Monday, December 30, 2013

small poems: from the last few months of 2013

buried beneath all the hats
my favorite mittens
(I thought I lost them)

solstice morning
forcing my steps to slow down —
the sun so late to rise

my proud father
doesn't know how to drive —
posing his daughters
beside a neighbor's car
(I was looking at an old photo of my sister Laura and me, late 1950s, taken near our apartment building in the Bronx. I don't know whose car we were standing in front of but it certainly was not ours; Dad didn't learn how to drive until a few years later.)

hibiscus tea
a deeper red 
steeping into this winter day

oranges for you and me
today, tomorrow —
grandmother's bowl

can it be?
my great-grandmother —
a shadow moving behind
my neighbor's window

a week in West Virginia
weeds as high as my waist
and every night
green beans & ham for dinner —
we never saw each other again

that summer afternoon in Central Park
a thousand strangers chanting om —
the boy next to me
leans his head on my shoulder
and takes a nap

thank you 
for the amaryllis —
yes, it is still blooming —
and you already live
on another continent

a child
both dreamy and wise
polishing a single square
of kitchen linoleum
(Praise song #1031, for Marty Blue Waters. This childhood memory was shared with me the other night as we were drying dishes in our kitchen. Apparently Blue spent about an hour on that square and couldn't understand why her mother wasn't more pleased by her effort!)

6 a.m. or p.m. —
hard to know the difference

icy sidewalks
pine cones and one squashed worm —
I step carefully

birds call to one another
admiring my
purple scarf — I'm sure!

under the weight
of 8 rotting pumpkins
my neighbor's sagging porch

my neighbor's front step
plastic pumpkin 
head over heels

Halloween morning
my own shadow
creeps up on me

a shallow hole in Kansas dirt
rainwater reflects 
the moon on my face

walking along
counting my steps
counting my breaths —
a Blue Jay crosses my path
as if to say
lighten up —
a few blocks over
here he is again
checking in —
I bow to the Jay
as he flies away
(encounters with the Buddha early on a Saturday morning)

grey upon grey —
this wet September morning —
until my neighbor turns the corner
under her emerald green umbrella

after the rain
my neighbor's neat rock garden

rain on a tin roof
watermusic —
nothing to do but listen

morning walk
on the same vine
emerging rose, fading rose

between each breath

open windows —
my neighbors' well-stocked bookshelves
curious cats

all along the beach
tiny shells
sharing big secrets

listening in —
ocean to moon
and back again —
good night
good night

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Dozen Zebras

NOTE: I recently found this piece in my computer files. I remember that it was written in response to a painting that showed zebras running past a group of seated Zen monks, but I'm not sure when I wrote it (at least ten years ago, I'm guessing) or why I chose to enter into this particular fictional persona of a woman considerably older than I am.

There is a place I know, somewhere on the vast expanse of sandy beach we call our coastline, where I once sat cross-legged at dawn as a dozen zebras galloped past. 
Or perhaps not. It might have been a dream. Difficult to say. These days, with my mind creasing in upon itself, how do I know what is real and what only appears to be so?
There is an ocean nearby, of that I am almost certain, I can hear waves caressing the shore like an insatiable lover. It used to make me restless, the endlessness of it, and when I was particularly cranky — and I will admit to that now, why not?, although there was a time I would not acknowledge the slightest deviation from perfection — I dismissed the ocean as so much static, a radio left on after-hours when the station had already signed off. 
Yes, I was arrogant. I admit to that as well, and any other accusation you choose to hurl at me, I was that, too, I’m sure.
Thank you. I did need to be reminded. I am not on trial.

Shall I call it a habit? Self-defining, self-excusing. Self-annihilating.
The mind, this treasured, precious mind, relentless as the ocean’s waves. For how many years now? 
It’s a relief, in its own peculiar way, to hear the hinges creak — slowing down, a trap with no teeth. The mind loose in its moorings, nobody standing guard. Perhaps no one is there to care anymore?
I cared about everything, once. Every silver spoon and cut flower. Every single one of the body’s movements — an approving nod, a dismissive shrug. 

Now I care about my bones. Will they be there, all in place, whole, when I wake up? It makes sleeping difficult, worrying about one’s bones, not wanting to turn too quickly, not wanting to wake to the sound of anything snapping.
When I was a little girl I didn’t ever want to go to sleep. I begged my mother: one more star to wish on, one more wave to count, one more goodnight kiss, only one more. 

She was kind, my mother, she indulged me. Too much, they said, but what do they know? She’d lie down beside me, so many nights, stroking the inside of my wrist, soothing me to sleep as the candle on the windowsill flicked shadows on the wall.
They say we return to childhood in the end. It used to amuse me, all of the things “they say.” The hind-legged pronouncements of men with their proud theories, so pleased with their own brains, so taken with their hollow utterings.
Their bones are nothing but crushed meal now. 

And here I am, lying still in my childhood bed, on the same carefully mended linens, the candle no longer flickering because They Say it is not safe for me to burn a candle. Safe? Can I be saved?
My mother is here with me, in this bed, in my head, and the ocean is also with me, and somehow — I think this might really be true — I hear the approach of a dozen galloping zebras. 

Does that make you want to laugh? Go ahead and laugh, it’s a beautiful sound, your laughter, and then I will know that I can laugh, too. And I will be fairly certain I am still alive.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

small poems, Thursday morning, December 5, 2013

This morning in the Writing Circle our inspiration came from a calendar that showcases some of the art and artifacts from the vast collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These small poems popped up in response to 10 images.

my old friend
looks more and more
like her old dog

inspiration: Egyptian Papyrus, c.1050 B.C.

after dinner
my mother twists chopsticks
into her long grey hair

inspiration: "The Oiran Yoso-oi Seated at Her Toilet," by Kitagawa Utamaro

filthy creekside
how delicately he steps —
the heron we call Rupert

inspiration: "Black Stork in a Landscape," 1780, Indian watercolor

four of us at the lake —
nude, aging
blessedly nearsighted

inspiration: "Bathers," by Paul Cezanne

when we sketched each other
I was less talented
but kinder

inspiration: "Young Woman Drawing," by Marie-Denise Villers

crow on the roof
his caw interrupted —
Friday drumming circle

inspiration: a Chinese watercolor of a musician playing a drum, late 18th century

young frog
on a lily pad —
until a hard rain knocks him off

inspiration: "Water Lilies," by Claude Monet

this orange
you just peeled for me

inspiration: "Lizzie at the Table," by Fairfield Porter

shoved behind the dullest knives
a doily 
you no longer treasure

inspiration: "Victorian Interior II," by Horace Pippin

your diary
left in the dorm bathroom so long ago
I'm sorry —
I read it

inspiration: "Portrait of a Woman," by Egon Schiele