Our Range

October 29th, 2017

Even in two beds mountains apart—
An hour drive, two thousand plus feet of sky
Between—I whisper the usual to him, to night.

His name a sigh breathed against memory
Of his shoulder rising up a peak that falls to face & thigh.
Window streetlight sun glows wide behind.

To whom can I pray: spare this silken range of man.
Let us rise & rise. Warm with kiss & palm I climb,
My own eroding peaks in slow collide.

2017

The Mississippi of Motherhood

October 17th, 2017

In the midst of rhapsodizing endless lost days spent at home with my children as babes, toddlers, kids—their faces terrifying lights of innocence looking up, trusting I’d give everything, which I mostly willingly did—those days before a black hole swallowed my resolve, my bed, my home, and finding myself now sitting with my 15 year old son, the baby, who’s lived with his father for years, watching the movie he chose, Colossal—not one I would choose, but touched, nonetheless, he wanted to watch it with me, knowing I’d like the fight sequences, which I did—I am reminded of the Romantic sublime inside the silence of mothering, those eternal minutes, swept up in children rivers, not drowning, no resting, no branches, no bottom, just treading in place yet moving by giant steadfast current, no white water thrill, just slow and brown, the Mississippi of motherhood, water in my ears, shore out of sight, I could never fully surrender to the pull, nor to the brown depth, and yet, with only three years left in my last child’s childhood, I can think of no other timelessness I’d fancy more than the terrifying boredom of slow witness: the mystery of my boy’s voice cracking into man, his whiskers, his leg and armpit hairs thickening by the minute. Please, life, I beg: take my regret, mundane me to bliss, trade me my every regret for this.

2017

The Deep Sleeper’s Scheme

October 14th, 2017

Our bed, a shallow tin—
I am the turning key.
Our blanket is the lid.
You are the cold sardine.
Come morning, snuggle in.

2017

Reading your Copy of Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems

September 29th, 2017

I love to read your dog-eared book:
“No Tool or Rope or Pail,”
page one-fifty-nine.
“After the Argument,”
page one-thirty-one.
Of course, “since feeling is first,”
page one-twenty-seven,
and “The Middle Years,”
one-twenty-four.
Ninety seven’s “Sonnet”
made me rush below.
Finding poems whose pure pages
you have innocently creased,
defaced for your own sake,
is like walking into a private sanctum,
reading in secret the stains,
the dapple of your mystery.

S Mountain

September 29th, 2017

Salidans love S Mountain, and so do I.
It reigns above the Arkansas,
Over little streets like a weathered ziggurat,
One road spiraling off its peak.
Though I’ve always clucked my tongue
At the sight of crosses carved or hearts
Or letters drawn on hills or mountain tops,
Somehow the giant S is a quiet marvel,
Especially when it peers above low clouds
Like Olympus watching over the town,
A place for bicycles, rafts and tiny gods.
A girl named Shea says the S stands for her.
A local preschool teacher/bartender
Says it actually is the number 5,
An oracle warning naïve nomads
How many jobs they’ll need to survive
Here in paradise.

2017

Outside the Path of Totality

September 29th, 2017

I never knew my hands were cameras,
Their tiny spaces human
Pinholes of Renaissance technology and dreams,
Projecting what is upside down
To trace the world’s lines.

Unable to look up,
I filter bitten sun through fingers.

How did we get here? This point
Where men no longer fear
Gods will steal the day forever for our hate,
Marching through streets with torches,
Effigies of burning crosses, effigies
Of black bodies flaming in leaves.

Even the leaves of lynch trees
Become apertures.
How dare you strive to turn the oak
Against the sun?

Countless crescent suns
Shimmer in astonishing shadows at our feet.

Black feet of the man I love—
Warped with work and callouses,
Black feet I have rubbed with oil,
Touched with lips, toenails like moons,
Their clippings, eclipsed suns—
Walk this earth.

That day in a pause at work,
He took a photo of tree shadows
To give me all the smiling suns,
Sent it through air to me
Taking the same picture to send to him
In the pause of my own day,
Nudging students to care, to see,
To say something.

How dare you strive to turn the trees
Against this love?
We cannot be obscured.
Our eyes are moons and suns at once.
Arms wrap around each other’s sore backs,
Black hands warm on white skin,
White hands warm on black,
Who is eclipsing whom? No one.

We are love, unstoppable phenomena.

One student called it awesome and awful.
We have no control of it. Heatless light.
Another called it midday dusk and dawn.

Take off your cardboard glasses.
Drop your eyes to earth.
Bless light filtering trees.
Look through your own hands
And weep.

2017

Two Eclipse Haiku

September 24th, 2017

Moon, a black finger,
Slides through a bright diamond ring.
Midday marries night.

The moon was a coin
Eating the sun, dark money
Eating light from us.

21 August 2017

River Rich

September 7th, 2017

One would think there’d be nothing hard
to say once you’ve arrived
at the river that haunted you for years,
now the front yard of your employment.
You engage in weeding thistle
from its rocky banks, leave lanky mullein
though someone’s been breaking off the seedy head.
Inside the old steam plant, new with community,
you enact newfound ineptitudes,
no longer resident expert of an arcane field
of words and rules that never helped you
better tally night’s profit, fairly divvy tips,
sell concert tickets, juggle small town/
small office alliances.
The art of being novice is not simple.
How many times must you ask, must they repeat,
the proper string of clicks, the ratios of coffee
or powdered lemonade to water?
Undrunk, the river rolls by.
The forgotten pitcher of a hot July wedding
handed over with grace for you to refill
must be received with gratitude, humility,
with memory of every well-tipped waitress
of your short stint in middle class life
in which bills were not your 3 am,
your sunrise thought. (The old game:
you don’t know what you’ve got.)
To live in the land of the river rich
you learn to serve them, entertain.
Later, on a whim, on a day so cool
and bright that you feel rich despite
the pre-order checkbook glance—
you sit on a patio by the river. You write,
foolishly order fish, sip one martini full of honey
to celebrate the fact there are beekeepers
you will meet in the morning
for their annual gathering, their water goblets
and vats of lemonade already waiting
in the kitchen and conference rooms next door.
In black dress, near black dressed tables
you smoothed with your own palms,
you will greet them with a smile.
Eager to improve your single backyard hive,
in doorways, you will take notes
on their lovely, troubled lives.

2017

I’m From

September 3rd, 2017

after George Ella Lyon, with my students

I’m from TVs the size of fridges,
Atari squeals, Simon, Merlin, Intellivision.
The lazy dust cloth, the working mother’s hiss:
“Hit and miss, Rachel. Hit and miss.”
I’m from vacuum trails in plush red carpet,
A mustard house on a frontage road
And truckers’ begged highway horns—
Wah Waaaaaaaaaaah!
We kids would jump in triumph.

I’m from floral couches, floral papered walls.
It felt like home until a college peer up north
Noted, “20 years out of vogue.” Huh. It was.
Still, I am from my mother’s red geraniums,
Acrid marigolds along our walk, the peeling iron rail,
The 3-inch heels on which she perched while pulling weeds.
I’m from low sky wet on hair frizz and clean skin.
From Pepsi and popcorn family nights.
From pizza without parents and thrown-phone sister fights.

I’m from “The man sits at the head of the table”
And “Serve him first” and Troy, Rebecca and Kim,
From my mother’s pride in goulash
And hamburger cottage cheese lasagna.
I’m from ten cents per her plucked grey hair.
I’m from Granny’s hidden grudge—her flaky piecrust
Made me know a different kind of love,
Her lips turned from my kiss.
I’m from “As I have loved you, love one another”
And the rumble-belly of Fast and Testimony meetings.
From “I know this church is true” and “Cool beans! Warm corn!”

I’m from the muddy Mississippi, the cardinal of Carpenter Park,
The Sangamon and baptisms for the dead.
I’m from the buttered cob and lumpy cream of wheat,
The smell of my step-dad’s Sanka coffee.
From the father who left us on a black Kawasaki,
The mother who curled up into a claw.
I’m from her desperate call: “Go to H-E double toothpicks!”
And Dad’s lonely basement cot.

I’m from Pine Drive, the tangled woods and Tammy,
From jerky-dead pigs in the yard of an abandoned farm,
From canned goods still shelved in the half burnt house,
From straw that caught me once I dropped the rope,
From Illinois lightning risked in wet grass
And Orion blinking on a hungry dog’s pen.
I’m from the snowman I was never meant to build,
Pneumonia outrun by my dare.

I’m from back roads that throw kids from cars
Into Heavenly Father’s arms. From long prayers.
Driving fast, I’m from ever-receding rows
Of green tongued corn, horizon swallowed in the throat
And in the heart of fields. But it’s been years.
I’m from God and corn no more, but still I yield.

2017

To my little sister, dying

July 17th, 2017

When it all started to slip,
you crumbled on the overstuffed sofa and cried,
My hands look so old. Saliva stretched across
the quiet chasm of your mouth. Sobs stormed through.
I reached for you, crumbling too, trying to shake
the feeling you believed your life
was not what it was supposed to be,
that your husbands and your church didn’t deliver
what you were promised if you were good
(which you were not, you wearily presumed).
And so you took what you got
from doctors and priests in dark suits
and it was not enough to heal you.

Blazing, I desperately willed my muscled love Enough
to shine on all your night secrets and patriarchal shame
with such brilliant unflinching beams
that tumors would turn
from your flesh toward my light and evaporate
like water in a stagnant desert puddle. I, too, am naïve,
to think I could reach into such rock sheltered shadow,
undo or improve the gorgeous geology of your being.

How could I move the craggy Utah bulges,
shift the polished slots of sky above your callused years
of fear of not attaining celestial glory, salve
the endless pinpricks of husbandly, venereal betrayals,
ease the guilty infidelities of your throbbing
wanting more than disease or dependency from
the men for whom you saved your lust and mud.

Can any sister do this for her sister? I wanted to.
My blood cried for it, but I am not light or even wind!
Our curving walls are too bent to bend light around,
and the wind just carves us deeper. So I am lost
in endless slot canyons, crouching here,
in the shade, in your hand. I won’t budge.
When you leave these rocks behind
and your cloudy eyes suddenly soften into shine,
may the innocence of your stubborn love finally
rise from the pores of your hands like vapor,
prismatic through the sky, casting paths of wet light.

First published in Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, 2008

Walk

June 23rd, 2017

On the sage straddled trail, green and brown shards perform an earthen version of stained glass windows. Before the path goes black with smelting slag, I let him off leash, stuff it dangling from my back pocket. Leo, the Aussie mystery mix, free to roam, walks beside me, looks up for approval from my left, as if to say, See, I am good, until the wind pulls him by the nose here and there, and he stops to drop his drops upon the world, his yellow approval, his self assertion: I am here. Even emptied, still he tries. He weaves ahead and back a dozen times, a weft between us. I sing his name—his favorite word, followed by an even better one, the one that makes him tremble, shout in Dog his best English in the family room: Walk! Walk! Wao-aao-aaao-lk! I sing both words, for maximum effect, to see him moved: “Leo and Mama goin’ on a walk, walk walk, walk walk!” and he begins to dance, circle me, tongue-smiling, prancing, passing behind my legs. I wind him up with happy staccato, “Walk walk, walk walk,” dancing myself now, snapping my fingers. He tosses his head against the swinging leash, snatches at it with his mouth, steals it from my pocket. Something dawns. I laugh, he pauses, waits for me to hook his collar, reaches back, takes control of the leash with his teeth, yanks me holding the other end. We walk in the joy of being tied together, our mutual tether. I sing and sing our names. Our feet lift dust. We walk each other. Walk, his word for love, the leash between us worn and red.

2017

Post Impression of a Barmaid

June 10th, 2017

Edouard_Manet,_A_Bar_at_the_Folies-Bergère

My hands could not decide
how to rest on the bar.
Arms at my sides—aloof, unmoored.
Arms crossed, holding one wrist—on guard.
Fingers interlaced look like teeth.
One hand resting on the other—maybe lazy.
Arms wide, each hand clutching the nearest edge,
wrists out—an open beckoning.
Ready to serve.
Watching the kindly crowd,
something flickered, overlaid.
Somehow I became her, remembered
many years of serving bored, weary students
the image of the barmaid of Folies-Bergère*.
Her stance denies the welling vacant eyes.
Object of the bourgeois gaze, see
how she looks upon us, her patrons?
Ever awaiting the empty whim, our tip,
next to a stemmed dish of tangerines,
Manet’s sign of fille de joie**.
Ever pouring the public what they think
will finally satisfy:
a drink, Degas, degrees, desire.
I can’t be sure if the reflection
behind, leaning toward
the moneyed man, is hers or mine.
The angle wrong, reflected bottles
missing or mismatched with actual ones.
Perhaps there is no mirror at all,
no skewed perspective, or all is skewed.
I face forward looking
for your eyes, quiet in the bright
din of artists everywhere, most retired.
Before me, behind me, up in the corner, there!
A woman’s green slippered feet,
perched bodiless on trapeze!
I don’t need to see her face
to know why she prefers the air.

2017

*Folies-Bergère: FUH-lee Bear-zhare: a famous cabaret music hall, located in Paris, France
**fille de joie: FEE-de zhwa: literally, “girl of joy,” euphemism for prostitute

Join Us in Evergreen Tomorrow Afternoon…

June 3rd, 2017

This, from Evergreen bookstore, Where the Books Go:

Join us on Sunday at 4pm for the celebration of the performing arts with featured presentation by Writers Rachel Kellum & Peter Anderson. Following their performances will be an open mic session for writers, poets, musicians, comedians, or even magicians! Whatever your performing art is, we’d love for you to share it with us. BYOB!

Poster for RK and Pete Anderson at Where the Books Go

Dear Me

May 30th, 2017

This can’t be said with elegance: you were wrong about this place. No, that’s not right. I was wrong. I’ve lost track of our front range, where either of us end, but we’ve been on the plains for most of eighteen years, arguing like sisters sharing only two legs. You the dusty light inside, bent on wiping boredom out. Listen here. Ignore yourself. Isn’t this your life? Eat, eat! Even if you don’t, I’ll say you did. I taught you love of chickens, feathered ones. To sprinkle salt on the living dish. Despite yourself, despite the wealth of butter out of reach, you have eaten Brush’s roadside honey, shucked her yellow corn, planted Art’s red spuds. Better, you gave bees a home in garden sage, grew ears and eyes in your own plot and they were good. Take the prairie with you. She is not the pale flat-chested sister no one notices. You’ve looked into her eyes. Take her plain face into the bosom mountains. Draw her furrows with your toes. Drop new seed. This wide valley nothing but the mountains’ prairie dream. Your flat green heart.

Work

May 6th, 2017

There is work like a sea
in which you must swim.

There is work like cutting
ropes from your limbs.

2017