“Our very life depends on continuous acts of beginning. But these beginnings are out of our hands; they decide themselves.
Beginning precedes us, creates us. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning.
More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could."
John O’Donohue


24 November 2020

Nocturne 

Never am I hungry as I am at 4am, 
shoved awake by the desperation
I stave off in daylight with words and housework. 
Waking, I set out a feast of intentions. 
At night, they come back to feed on me. 

Once I had a dream that turned out to be true
that a cat was being devoured by a demon outside my window. 
In the night version, the cat had wings it couldn't use--
or didn't--and shrieked like a subway train. 
The attacking beast was a shadow and a metaphor. 
In the morning and again that afternoon, 
I stepped over the bloodstain on the sidewalk. 
In the day's course, my son swore it was the chupacabra, 
and I heard thirdhand about the likelihood of coyotes
and the very distant chance of a mountain lion. 

Then, my dreams were radial and spacious, 
night-long affairs seeded with the probable
and quickly multiplying impossibilities 
until the clock ran out. 

Middle age dreams crowd closer to the truth--
the just-missed flight, 
a tree collapsing the roof of the car, 
my children going missing--
maybe because panic comes so easily now, 
maybe because we think we can subsist
on the bemused relief of waking to some other catastrophe. 

Perhaps old age will herald the return of the fanciful, 
will celebrate the languorous meal I have become
with the accumulated fat of menopause and worry. 
In the new dreams, as the metaphors gnaw toward my bones,
I will beat my ragged wings on the ground
to push up and survey the scene below, 
not much body left to speak of, 
and wonder at how delicious the burden of years has made me, 
at how the beast licks its lips and sighs, contented, 
before drifting off to sleep. 

8 August 2020

 Side Effects

The night I held the Pleiades in my hand, 
someone told me that eating the mushrooms
would make the meadow sparkle, 
but I might feel afraid. 
What he later said was soft and wild, I don't recall at all, 
but I remember the stars between my lifted fingers,
dancing. 

My son worries aloud that the meds
will change him into someone he won't recognize.
So we lie in the grass on a clear night. 
In these days when both intimacy
and the longing for it
are killing us off, 
I find that I am no better equipped
to judge six feet at a glance 
than I am six parsecs. 
As usual, the stars seem to know better, 
the distance between them
enough that they can rage for centuries 
and choke on their own nuclear smoke
and explode into bottomless hunger
without noticeable carnage. 
But still they have formed quarantine pods
to tell their stories of love and vanity and war
by the campfires. 

Once in a theology class, 
I learned that trying to describe God 
is like poking pinholes in a velvet curtain
to study the light behind it. 
You do get a little bit of the truth, 
and if you want to make it in academia, 
you are well-advised not to admit just how little it is. 

I begin to wonder if, when the good-hearted poets die, 
they are welcomed to Elysium
with a scroll of all the words
they didn't have time to learn to use
and all of the syntax of all of the lost languages, 
and a notebook thick enough for eternity. 
I hope it turns out to be true. 
I hope I turn out to be good-hearted. 

Abstraction soothes him, 
so he tells me in my left ear
that the composition of the night sky 
requires the presence of all light
and the absence of all light. 
I invite his anxiety to leaf out.
God knows I was afraid of everything when I was 15, 
and without Google, I hadn't even heard of prosopagnosia. 
Three whole people I know have died, one by one, 
each of the last three days, 
and he thinks surely that means something is coming. 
So, by way of reassurance, 
I tell him the Something is already here,
and always has been. 
And I tell him that when she died, the poet, 
I felt her brush past me, 
the way your shoulder brushes a pine tree
in the open-armed woods,
and that she knew the trail well enough, 
even in the dark,
and that she, for one, was content 
to be no more and no less 
than the scattered, touchable stars, 
one pinhole of infinitesimal infinity. 

12 March 2020

Poem for that time you said you don't understand half of the poems I read to you

What you should know, on the eve of quarantine,
is that poets really should live on their own planet
and send missives back to earth.
We need landscapes noisy with genetic novelty,
merciless juries to sentence the trite,
time to mourn the slaughtered lambs 
and the stillbirths.

I told you I'm not sure understanding is the point,
and I meant that under anything is not the point.
It's all surfacing.
In a poem, you can say only the minute at great length,
the profound in one broken clause,
the confessional in riddles,
and the obvious not at all.
You may not understand,
but you will try to picture it
if you trust me even a half measure,
and that is really the whole of the thing--
carving a new channel in the neocortex
and trust, which is the next best thing to love.

I will tell you the trade secret
that obliterates the whole enterprise,
but you have to swear not to repeat it.
Our best poems are never written exactly
but dictated onto the breathing surfaces of leaves
when the sunlight passes through them
and they have promised not to fall this season.

I don't write and rewrite, read and reread,
explain and avoid explaining these words for you
so that you can understand.
It is so I can hold you hostage for a little while,
here on this other earth,
where we can walk the long trails of doorways,
drink jasmine tea with cayenne,
and kiss like thinking grown-ups, 
like Sunday mornings spent reading in the park, 
the oak-lined pathways dappled with sun, 
the not yet halcyon days we were sure
would succumb to the asteroid
before we could see them.
It is a hope that you will think to yourself--
back home when there is nothing but steel sky
and the dull hum of compromise--

That was interesting.
I should try on some new words
and send her a note.

26 February 2020

Fog, Four Ways

i.
This morning, the fog hung
so heavy and so close
that I didn't see the 100 feet of mangled guardrail
until it was running alongside me
like a hurricane crest that jumped the dune
and regretted it.

No rogue engined beast
could have twisted it that way,
like macabre ribbon.
Only the living
can do that kind of damage.

ii.
Fog is matter's purgatory--
liquid that wants to be air,
air that wants to be liquid--
the wandering progeny
of the distant mountains,
too busy with earth-breaking
to notice it's gone missing.

iii.
There was that day we found the Golden Gate
through the upright ocean of fog
so thick that when we pulled off to the overlook
that was not,
I couldn't see all of those things I wanted
that you were not.
We had to stand chest to chest
to see each other at all,
and that only ever goes one way.
You noticed my earrings
picking up impossible light from somewhere,
and for then that was close enough
to noticing me.

iv.
I had a dream last night that we were flying,
and I didn't know you,
and we got married.
Which all sounds very meaningful,
but it was Brooklyn,
and I was just there in real life,
so that likely doesn't mean much.
And while we were flying,
we were talking about how you
have to imagine that you're actually
just right above the ground,
because otherwise you'll be too afraid
to keep going.
And we were getting married
in a kind of storefront,
in a ceremony that cost $36,
which will probably just be
what I happen to have in my wallet
when I find it,
and there was a wait,
which isn't a metaphor for anything
I care to think about.
We weren't anxious,
and we wandered separate directions,
taking turns holding our place in line.
My dress was pretty,
but I didn't want to wear it forever,
and I didn't feel beautiful
the way I did that summer day in Chicago
wearing my first wedding dress,
cut off at the knees,
with turquoise studded cowgirl boots,
blissfully alone in pure sun.
But I knew soon we would be flying
to that spot in the woods
where the dress would come off,
where the pinestraw beds and ladyslippers
were waiting, ribboned in fog.
And surely we were happy,
and I was not troubled to not know you,
because I would come to. 

19 January 2020: Chattahoochee River

Growth Rings 

This morning, I sat on the edge of the Chattahoochee,
where I waded and prayed for turtles as a child. 

The damp sand on my feet reminded me
I can still count the 1,464 days,
a season of my life I have marked off
sometimes in sharp seconds,
now more often in epochs:
the dark age of torpor and tears,
the ice age of vodka and headrush chaos,
the gradual warming, an approximation of patience.

I saw myself on the east bank of the Jordan,
alone in company,
turning over prisms of metaphors
about silty baptisms, plastic bottles with portable blessings,
the tortoise-like armor of Israeli guards
across the tranquil flow of river. 

The next moment could so easily not have happened at all.
I was already home,
no more threatened than any other new soul
unschooled in the body's share of salt.
But I glanced back--
which is maybe to say
my eyes wandered from my work. 
And I saw myself being seen
by eyes dark as the soil
that will eventually welcome me as a feast.

I still cannot fault myself.
I still cannot imagine what sacrilege it would be to resist
being seen from crown to lips to heart to hunger to toes
in the space of a breath.

Sometimes love grows like bamboo--
fast and reckless,
taking burnished height as its due,
rigid and hollow.
The ancient sound it makes
when the wind passes through,
the startling crack when it is broken
echoing off unsympathetic stone.

Some say these reeds--
macheted,
ground to pulp,
pressed into the invitation of paper--
could save us from slowly suffocating ourselves.
They may let us give these now tender oaks
the nobility of old age,
built in proud circles from inside out,
long after we have surrendered
by force or grace. 

2 January 2020

Yes, No, Maybe 

It is true that it is always day one,
if you are feeling philosophical
and a little buoyant.

It is also true that it is always day two,
and, for that matter, day 7,729
from some marker,
and there is no doubt that
you take up this new mantle
with some wear and tear.

Which is what I was thinking this morning
because I have this spot on my thigh
that could be the stubborn memory
of a cigarette burn from those days
or could be cancer. 
And it's fine either way really
because I'm not afraid of much,
there are people who know just the thing to do,
and next to no one has viewing rights
to my thighs these days. 

There are some mornings I wake up
saying yes to anything that will listen,
like when I've been dreaming
of mountain laurel flowers shaped like starbursts
or of meeting a llama in the early morning mist
at Machu Picchu.

There are other days I wake up
saying no,
usually because I am gearing up again
to make that one catastrophic decision--
you know the one
that always wears different clothes
but leaves the same stink. 
The no's rarely stick,
heady resolve notwithstanding. 

It is better to wait on the rest
until we have some time to talk, you and I,
to catalogue that absolutes
that own us in part,
and rehearse the etymology of maybe.
We should decide if it is about 
possibility or permission. 

It's January, and I am now aware
that once you reach a certain age,
the winter is so long in coming
that you lose the autumn expecting it,
and by the time it is in hand,
the daffodils are already announcing its end.
Only the spring goes on and on in real time.

And really all I mean to say
is that you were young once--
no, not a tragedy--
and yes, you will be young again,
but differently, maybe. 

4 October 2019

You had to be there

Occasionally someone will ask
how it feels to be in a season of separation
from my children.

What I want to do is tell the story of my first,
who clung to me even without a heartbeat.
And how after the procedure,
I didn't demand to hold him
as I should have
because I was weak and shy
and somehow flushed with shame.

But that is dark,
and we like to think we aren't made
to walk in the dark.

So instead I try to render a metaphor
about how you pass by your herb garden
in the morning on the way to work
and, unless they are freshly watered
and the temperature is just so,
you don't smell the lavender and the sage.
You double check again
what you already know:
that the sun will hover over them
in the afternoon while you are away,
and that you have sprinkled in the worm castings
when they were due.

But if you really want to mother an herb,
you have to rub it between your rough fingers,
just enough that it releases fragrant oil
and not so much that it falls apart.
And you cook something nostalgically new,
or you hold it under her preschooler's nose
so she understands about soil and sun
and how you treasure the leaves
and her little nose and the moment
without words.

It's rare anyone knows what I mean.
You had to be there.