Spin, Measure, Cut

July 8th, 2016

We sit at screens in grubby kitchens
close to brooms, listen to the hum of houses.

Beets grow in the garden plot. Dill. Tomato leaves
gather heat, billow into fruit to freeze come fall.

Hens wonder where the rabbit went, the one to stalk
and peck when loose. Into weeds, up with wings?

Creatures array around us waiting for food,
New children from whom we garner radial view.

We sit—centers of domestic mandalas—
sit for words, vertigo, attachment to subside.

Sons drive off in our old minivans, eager for life
beyond us. (We once wished for this—a tiny car!)

Emancipated, wordlessness is both
a meditative victory and childless curse.

We never meant to be the kind of woman
whose children usurp her deep sea purpose.

Even forewarned, we worked like men to learn
the mother part, became her—that oar boat, Love.

I’ve lost my crew. Words do not come.
Words that do, my hands contrive and twist—

Spun like cords to tie me to the giant, rolling earth,
or spells meant to unravel plans for ropes’ other uses.

2016

Off Screen Isocephaly

July 6th, 2016

after Ruth Bavetta’s painting, Chronicle
Ruth Bavetta, Chronicle, oil on linen  48x78 1986
Everyone dressed as passersby,
we wait for the scene, our call,
ignore the orange barricades and cones,
talk of smallish things: Trump, new heat.

The sky is not full of California light
in Iowa, but still we play the polyester parts
assigned to us, squinting, calm as cameras,
relegated to realms of the unseen.

Even the cop whose heavy belt is full
of faux bravado knows: he is but an extra.
The yellow of his close-cropped hair,
his crown of golden bangs, echoes like the sun

across the moment: Charles’ sensible
button-up shirt, Leslie’s too warm
butter golf sweater, Johnny’s thinning part.
In flip flops and short shorts he watches

well-paid leads deliver middleclass malaise
too perfectly. Take after take, how earnestly they
chronicle our pale, hedged lives on tiny screens.
We mutely mouth their plastic lines, practicing.

January 2016

Ample Skin

July 4th, 2016

Searching the closet filled with lycra tank tops
From younger years unplagued by rolls,
I skip them over, perhaps too old at forty-five
To try to look twenty-five or thirty-five.
Too countryfied for a yoga-style, Boulder forty-five.

I’d like not to care about thick arms
Beginning to sag and pucker, hips
That spill over jeans that fit three years ago,
But I hang on to the clothes of my youth
Like a wish, slip into loose summer dresses
I wear only about the house and yard, or jeans
And scoop-neck t-shirts if I’m going out.

My neighbor, wide ranch woman, showed up
In tight tank and shorts today, fully summer-selved.
I reveled in her free flesh, rolling ’round
On riding mower, unafraid to bounce,
Cut down what is overgrown, weed-choked,
Gone to seed, like me and this need to have
Some other body, while this me breathes
And loves the sun and wind without
Permission to bare ample skin.

2016

Solution

June 18th, 2016

His teetering tragedy boils her down to salt.
How quickly the pot must fill again—
Water down her need to stay, to save.
Her peeling minerals float, dissolve.
This seems to send him solvent on his way.

2016

In the Sigh

June 18th, 2016

As much as I would like
to claim the cushion as my happy place,
lately, it is rotten with tears.

My nest is in the sigh
that escapes as you touch my locus face,
that, lost, reminds me I am here.

2016

Moving Home

June 5th, 2016

Perhaps my home
Is only one inch away,
A shift by which
I lay my happy self
Upon my unhappy self
Like a silk screen
Just off register,
So my edge blurs,
And my sight blurs,
And my colors breach
Their borders like marks
Of an errant child,
And the place I live
Becomes new
Because I am,
Because I have
Learned a new way
To move home.

2016

The Rise of Sugar

May 10th, 2016

As a child of Illinois
Raised on black pepper,
Unaccustomed to the habaneros
Of adulthood, having not yet
Laughed through tears
With a coughing lover laboring
Over the cast iron pan,

I would pour them in—
Red Hots—to see how long
I could savor the burn
Before spitting them out
Like bloody teeth into my hand,
Before fire gave way
To the rise of sugar.

2016

Moonless

May 8th, 2016

When Moon ran off with the stars,
Our bodies of water mourned her
By swallowing all the guitars.

2016

The Carpenter

April 24th, 2016

For Lahne

You did not give me life,
But, in choosing her and four of us,
Showed me how love lives
Inside a man when he enfolds
A small girl’s mother in the pause
Of making dinner in a kitchen,
Or calls her My Bride,
A smile in the way he says
Her names, first and middle,
Rocking her to the quiet song
Of the pressure cooker’s
Clicking weight spurting steam.
When we ate, my mother
Served you first.
When she laid down the law,
Your posture—voice calm and firm—
Made us honor her.

A grown woman now, I know:
You did not have to.

You did not have to teach me
How to tie a knot with seven twists,
Hold down fins with a tight grip
To gently pull a hook,
Nor gut, nor skillfully filet a fish.
You did not have to cut a door
For my dog into the shed you built
Nor give her straw for a bed
Nor build a cable run.
You did not have to lend me tools
To make an elephant of a dowel
Nor bet it was impossible
Nor grin and give me a dollar
When I proved you wrong.
You did not have to sing to me
Of pretty bubbles in your pick-up
Nor teach me the joy of ridiculous riddles
Whose answers’ only sense is to laugh.
You did not have to take us—
Take us to the lake to water ski,
Nor thrill us with the roaring outboard,
Sink the stern with speed
To lift us, perched upon the bow,
Children skyward thrown.
You did not have to teach me
Water’s words: port and starboard.
You did not have to wake first
After a night of steady rain
To make us bacon, mush and eggs
While we slept in sagging tents.
You did not have to cry
When my sisters and I sang hymns
Nor hold my hand with your rough one—
Fragrant with Corn Husker’s lotion,
Watching sitcoms on the couch.

You did not have to.

You could not have known
Thirty years later I would see
A carpenter’s pencil—sharpened,
Like yours, into facets with a knife,
Resting flat on my love’s handmade cabinet,
Waiting for his pocket, its lead scent
Praying for the wooden day to begin—
And a deep joy would rise in me
Remembering my true father,
The carpenter who built
A home in me for this.

2016

Matterless

March 28th, 2016

She was always shifting matter
around herself for maximum happiness.

If enough fat melted off her face
without stealing from her breasts,

if her children would visit long enough
for a day to feel mundane, to the point

that made her long to write
instead of watch their painful shows,

if she could move enough compost,
plant seeds, avoid the biting gnats of June,

she could dial in. She knew the channel
would always slip. Still she tried.

When her hearing started to go and then
her eyes, and no amount of prednisone,

yawning, blinking lids or layers of lenses
brought full sound or focus,

her inner focus sharpened first on anger’s grit,
then the leather of impermanence.

Her body quit to show her where she lived.
No amount of training in that space

prepared her for her not/happiness.
She chased and then refused the place.

2016

After the Blizzard,

March 25th, 2016

she said, Let’s go outside.
The hen house was warm enough.
Their water was water, not ice.
She gathered eight eggs in her hands,
steadied them against her breast.

To spare the kitchen floor her boots,
she perched the pretty eggs upon his pants
crumpled on the mudroom bench.
She stepped again into the chill,
scanned the yard. He called.

Crunching through the driveway snow
she saw him at the mouth of the garage
behind the guest house—red, the one
he built from an ancient shed
and named, to her delight, The Cottage.

He smelled of smoke.
He smiled and spoke of plans for walls.
Do you smell smoke? he asked.
She laughed, Why hide it?
and mostly meant it. He laughed too.

I’m going to check the chicks,
she said, and stepped into his footprints
to the cottage where a heat lamp
was their winter sun for weeks.
Snow filled the doorway.

She kicked it free, pushed in.
The house exhaled a cloud.
The black tub smoked and glowed.
She didn’t want to look, but did.
The rush of air had set a fire free.

Pressed against the tub’s black wall,
five chicks were hunched together
inches from the little fire rising
from a blackened disc of pine chips
reaching up to crack the sagging lamp.

She pulled the lamp, dropped the tub
upon a drift and quickly snuffed the fire.
Chicks pecked at their tiny mound of snow.
The house stood red. The man looked on.
I thought I smelled smoke, he said.

Neither let the other take the blame.
What could have been was not.
The weightless joy of unearned luck
followed them like hungry chicks,
like fire’s love of oxygen, all day to bed.

2016

Cartography

March 14th, 2016

No longer a stop
On her father’s route,
A woman reads
His 19th century maps.
They cannot lead
Her home or past him.

2015

Off Paper

March 4th, 2016

No official
game
for a man and woman
grown
to live on eggs,
night
reachings, baby
Babelings,
having thrown the given
names
to love off paper.

2016

Blue Daughters

January 25th, 2016

There are blue daughters
my daughter cannot save.
Hanging from hand knit scarf
and pink bunk bed,
Found by little sister
after Pokemon and macaroni;
Or carried in on Saturday
by a running father
Damning Monday when
his daughter’s flu turns
Hot pneumonia,
limping sepsis. Pulseless.

Fast, I see her humming
over small bodies,
Measuring every nuance:
pupil, grimace, shade
Of skin, curl of leg.
At once a warm machine
Pumping, hands I have held
become small hearts.
Her voice hopeful, urging
sweeties, honeys, kiddos
To breathe, open eyes,
cry in confusion
At the sterile room,
the crowded bedroom
Full of stuffed bears,
Barbies, strangers,
Parents in the corner
of the nightmare.

When thirty minutes pass,
drops form
On her upper lip,
inside her dark blue shirt.
She cycles in and out
with her best friends
Who’ve learned
to massage death in turns,
With cheers and sighs
for fragile victories,
Knowing eyes for the dark
unmooring dawning.

Hours of engine hands
and pulsing drugs,
Electric volts of science,
love,
And existential prayer
may be not enough.
Personnel wipe
their lowered faces, pause;
Stiffly leave the room
where plastic tubes,
Blood-stained gauze,
tiny clothes litter the floor.

My daughter, ever tidy as a girl,
knows the simple
Magic of mundane order:
cleans the mess,
Lifts the child from floor
to lower bunk, arranges
Silken hair around a bruised neck,
brushes wisps
From the blue girl’s
precious forehead.
The crush-faced mother
crawls in bed
With her still daughter,
and my daughter goes, must
Go. Tall. Departs the room,
the house, the hospital.
Calls me, bright voice cracking,
on the drive home.

2015

Christmas Soup

December 26th, 2015

A bag of fifteen kinds of dried beans hid beneath
the box of lasagna noodles all year, maybe two.
Christmas came without kids. Month-old steaks
of ham, for which no one could make room
thanks to turkey, had begun bearding with frost
in the freezer. Why not use them? Dorell suggested
we also throw the ham hock in. I did.

After two and a half hours simmering, the soup
blushed a shade richer than the anemic tan
of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon—the solitary soup
of my youth, my once secret pleasure, slurping alone
over the kitchen table when Mom wasn’t home to cook.
This new color, a quiet victory. The texture, sigh worthy.
Scent of independence. No can opener dripping by the sink.
Handfuls of carrots and onions, two cloves of garlic
and thirty minutes later, the ham fell apart in our mouths.

No salt or pepper required. No special herbs in the broth.
Just water, a forgotten bag of beans and a remembered
gilt pig named Shirley who walked the ramp alone
into the trailer with no human prodding, silent, while I sat
quiet in the house across the field, listening for her,
praying, shedding salt, softening my flesh for some future
feast in which I surely will be no longer guest but course.

2015