Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

Four children, one tub
no running hot water––
How did she manage to keep us clean?

With pots and kettles on the stove
heating after supper on Saturday night
in preparation for church on Sunday

morning. The heated water half-filled
the claw-footed tub, and whoever was
first in the week’s rotation stepped

gingerly into the steamy bath.
My favorite slot was number three.
Like Goldilocks tasting the bears’

porridge and finding the bowl of Baby
Bear not too hot and not too cold
but just right, so it was with the third

slot. Granted I sat in a growing scum
but I didn’t mind, what with the rinse
the warm rinse a comforting caress

after it all. Like animals nuzzling
their fresh hay on a cold winter night
and settling into their clean bedding

with quiet nickers and oinks, we
settled onto clean sheets, murmuring
to each other as we fell asleep.

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In memoriam

After all these years her reduction to ashes
sits unmolested on the fireplace mantle,
her mother afraid to let her go underground.

Her father had found her frozen in death
his and her mother’s love not enough
to save her from the cold and loneliness

of depression, that folded her in on herself.
If only she’d called, they’d have heard and come
running with hope for a new beginning.

September 11, 2018

On this day of destruction, the Word comes down
as bodies came down through the sacred air
as the towers themselves came down in fire and dust

choking those running away in donated sneakers
those running barefoot to Brooklyn, to Bedford Stuy
running, running away to the future, to this anniversary

when we remember the runners, the jumpers
the hostages on the planes; the lovers of fire
who commandeered those planes, those misguided

ones who worshiped death. But a new altar arises
today, when the Word comes down as life, new life
these 17 years gone; new life in the womb

of the present moment. New life that is breath
for those in New York and beyond.

Hello, Goodbye

Off you go on your tractor to split the wood.
Seems I’m always hailing you from a distance,
you at your work, I at mine watching you,
recording your work on a day in spring
that is already looking through summer
to the cold trap of winter beyond, knowing
the flare of color in fall a brief fire
that will not last but will end as we will––
brown and sere––pushed off our branch
by the buds of another spring.

A Legacy of Sisu* on Mummo’s Birthday

The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.

*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.

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Dream On

The keen return of taste
the sound ear hearing clearly
the grandchild’s song––

To know spring in the smell
of earth and see the robins
run in a burst of color––

All of it clings burr-like
to the lining of memory.

Show and Tell

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.