Oddly I have a photo
of my grandmother’s grave,
but not one of my mothers,
either of them actually, and
we’ve yet to have a funeral
for the one who raised me.
I forgive the one who gave me life,
for she gave me to one she felt
could care for me well and
she slipped away into death
before I found out her name.
I do have a college yearbook
photo of her, and that will
have to do every day, and
especially on Sunday when she
will have been lying
in the soil of West Virginia
for sixteen years, and I will
be mourning her passing for four.
They come to her in the dark
the voices whisper, she hears them
from behind half lidded eyes
they sound like the children
that once ran across the open field
chasing the ball, a too slow bird
a mortar shell whose fall
outpaced them all, left them
scattered, shattered, marked
by simple wooden crosses
that were taken for heat.
She strains to answer them
the words thick on her tongue
clogging her mouth
like a gas soaked rag
stuck into the thin neck
of a bottle, lit, they explode
inside her mind, the shrapnel
tearing at her eyes
red, only red, the sky
seems aflame yet the sun
has long since set
behind the smoke of the fires.
They hover around her
gently touching her cheek
like a demented butterfly
seeking nectar long dry
she caresses the thick scar
were her breast once stood
proudly, but there is no feeling
only numbness of too many bodies
strewn on tables, across chairs
which are broken to feed the flames
which dance away into the snowy night.
She can see their masks
hiding sneering lips
spitting vitriol for what once was
she curses them, faceless
her eyes pressed shut
by their tiny fingers, kneading
the soft dough, pulling it
taught, letting it snap back
released by the sated mouth
of the devil child who runs
laughing up the hill
chasing a dragonfly
into the dawn.
First Appeared in Arnazella, 2000.
It was draped over the fence,
a bridge for squirrels who
would otherwise would go through the chain.
There’s a sadness to its needles, many
burying themselves in the accumulated snow,
cast off by the great Spruce as extraneous,
an old coneless branch, “that is the reason”
the trunk whispers in the wind
“why I am rid of it, why now
you are free to take up lopping shears
and make of it what you will
or just haul it to the curb, it is of no matter to me.”
There is a cynicism in the old tree’s voice,
as if saying, “Look, I was here before you, long
before any of this,” knowing it will go unchallenged.
But I remind it of the fate of the Austrian Pine
that one stood two dozen yards away
and the Spruce sheds another cone
and lapses into silence.
She isn’t used to the cold,
she never will be, and she hates it
with the sort of passion she once reserved
for people of a different
political philosophy than hers.
She grew up here, but she left.
She has never regretted the departure.
She visits only in late spring
or in the heart of summer, or early autumn
and is here now only for a funeral, which she hates
more than the cold this winter.
She wishes that the death could have occurred
in late spring, early autumn, the heart of summer.
She is certain she will die in one of those seasons,
or at least in the deep enough south
that no one attending a funeral
will have to freeze and curse the winter.
She has no intention of dying anytime soon,
for she has a great deal left to do
and some of that clearly involves
cursing winter and hating the cold with a passion.
The butterflies came in the night
floating through the barracks window,
mainly monarchs, orange and black
but the occasional yellow, with
more gossamer wings, and the odd white
with small green patches, one to a wing.
There is a corner in my footlocker
that is mine, where I can hide
the tattered book of poems.
A true poet is unafraid to write
an ode in blood, if the situation requires
drawn from her vein
by a needle or the baton
of the security force.
In the river downtown the cup
floats along, carried on the current
into which I cast my dreams
when they no longer serve any purpose.
I can easily aim the rifle
at the silhouette and ease back
on the trigger, but would the child’s skull
explode with the impact of the round
or merely cave inward, collapsing?
I can look into the mirror
in the morning, before first light
and see the shine on my head.
The cancer is advancing, growing
until I no longer have control
and merely respond to its commands
in carefully spit-shined boots
as though anyone would give a damn
waist deep in the fetid water
of the rice paddies.
The heat is unbearable
and you sweat at the thought of motion.
You, forced march from your dreams,
and the butterflies disappear
into the exhausting night.
First Appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Vol. 4, No. 3, February-March, 1993.
There are a group of them
who stare at the sky
knowing it is coming
launched on its course
at the beginning of time
which has no beginning.
Some say it will be soon
others are less certain when
but all accept without question
its inevitability, and wonder
what will remain in its
aftermath, seas evaporated,
continents blotted, it is easy
I tell them, there will be
a freaking big mess
for the roaches to clean up.
First Appeared in Pandaloon, 1996.
The thing about it is
it is so damn quiet
I can hear myself think
but I can’t think anymore.
And I’ll tell you
this box is so cold
it just leaks air
and water has seeped in.
Somehow I expected more
it isn’t at all what
and the stone
is not set straight
which is driving me
only slightly crazy,
so tell me
about my grandsons
are they still handsome
young men, do they have
girlfriends like your wife.
You know steel would
have worn far better
and white satin
would be so much
more cheerful than this blue,
it just clashes with
this white gown
which fits terribly anyway.
You should come to visit
more often, Hilda’s son
and all her grandchildren
visit each week, but me, no one.
Its starting to rain again
so go, you don’t want
to catch a cold, it could
kill you, of this I’m certain.
First Appeared in Children, Churches and Daddies, Vol. 117, 1998.