Saturday, December 18, 2010

Street Musicians

In a dark mood, cropped,
I miss the scent of angels

forgetting they are street musicians
drawing notes from whatever instrument's
to hand,

forgetting they wrestle in caves to win.

The Artist Bursts In, Drawing His Knives

“Angel of Death,” woodcut on paper, Leonard Baskin

He cuts the feathers that are the shoulders of the angel of death,
the mouth that is the closed cave of the angel of death,
the nostrils that are the oubliettes
stuffed with black air that has our scent.

The angel of death has our torso.
He greets evil black to black wherever it has torn us,
shouldering in wherever flesh lies.

No shock for us behind that closed door:
the uncowering artist has stared him down,
exposing the jet hand that is the shadow
of the cock of the angel of death, showing us
how those feathers have taken the veins of our lungs
and filled themselves with our air.

At our threshold the fierce, naked,
blessed artist imprints himself, making mortal
those square cheeks, those netted balls,
that white throat, those thighs.
He is our agent. The angel's eyes roll back.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Looking Up

O, crystal sky of cold wind
and winking strings of stars,
eternity above the city street.
We cluster by our temporary hearths;
years fly, walls break, logs fall to grey.
We are diamonds, diamonds.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Unexpected Harvest

One part of moving to a new continent is getting to know the strange and remarkable flora and fauna. I gave up on trying to grow sweet peas and hollyhocks, but tomatoes were a joy to grow in the U.S., and I couldn't foresee any difficulty with parsley. Ah! "The best-laid plans o' mice and men.." But is it a bad thing that we can't control the outcomes of our endeavours?

Unexpected Harvest

What a shock, after the parsley would not come up, though we watered it daily and pinched its weeds, after we'd given up hope, yet stubbornly watered on, finally seeing the row of reddish nubs like sleepy monks rising from the earth, their tight green curls askew, and we had rejoiced, and tended, and watched the serrated row fill out; what a shock to step into the garden and see them gone - eaten back to bareness - and fat striped caterpillars belching, as we imagined, in their place.

What were these pillagers? We knew what they ate. Against all reason we bought more parsley from the store to feed them in a screened bucket until they cocooned. Then, what a shock, one morning, to see the bucket full of Swallowtails! Great blue and gold wings quivering, gorgeous! We let them climb our hands, dry off in the sun, and go. I don't know. You plant parsley seeds, you get nothing but trouble and glory.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Wonder About the Chores

When I wrote this poem it was in response to an anonymous 17th century pastoral oil painting of a young countrywoman riding a farm horse away from the small house between fields behind her. She was dressed for a journey, and there were bags tied to the saddle. I had an emotional reaction to the painting that took me a year to understand: I'd left my own family's small, Welsh dairy farm at 18 to move to a city, not knowing what I would need for my new life, and then I left Europe for the U.S. when I was 24 with a husband, a baby a few weeks old and two small suitcases, again not knowing what I'd need or where my journey would take me.

I Wonder About The Chores

I am traveling between worlds,
Nellie loaned to me as far as the town,
a stage to take me from there.

All the small fretting
of the work of this house:
I have left it.

The gate that stuck against its post,
the poison ivy by the raspberries,
the crotchety old pump.

The way to hang the copper
so it would fit in the space by the door.
Where the flour bin was, and how deep the remainder.

(I always loved the sweet peas,
how they bloomed and swelled quickly
before summer could burn them.)

I picked huckleberries in summer on the ridge,
stripped chestnuts in fall, hung clothes in winter winds to dry,
and pulled spring lambs from the muddy cut.

I knew the stream for watercress,
and which wild roots could fill out our stew
when the cellar was empty.

I knew the kindness our young cow required
to let down her milk: the low voice,
the smoothing of her flank.

I knew how to keep brothers from fighting.
What to say to a mother so she wouldn’t despair,
to a father to keep peace.

I wish I knew what skills will be needed
in the next place. (If there will be kindness.)
I wish I could prepare.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Alice B. Toklas's Third Rose

“Civilization began with a rose. A rose is a rose
is a rose is a rose.” -Gertrude Stein
“...when she gets to that third rose she loses me.”
-Erv Harmon

This rose I gave to Gertrude in the fall,
a yellow rose for spring and love and lust;
the third one was an eyesore, I recall.

Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso blazed our hall
and forced the careless caller to adjust;
this rose I gave to Gertrude in the fall.

The weather then broke green all over Gaul,
the roses burst, the bushes were robust:
the third one was an eyesore, I recall.

Still life brushed could not be still at all:
red roses scrambled up the wall untrussed;
this rose I gave to Gertrude in the fall.

The first rose rose rose fiercely tall,
the second rose was yellow, lovers' trust;
the third one was an eyesore, I recall.

A modern rose is summer's richest scrawl
though winter's withering leaves it undiscussed;
this rose I gave to Gertrude in the fall -
the third one was an eyesore, I recall.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Haunted House

O haunted House of black mirth, tell us true:
are outer workings of your grizzled face,
your pointed barbs, sarcastic derring-do
whilst ruthlessly unravelling each case
just a ruse? I swear that I have briefly
seen a kind of nurturing sweetness shine
beneath your clever visage (which chiefly
mocks): a kindness working to undermine
your contemptuous front. O brilliant man,
addict to music, puzzles and drugs, much
like Holmes in his day of mysteries, we can
see how you need a shrunken leg’s crutch.
Medical sleuth with guarded, arctic glance,
a heart beats still beneath your arrogance.