Shell

Miss Susan said a tide this low,
we need to be out in it. Sand
walked west to where the ocean lay, shrunk
like a blanket in the laundry of the moon.
I was six.  She said there was no point
to her staying out of the sun anymore.
Long-lost rocks came up for air
far out, black as seals.

We built a city.  Dripping sand
made melting, alien trees.  In a tide pool
neon slugs rippled and slid toward food.
My bucket filled with currency
from that uncovered country: blue-black mussels
spreading like butterflies, a moon-snail purse.
Every thirty minutes Miss Susan anointed my head
and neck and arms with sunscreen.  And my feet.

In a crevice we found a chiton shell,
armadillo-plated and grey-green.
Tight miracle of hunger how
the seagull that pried the body out
left the skeleton intact.
From the day’s bucket

it’s the one thing I saved,
the seals having drowned.
How a thing can be both empty
and unbroken. How a shell curves
round the space its maker occupied,
pink bowl as full of what isn’t there
as it is of what is.

IMG_0898

 

[Poem year: May entry]

Advertisements

Lives

I.
The train
hurtles over long burned fields
with a coyote hunger.
Someone in that last dunglit village
has cauterized his banyan trees
head-height from the ground.
O thwarted lightning!

II.
They travel with televisions,
lentils, twiggy babies.
They sleep without cushions.
No cushion to their arms.
They lie on tiers
crammed like bookshelves, tipped
at this hour into sleep—
the train a practiced mother
rocking them
indifferently toward morning.

III.
If a train leaves Jodhpur traveling west
with one thousand people
and ten thousand such trains
concurrently leave ten thousand cities, how
can there be enough lentils in the world?

IV.
On other trains,
in other lives,
I was the underside
of a raincloud,
my lover the ground.
Electrons crowded our borders
until their headlong
stumble was a whip
cracking against the back
of the night.
Yet it was enough, in those days,
to subsist wholly
on the light that broke
unbidden from our bodies.

V.
Berthed in solitude
I pick and shell
pistachios from a paper bag,
I will appease
the sharp-faced
tuck-tailed hunger
that is all I share
with the passengers here.
Held outside the window husks
swarm into the air like locusts.
Wind careens hot off the Thar
and if here
and there it hooks
a whole nut, full
and perfect in its split-sided cradle,
no matter—more
and many more in the paper sack
and one alone means nothing.

 

[Poem year: April]

Spilt

There, there! Though I never asked for this flatness
or to be so efficiently dismissed—
no lanterns floated on my temporary lake,
no time for the cream to form continents, calve icebergs,
and no one says of my demise, a library was lost

still I have known the sluggish bottom of the bottle
and the dead chill of the cooler, can recall
startlements of light as I rang like money in the pail

and before that, warmth and dimness
and the deeply thrumming pipes that bore my substance
from Meadow, sun clouded in bugs, through nonbeing
to a kind of splendor, even transcendence:

in perfect continuity with my surroundings, white light
poured into white light. And whole. And held.

I could tell the people a thing or two about despair.
Haven’t I spilled, controlled, each morning
past the stark looming letters that foretell
the curdling and the old-age smell?
But I know too that annihilation

means only to be packed again into the egg.
Prismatic, I will split and realign.
Behold the road that opens in mid-air,

the sudden and familiar loss of shape,
the wet slap my skin makes against the grain.
No tears, no tears! That cup was not my home.
I wore and then outgrew it like a shoe.

The world’s distilled to an infinite plane.
It’s happened before. I will get through.

 

[A year in poems— March entry]

 

White Flag Beside the Wye

Five miles through woods crept up to eight, then ten,

and the sun had made its turn past vertical,

descended to leaf-level and set the green flickering

when the path dead-ended in river mud, ebb tide, no abbey.

 

The way unwound like a dropped scarf, blackberry-tatted.

In fallen-away fields the gorse burned yellow

around the unpanicked legs of cows. I closed my ears

 against hordes of nettles muttering go back

and knelt over the map: a paper bird I’d found

at the bus station that morning, hatched roughly

in the knapsack, blue wings creased with use,

its thin cry unconvincing

next to the book that shared its nest, the cover worn velvet,

the folded page I held in my palm

like a compass, no glimpse of Tintern yet, but that

would come, wouldn’t it?  All paths lead back to builders;

and so on through the deep and deeper forest

I paid out bravery like twine, knotted it, clutched

at its dwindling weight in my hip pocket,

until at the river’s sluggish edge I pulled its feathered end

into my hand.

 

They say the ruins are lavender in this light.

Are stone and slingshot. I’m down to my last apple.

The river opens up a skyroad for monkish bees that stumble

homeward from their flowers, the world’s sweetness

a burden almost too much for them to bear. Yet up they buck.

Over eons they’ll pack a blissful gold

in six-sided cells their bodies spend all to form.

But I am no alchemist. I have only prayer.

The rosary of footprints I’ve laid down winds up and back

in sodden chalk. Nothing but steady effort with which to beg

whatever god was cast out here or comes to summer rough

to make of me, as the day goes down, an offering,

something cored more finely than the hiker

I set out as, in a far more crowded country.

 

O setting sun! Strike a match against my hair

and kindle on the sodden riverbank what’s left of me

into a blaze the likes of which this valley has not seen

since men first cleared the land for their ships of stone,

a blaze such as the ancients used to navigate by—

for I am lost, I am lost, at last freely I confess it

like the sacrificial beasts that in late summer

wander these high fields crackling with gorse,

their legs alight, their bodies never burning.

 

 

A Year in Poems: February Entry

[Author’s note: this is a “longline poem” assignment I started for a poetry class I took with John Shoptaw at Berkeley. The WordPress format doesn’t capture the shape I was trying to create with each pair of lines. If you’re interested, the intended formatting is maintained in this Word doc.]

just to say

there will be
no crumb cake
for our daughter’s
birthday tea

because someone
ate the plums
even though
I hid them
in the icebox

oh
and forgive me
but your next
apology by poem

had better
be a goddamn sonnet

 

 

Here’s a little extra add-on to my January poem post. It didn’t feel fair to use it for my main poem, because it wasn’t resurrected from my poem graveyard–in fact it went from thought to finished (finished-ish) in the space of a few weeks. It is obviously an homage–and retort– to William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say,” a poem I know well but revisited with fresh eyes this past winter, when it was kicking around in meme form. As a writer and reader I love the original poem; as a wife and mother, I find it completely exasperating.

One Earring

You are not wooden
but you look it, coffee
lapping against tamarind
in the glossy and absolutely
smooth hemisphere
I used to rub with one small thumb—

or was that your sister,
fallen since into some dank
S-bend, no longer gleaming
like Saturday night, not
setting off the tint
of my mother’s tugged-at hair

(walnut and cinnamon smoking
to grey where it twisted
from her forehead)
but rocked in nightly tides
of turned wine and dishwater,
not spoken of, not saved?

Twins once, now you
are something else
I hesitate to name,
one a young and un-eroded
version of the other.
Tiger eye I’m told—

but surely that should
mean green, or striped,
or a stone that stares back?
Worn, your weight unbalances.
Until in the mirror
I summon ghosts.

In the glass the stones
of years fall back into my hand
and you are not orphan.
Here is the shell-like, elegant ear,
a mother’s cinnamon hair
restored to its rough glory,

and the floating moon of you
(moon of teak, moon of upturned earth)
whose gravity still grounds me.

 

 

[A Year in Poems: January entry]

[And a bonus poem to start the year off.]

A Year in Poems

I feel so-so about New Year’s Resolutions. On the one hand, why wait til January to make the changes you want to see in the world? You could have a summer resolution instead (when you might actually want to get up at 6am and run 3 miles through the park), or a back-to-school resolution, or just a my-god-it’s-Monday-again resolution. Plus you’re not going to stick to it anyway, are you? Why set yourself up for failure?

On the other hand, sometimes we need an occasion for change. It can help to have a sense that something outside of us is becoming different–the setting, the era, okay, the year–and that therefore we might for once succeed in being different too. I am not much of a runner, but when I studied abroad  in Mexico in college I woke up early every morning and ran along the beach as far as the sardine cannery and back. Every morning. The friends I made in Mexico thought of me as a runner. New place, new me. (One friend, who was actually a runner, tried running with me one morning and quickly discovered, oh, no, you are not a runner.)

DSCN1654
Like, seriously. Not a runner.

So right at the end of each year, when people ask if I have any resolutions, I usually say no.

But even as the words leave my lips, somewhere over my head a wisp of a resolution is floating, like the faint mist on a mirror that tells you a body still has breath.

And by the end of January–importantly, after people have stopped asking about it–I usually gather the ovaries to formally admit my resolution to myself.

I still think I’ll fail at it. I usually do fail, if what one’s going for is perfection. But if it makes me move even a little in the direction I want to go, wasn’t that worth it? The goal isn’t finish this marathon. It’s get off this couch.

Which brings us to this year. See. I have this stack of poems that I’ve started over the last decade or so and abandoned, or gotten stuck on, or thought were finished and then realized later with horror were the melodramatic ravings of a teenage diarist. My resolution is to pluck one poem from this pile each month of 2018 and finish it. This is no more ambitious a resolution for me than usual, but this year I’ve decided to add some extra incentive to follow through with it. Some virtual accountabilibuddies, if you will. That’s where you come in–if you want.

I’m going to post each poem on this blog by midnight on the last day of each month. (I am! I am! I am!) You can subscribe if you want (can you? I don’t understand technology), or check back in, look out for the latest installment. You can email, text, or homing pigeon me if I fail. You can say I owe you a beer if the poem is late and I will shrug and pony up. Although if you live in upstate NY, you will have to fly here to collect on said beer.

I might not share the Poem of the Month on Facebook every time (or any time, after this) because this is HARD FOR ME PEOPLE. But I will put it up here, on this blog.

Or, you know, maybe I’ll fail. I may end up flat on my face on the floor.

But at least I’ll be off the pinche couch.