
for my son to have his
teeth examined.


Nadir means lowest point.
The nadir of this day
happened at one o'clock
in the morning when
a high school classmate
fell into the abyss
of cancer.


It's hard to believe, said
her brother-in-law,
thirteen months ago

she was as full of life
as you or I.

Elixir is another
Arabic word. Elixir is a cure-all,
which Lisa never found.
Her husband and children
are learning what
the world now looks like
without her.
I wonder if her youngest
will remember in another
twenty years what
life was like with her.

I reward my son's
cavity-free check-up with
a trip to the History Center.
Lost in the minutae
of Minnesota artifacts,
I learn how Bob Dylan
spent the school year of 1959
to 1960 at the University,
leaving shortly before
Garrison Keillor's four-year
tenure as an undergraduate student.

I am learning what
it feels like to slowly lose
my senior-high friends
like maple leaves
turned early in July, which
float to the ground
at the first of August,
the dog days of summer.

I already knew that
those summer weeks
tagged Dog Days
reference how Sirius, the dog star,
moves into the Northern
hemisphere and within
our scope of nighttime viewing.

I am learning that
Charles Lindbergh,
with all his aviation
glory billowing up
his wings, still preferred
the natural world.
He said, "If I had to choose,
I'd rather have birds than airplanes."

Even as I am learning
all of this, Lisa's spirit
hovers somewhere, not here by me,
but close to her family,
waiting for them each to close
his or her eyes,
to sleep at last after
a long day of crying.

I wonder if there is
anything left for
Lisa to learn. Perhaps
she has, like I, learned
the Arabic word kismet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Changing a Flat

I grew up believing the world was flat
Have you ever lived in southwestern Minnesota?
You changed my flat world and even more than that

You believed in me, despite my flaws, you didn't bat
Your eye, au contraire, you took me home in your Toyota
Still, I believed the world lay flat

And God would forsake a girl like me who spat
Out profanities and dismissed the Holy Roman rota
But you didn't give up and even more than that

You listened to me when I called to chat
At five in the morning, singing Molly O'Brien's Dakota
Wind, which is a world, I believe, that is flatter than flat

Babe you loved me, you loved me, I couldn't run from that
You shouted your love from the bridge of Mendota
You changed my flat world and even more than that

Let's grow old together, let's sit and get fat
We'll visit Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
And travel the world that's no longer flat
Because you changed my flat world and even more than that.

(I sent this villanelle in for A Prairie Home Companion's love poetry writing contest. I think Garrison was too wowed to read it. What do you think?)
Note to a Friend
(KarenL)

I like to think about you
sitting at home, reading Joel or Corinthians
turning each thin sheet
down for the evening as you climb
into bed
as you climb into the ether
of dreams and desire

I like to think about you
stitching a quilt while
Too-Too and Rascal
climb on your squares
kneading their paws on
freshly stitched muslin
their claws catching and snagging
without care

I'd like to think you
were thinking of me, too
as I sit here empty
waiting for thoughts to fill
my head
and my keyboard
until they flood out onto the screen
making oodles of money
as editors climb over one
another in excitement to be the first
publisher of my next masterpiece.
Penny Caught

This penny wedged between the window sill and pane
Has been painted over twice.
I can tell because the paint's chipped and I see
Two layers: pink then minty green.
No one has opened the window
Since this room was converted
From a ritzy powder room in the 20s
And a lounging room with fainting divan
In the 40s.
Now it is a closet
Where I hang
Myself.