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Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

 

with thanks to Kyra

 

 

Minor and slow,

the Russian death song

on the cello

fills the room

with loss and beauty,

the two rubbing

together like notes

side by side on the scale

played at the same time.

I lay on the floor

beneath the great instrument

and feel the waves of it

as if they originate inside me—

play it again, I beg

the cellist, and then,

when it’s done, I beg her

again, play it again,

And she does. And she does,

the warm notes filling

any chill they find.

 

 

 

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Past the grave of the baby girl,

past the grave of the beloved mother—

“we loved her,” it says in italic letters—

and past the grave with my birthday on it,

we find a tombstone greened in moss

with its names and dates long since lost.

The grass has nearly reclaimed the stone,

and we sit here together and talk for hours,

joyful expressions of dust as we laugh

and cry and remember just why

it is so damn sweet to be alive, to practice

what it means to love in the face of our impermanence.

All the leaves have left for the year,

but look at what remains—the chance

for sudden, immeasurable bliss

no matter what the season is.

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On the Eve

The night before he turns eleven

the boy cannot sleep. He is so alive.

He jumps on his bed and makes up songs

and can’t stop telling me how much

he loves me. Every day he becomes

more his own, which is to say less mine.

There was a time I heard every word

that he said. There was a time I could hold

his entire body in a single arm. But I was never

able to make everything okay with a kiss

or a song, no matter how much I wanted to.

What a perfect rehearsal for now when

his heart is already practicing how to break

at the cruelness of boys and the spite of girls

and the burn of wanting something you can’t have.

Still, I hold him, knowing it won’t make things all better,

hold him through the ache when he lets me.

And tonight I delight with him in his jumping

and singing until it is time for quiet.

The boy cannot sleep. He buzzes above his sheets.

His life is somehow too much for his body.

He can’t contain it all, despite that his legs

are so long, his reach so wide. And this love

I have for him, so much bigger now than it was

when he was smaller, how can that be? Walking out

the bedroom door, I feel a surge of love leaping out

of my chest, leaking from my eyes.

I don’t even try to hold it in.

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They know what we do not.
Not that I envy the dead their knowledge.
I am grateful to be one of the ones standing here
amidst the crumble of granite and marble
while the words of Merwin and Yeats and Hafiz
weave into the quiet of the graveyard air.
I am curious, but not eager to slip out of this
human garment. What a blessing
to have a body, to look long into another human’s eyes,
to hold each other as we weep, to laugh
and to kiss and to wander arm in arm through the cemetery
on a day when the sun and rain both have their way.
What a blessing to read poems in the presence
of the dead about what it means to be alive.
Before we leave, we sing a prayer for every being—
and though I stumble on the words and fumble
the tune, and though I do not know who
might grant the prayer, I sing, I sing.

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For Your Birthday

a b-poem for Lian Canty’s Alphabet Menagerie

I wanted to bring you a banyan tree
with it’s aerial roots reaching down,
but it was too difficult to dig it
out of the Indian ground.

And I wanted to bring you a barnacle—
it looked like a white stone rose—
but it refused to be removed
from the bottom of the boat.

So I thought perhaps a boomerang
that would always return to you,
or a blue- and red-nosed mandrill
once thought to be a baboon …

but the boogeyman told me he wanted them
and threatened to take my ears,
so I let him have them, the bonsai tree, too,
that I’d grown for forty years.

And it was a barracuda
that devoured the banana split
in an act of underwater thievery.
I’m still upset about it.

As for the wild honey beehive,
I was too scared the bees were vicious,
and the bat was so fragile and delicate,
and the bacon was too delicious.

And the red-crested bird of paradise
looked so beautiful under the tree
so I arrive at your door with nothing more
than the gift of stories and me.

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On a hill
in the sun
at the edge
of the grave
in the grass
let us meet
on the day
when the veils
are thin
between
the worlds—
and perhaps
the Aztec
goddess
will open
her fleshless jaw
so that all
the stars
fall out
as they did
today
so that we
might find them
inside
each other’s words
and speak
of darkness
with syllables
made
of light.

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Identity

That’s what they do,
he said. They get your birthday
with your name and then
they steal your identity.
Thank god they did not
print my birthday in the paper,
he says, pointing to the long list
of birthdays in the bottom right
corner of the local newspaper. We
are sitting on the bench
in front of Mary’s Store.
There is no one named Mary
who works here anymore.
Now, he says, I don’t have
a PO box, don’t have a driver’s license,
I paid to have them take me
off the voter registration list,
twenty bucks, did you know that,
he says, and now I fell off the radar of the paper.

I want to wish him happy birthday,
but he is too busy telling me
he is no one and how the person
who steals his name will be the one
with a driver’s license and passport
and PO Box to prove it.
He’ll have it all with my name,
he says, his arms waving wildly,
the injustice of it all. He shouts,
They’ll deport me! Not the other guy!

Part of me envies him his disappearance.
Part of me still longs to wish him
a happy birthday once he pauses long enough
for me to speak.
And part of me is already escaping
into the dry air of July, perhaps
laughing at the one who thinks
her life is hers.

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Your birthday. I forgot it.
After all these years, I imagine
that comes as no surprise.
Still, I am no less sorry for it.
I was playing badminton with my son
yesterday when I remembered.
Remember how you and I played
badminton for hours and hours in the field
that day? How long the days were then.
Last weekend I planted greens in our yard.
I thought of you and your garden boxes
and how many meals
we have eaten surrounded
by corn, squash, tomatoes and peppers.
I can’t grow any of those things here.
Too high. Not all seeds grow
where they’re planted. And even
if they do, they don’t survive.
But already some of the lettuce
and baby bok choy have come up.
Arugula, too. I suppose
now is the time to thin them,
now when they’re tiny.
This is always the hardest part for me.
How to choose which one
of the seedlings should live?
I remember how your mother
would grow lettuces in pots
outside your door.
At my home, we ate only iceberg,
and so I was shocked at the colors
that grew there on your porch.
Your birthday. That was
the first time we went out together,
were we eleven? Twelve? I’m too lazy
to do the math. We were young,
and you’d invited all those adults
to your party. I was shocked
that a girl could be friends
with grown ups. How much you taught me.
Like how to eat lettuce that was red
or dark green. How to enjoy foreign movies
with subtitles. How to run rivers
and sing. How to say yes to someone
and keep saying yes to them
even when everyone else
tells you to say no.
I don’t remember which of us
won the badminton games.
I would guess that we didn’t play
for score. Isn’t it funny, the way
the memories thin themselves.
And friendships, too, how
so many of the seeds sown
years ago started strong,
even blossomed,
but bolted, or never grew fruit.
But you and I, we are more like
the oregano plant that finds
new ways to survive. Even if
the garden is rototilled, turned,
and dried, the roots escape and find new
places to thrive. Still,
we are both the kind of woman
who likes to water things
so they grow. Your birthday.
Happy Birthday. I’m sorry
I’m late. Even these near-summer days
seem so short. Here, some water
from my heart to yours.

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