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When they ask what you did this morning,

tell them, “Oh, nothing much.”

When they say, “What are you doing tomorrow,”

shrug and say, “Oh, I’m busy.

We have plans.” That is true.

Say goodbye today as if you mean it.

Do not mention the cake, the balloons, the gift.

I know. It’s hard to keep a secret.

And just when you think you would burst

if you could, remind yourself

it’s for their own good.

Tell yourself, it is better this way.

No. Sweetheart. Forget what I say.

If it’s not a surprise, that’s okay.

Bottom Line

The first time I died it was sunny.

I could see the sunlight streaming in

through the waves as I drowned.

I was not frightened, more curious.

It was so new—the swirls of the current,

the bending of morning light. I was only scared

after I learned I was still breathing.

Then I fought for my breath.

The second time I died, it was lonely.

I stood at the top of the cliff

and the earth did not swallow me.

I fell for months without hitting bottom.

It was only much later I noticed

that I was alive again.

There were more.

Some of the deaths I do not remember.

Some of the deaths do not leave.

They are never and always the same.

I love it, this life, how it insists on itself.

I died again tonight,

watched as the mask of me struggled

to stay in place. It did not shatter nor melt.

It was just gone, though already I sense

it has found its way back on.

There is no need for tombstones, no need

to memorialize. It’s the living that matters,

and with each death, it’s easier to see

how life is so (oh, just say it), yes,

life is so beautiful.

It’s not that the queen’s crown changed anything,

not really. All it was doing was growing there

in the field beside the spruce.

But there it was, succulent and pink.

And there I was, not even knowing

how desperately I wanted to find

something beautiful, until I stumbled

on the flower, hiding as it was in the tall, tall grass.

And though it changed nothing,

it changed everything, the day

suddenly marked by treasure,

by luck. There are, surely, thousands

of chances each day for such astonishment,

thousands of openings

I never see, thousands of opportunities

to say, “This, this is why I am here.”

Crazy that finding a flower in the tall, tall grass

could obscure a whole world of troubles.

At least for a moment.

I will tell you where to find it,

though it wouldn’t be the same

if you were looking for it.

No, better to walk wherever it is

you are walking, better to stumble

as often as you can.

Transplant

Those forlorn, sagging sunflowers,

all morning I watch the severe arcs

of their lifeless stems. Just yesterday,

they were so full of vigor before I pulled them up

and moved them across the garden.

I, too, have been ripped up. Is this why

I can’t stop staring at them all morning

at the slow, slow straightening,

the gradual unflagging of the leaves,

the marvelous resilience

I want to believe I might find inside me

no matter how brutal or well intentioned

the hand that tugs, tugs at my roots.

Because we did not drown today in a violent flash flood

nor contract hanta virus nor botulism,

because we were not tracked down and dismembered

by a mountain lion nor bitten by mosquitoes with West Nile,

because there was no hurricane, no earthquake,

no mudslide, no irate employees in the post office,

because both your heart and my heart continued

to pump rich blood through our bodies,

well, that seems reason enough to sit here

on the porch tonight and marvel at the world—

all those diving and banking green backed swallows

and the way the light shines through crab apple leaves

and the scent of the river and even that strangled sound

that the geese make—wouldn’t you say we are lucky,

my god, blessed beyond blessed to sit here

and fall in love with life not out of any sense that our time is short

but just because the field is full of green and gold

and the garden is free of gophers for now, and

the lawn has been mowed and there are no killer bees

in the yard, and there’s no tsunami, nope, not even a tiny chance.

Even though I know you don’t read poems,

I want to thank you for calling me last night

when your living room was too big for one,

when all the ex-lovers were somewhere else

and even the kids were gone. Thank you

for calling me to say how alone it is.

For half an hour, we were alone together,

weeping and laughing in our separate rooms.

Just tonight I realized I do not know how gravity works.

Something to do with mass. And distance.

How much of what rules us do we not understand?

The vase falls and it breaks. We know that and learn

to be more gentle with our hands. It’s more

out of habit than true understanding. Our loneliness,

too, is a kind of a rule that we spend our whole lives

trying to change, but it is always there.

Eventually we come to see that everything

will be taken from us. Our aloneness is all that is left.

It is only frightening until it is not. Then it frightens us again.

Thank God we are here to explore it together,

this alarming lack of anything to hold onto.

When we say goodbye, it is gentle. We both know

what it feels like to break. There is too much at stake

not to love each other, alone and distant as we are.

Gooseberry Picking

They are not quite ripe, the gooseberries

growing behind Christie’s house,

but I pick them anyway and pop

the prickling pink globes

between my tongue

and the roof of my mouth,

oh sour round rush of surprise,

and I am a girl again, not quite ripe,

living in a country where I don’t speak the language

wandering the edge of the woods of the north

with a family that isn’t my own.

The mother, who later will shun me, shows me

how to pick and eat the gooseberries,

a fruit I have never seen before.

I learn to love them that instant,

something I can immediately translate with my tongue—

the marriage of sweet and terribly tart,

a flavor I know already by heart.

Greedy, greedy, my hands in a hurry,

I pull the gooseberries behind Christie’s house

into my mouth as if feeding the memory

of a longing to understand,

feeding it so I can better untangle its tethers

before the memory disappears again.

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