I sat across the table from you
leaking tears and talking, talking
trying to put my finger on why I wept
and felt embarrassed in a class where we
discussed the abuse of women and girls.
The tears began as I tried to articulate the need
for awareness of all those who at that moment
(when we were discussing their situations
in a much removed room at divinity school)
were alone in their abuse, with no relief in sight.
Trying to discern the reason for tears
while explaining to you the sense of distance
I felt between me and my body,
me and my skin, even while the invitation
to fill that space hung in the air.
What else would God do but weep? you said.
I rode your words bareback into that space
where compassion closed the gap. I felt
how the heart of God is the part of how
we are one with ourselves and with each other.
There is more of grave than of gravy, I said,
turning Dickens’ line on its head,
a reference to my father three score dead
when I dreamed him alive last night,
alive but with skin peeling, as if from
a wasting disease, but beneath that disease
deep joy, what with being alive
again, even within the bounds of dream
a smile in the eye and face proclaimed
his presence so long ago known, cut
off suddenly by death in the night
in his own bed that failed to support his life.
No whining, no crying, I quick admonish.
That was then; this is now, and he lives.
Toward what end this lively visit, this gift
given without the asking? All of that remains
to be seen. Meanwhile, I write it down.
Unlike the mattress of years past, this paper
supports his life re-given, and I can read it
out loud, as I will: His name––Edmond Thomas.
To what extent do I mock Antigone
as I pass the beheaded hen on successive mornings,
her position altered by some night beast
perhaps, or just the wind
stronger at intervals
than the resistance of feather and flesh
I walk past on hardening ground
to give hay to living cows, higher
on the scale of likely return.
Anxious scratching of clay pots
on back seats folded down asks,
Where are we going?
Beside me the maidenhair rustles
in expectation. Cacti bump against
windows, breaking spines; juices chilled,
they stand alert. Several Swedish ivy apron
out, oblivious and shiny, they preen the whole
way there. With each knocking bump
along the road, donkeys’ tails weep in mute
regret for the table cleft by shadow left behind.
persevering through war, exile, imprisonment
and the loss of her fortune.” So writes
the translator Wendy Chen of Li Qingzhao
known for her ci––her poems set to music.
The gauntlet thrown down, I pick it up,
not having had to persevere through war,
exile, imprisonment or loss of fortune,
my cup of history and responsibilities
shouldered over many years is what
I have to offer, not that of the Chinese poet,
her life complicated by much beyond her control
but kids, they are what fills the cup
with laundry, cooking, transportation
doctoring, comforting, encouraging
daily emergence into their lives.
Notwithstanding differences––a woman’s
life is a woman’s life––I accept the challenge
of her life, and continue writing mine.
Enamored of all about the beloved
––by the eye, the hand, the trembling mouth––
the lover is undone.
For me, it’s egg salad sandwiches.’’
Inspired by a distant view of The People
––breeding, borning, living, dying––
the revolutionary is undone.
But for me, it’s egg salad sandwiches.
Give me a wedding where the budget is low
guests on folding chairs row on row
plates piled high with the hens’ sweet roe.
Yes, for me it’s egg salad sandwiches.
Soggy white triangles with hardening crust
preferably no lettuce but mayo a must.
The newlyweds plight their troth and their trust.
As for me, it’s egg salad sandwiches.
A knot, a snarl, a twist of birds
like so many words alight on my eye
describing themselves in joyful eruptions
of wings flung back on the wind.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
You chew the apple like a little beaver
turning it rapidly in your corn-cob fingers.
“It gone,” you hand the core to me
and seal the memory of you at the river
in your baseball hat, fishing from the bank
where beavers have chewed the birch I balance
on watching you, my son, my beaver boy
consuming the day with white and perfect teeth.
My son and I toast marshmallows
over the flames of old love letters
into the ashes
of picnics past in green fields
streamed through with sepia-toned
water, clear in the way of old photos.