Monday, January 21, 2008

Life Is But A Dream

When I was making the bed, pulling
taut the blue sheets because the gold

ones were lost somewhere between
the upstairs and down, I grew weary

and fell across them, breathless
and wondering. With eyes closed,

I listened to my heart, its rhythm unsteady,
galloping one minute, shuffling the next,

the sounds of life all around--dog barking
from the living room, craving, Oh Lord,

attention, cat meowing from the basement,
pissed off, the television droning

away, a car scratching out of the driveway
across the street, the heart again

pounding, pounding, saying Let me let you live,
Let me! The heart, that hopeless romantic,

forgetting it's an organ and nothing more, pleading
for my love, beating beating beating away

despite the abuse, the neglect, moving forward,
always forward, One foot in front of the other

in some intricately planned mad rush,
the ever-forgiving witness to this destructo

mad woman in her maiden-form bra,
her black panties all a-tattered.

Just been limping along lately, hanging in here.
Nothing to say except it's cold and I'm cold.
Struggling to get any reading done. Still haven't
finished the Pollock book. Started Crime and
Punishment. Thought about rereading Let Us
Now Praise Famous Men but that's going to wait.
Can't even bring myself to read any poetry.

Guess I'll go lie down and read all the recipes
in Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals cookbook.
Nice, mindless activity.



All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded. Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled. It
wasn't even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It's what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail. Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn't be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

- Margaret Atwood

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Remembering Joe's Kidney

When I was seventeen, my grandmother
sent me a subscription to a magazine
which, each month, delineated the function
of some area of the body. Riddled with anxiety
and borderline hypochondria, I read
each issue, total concentration on Joe's
body, always wondering which disorder
I harbored. It had been years since
a copy felt the touch of my fingertips,
but this need to clean out and throw
away found me in the side panel, next
to the laundry chute, thumbing through
all of Joe's organs, sitting there cross-legged
on the floor, my own kidneys screaming
for a break, me half-lit and nearing tears,
trying to reason why they all had to go.
After all, they weren't my grandmother,
they were just books she'd sent, stuck
in a place I would rarely choose to visit.
She's gone now, almost sixteen years,
her handiwork all over my house--cardinal
and sunflower quilts, tatted pillow cases,
pineapple placemats, the sound of her voice
calling Yoo-hoo when I would call her name.
Joe's kidneys and heart and lungs succumbed
to reason that day, after I'd reread each
article, after I realized they would not bring
her back any more than they would save
me. Adios and best wishes, I thought as
I tossed the last one in the bag and rose
ever so slowly from my position, heart
and lungs, and in particular, kidneys,
just asking for a little bit of respect.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Night Visitors

All night, they visit,
these lost ones in their
yellow shirts and blue jeans,
their hemp bracelets and favorite
hats, their faces the same, not
like they were before the casket
closed but like they were before
there was a casket to place
them in, their smiles unwavering,
their arms open and ready
to be filled with the living.
I wake and look around
the darkened room for some
proof of their existence,
but there is only my husband
asleep beside me, a cat at my feet,
my pounding heart, the arthritic
shadows of the nearly bare
dogwood, the splintered
light of a retreating moon,
red numbers glaring from
the bedside table, assaulting
my senses with their truth: 2:45
a.m., the silent phone, that bearer
of such bad news, nestled
in its cradle, the soft light
beaming from beneath
the closed bathroom door,
my son asleep in his room:
me--feet now touching the floor,
pacing the rooms of this old
house, prowling around alone again
waiting for the dead to come.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Rilke, always

Laurel has a Rilke quote on her blog--

You must change your life.

One any given day I read it in a number of ways,
for example:

YOU must change YOUR life

You MUST change your life

You MUST CHANGE your life


You must change your LIFE


Each particular variation has its own message.

Now, I am in You (the imperative understood) MUST
CHANGE your life.

Thanks for having that quote, Laurel. I think about
it daily.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Diversion

Sometimes breathing becomes incredibly
noticeable, like the neighbor starting
his weed eater at seven in the morning, early
riser that he is, not thinking about anyone else's
agenda, not realizing that the simple act
of pulling a cord attached to a thing which creates
a whole other existence might make all the difference,
not thinking his exertion may be the one thread
that binds all of life together. So you get
pissed off and want to call him up, but your lungs,
hangover and bad dream stop you short. It's not even
a sunny day, not even spring or summer, just a balmy
odd winter morning, three days past the killing frost,
you in your makeshift pajamas--a Dylan t-shirt and black
shorts, pausing in your utter annoyance to realize
that this sound--obnoxious or otherwise--is life,
that you’re still here. The small birds, whose names
you never learned, alight on the naked branches
of the dogwood, the small blessing of morning. You
take the deep breath that refused to come earlier,
throw off the comforter in gratitude for the air moving
now inside and outside your forgiving body, wanting
to scream Glory be, I’m alive!, but you think it’s better
not to push your luck and make such a big deal of things,
so you walk to the kitchen and start the coffee, the way
you do every morning of your weary life, push open
the storm door with your arthritic fingers, make your bleary
eyed trek to the front yard where things feel strangely
different today. You can't resist staring--in awe
of the man and his machine--in mad reckless abandon
as the minutiae of the moment satiates your senses
like no lover or enemy ever could.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

January Poetry Circle

These are the poems I've chosen to read and discuss at this month's poetry circle meeting. Comments are more than welcome and, in fact, are very much appreciated, so please leave a thought or two.



Eating the Cookies (From Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, 1996 by the estate of Jane Kenyon)

The cousin from Maine, knowing
about her diverticulitis, left out the nuts,
so the cookies weren’t entirely to my taste,
but they were good enough; yes, good enough.

Each time I emptied a drawer or shelf
I permitted myself to eat one.
I cleared the closet of silk caftans
that slipped easily from clattering hangers,
and from the bureau I took her nightgowns
and sweaters, financial documents
neatly cinctured in long gray envelopes,
and the hairnets and peppermints she’d tucked among
Lucite frames abounding with great-grandchildren,
solemn in their Christmas finery.

Finally, the drawers were empty,
the bags full, and the largest cookie,
which I had saved for last, lay
solitary in the tin with a nimbus
Of crumbs around it. There would be no more
parcels from Portland. I took it up
and sniffed it, and before eating it,
pressed it against my forehead, because
it seemed like the next thing to do.

Ironing Grandmother’s Tablecloth (From: Room to Room, 1978)

As a bride, you made it smooth,
pulling the edges straight, the corners square.
For years you went over the same piece
of cloth, the way Grandfather walked to work.

This morning, I move the iron across the damask,
back and forth, up and down. You are ninety-four.
Each day you dress yourself, then go back to bed
and listen to radio sermons, staring at the ceiling.

When I visit, you tell me your troubles:
how my father left poisoned grapefruits on the back
porch at Christmas, how somebody comes at night
to throw stones at the house.

The streets of your brain become smaller,
old houses torn down. Talking to me
is hard work, keeping things straight,
whose child I am, whether I have children.

The Blue Bowl (from: Let Evening Come, 1990)

Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole.
They fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.

We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these.

Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.

Sun and Moon (from: The Boat of Quiet Hours, 1986)

Drugged and drowsy but not asleep
I heard my blind roommate’s daughter
helping her with her meal:
“What’s that? Squash?”
“No. It’s spinach.”

Back from a brain-scan, she dozed
to the sound of the Soaps: adultery,
amnesia, shady business deals,
and long, white hospital halls….
No separation between life and art.

I heard two nurses whispering:
Mr. Malclomson had died.
An hour later one of them came to say
that a private room was free.

A chill spring breeze
perturbed the plastic drape.
I lay back on the new bed,
and had a vision of souls
stacked up like pelts
under my soul, which was ill—
so heavy with grief
it kept others from rising.

No varicolored tubes
serpentined beneath the covers;
I had the vital signs of a healthy,
early-middle-aged woman.
There was nothing to cut or dress,
remove or replace.

A week of stupor. Sun and moon
rose and set over the small enclosed
court, the trees….
The doctor’s face appeared
and disappeared
over the foot of the bed. By slow degrees
the outlandish sadness waned.

Restored to my living room
I looked at the tables, chairs, and pictures
with something like delight,
only pale, faint—as from a great height.
I let the phone ring; the mail
accrued unopened
on the table in the hall.

Biscuit (from: Constance, 1993)

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can’t bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.