STANDING IN FRONT OF MARILYN MONROE’S CRYPT
Rose bushes are in bloom, huge red
and pink roses, alive with prospect.
And, always, there are fresh flowers
in a pewter vase attached on the left
side of her marble crypt, the dead
flowers replaced twice a week,
dew of morning still visible
on each wilted petal.
Between the bushes, below thorns,
leaves, below brightly living buds,
my mother’s ashes are scattered.
People come in twos or more,
kiss and touch with fingertips
this final resting place as tears spill
onto the ground to be held
by my mother’s spirit that forces
even the roses
AFTER A LONG WAR
I thought I had done something, perhaps
something wrong, something that hurt
my father as I’d danced around
a fountain, chased the many
colored lights, wondering if
the water itself was different colors.
At five, I already knew things were
often not what they seemed, so I sat
beside him without swinging my feet
or snatching at droplets of color
or singing the strange song
that interrupted my thoughts
as my father’s shoulders shook
and his tears fell in a furious storm.
It was his first afternoon back,
back from war. My mother sent us out,
get to know each other, she had said.
Me, the singer of senseless melodies.
He, caught in what would be a lifetime
of survivor’s guilt. Something no 5-year-old
should ever get to know.
Eight Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty Good Days
In the early spring of many years ago, I woke
only to remain in bed. So pretty a day,
so much to do. I was sick, sick to the point of dying sick,
so sick I didn’t care. The week before, I had broken
off an engagement, returned the ring, told him
I liked living alone, and now I was sick, three days
sick, and, sick of being sick. The doorbell rang and I thought
angels sang. I woke and stumbled toward the sound,
fragile, feverish, heart pounding from effort.
The man I said I didn’t want stood at my door with a kitten,
tiny thing, a small blue box with some sand,
and a few cans of food. He thrust the mewing baby
into my arms, set supplies inside the door, and left,
turned and left, without uttering a word, left me
with this living thing to care for. It was two more days
before the fever broke, two days of outlandish dreams,
sweats, and incoherent murmurs. Two days before
I came into myself enough to notice the kitten
snuggled beside me. Two days before I woke to my life
and all that became over the next twenty-four-years.
Twenty-four-years of constant companionship and love.
His name was Rex. He was the King of Cats.
Here come our two cats for my breakfast,
but I am not eating, rather looking down,
making the pen move with familiar loops
and a certain steady slide across the page.
Cats bore easily when they see that ink smears
and doesn’t taste a thing like chicken on the tongue.
So, the leader pushes her nose into an African Violet,
which I can’t allow. Given her way, she will have leaves
and soil all over the table, along with pretty
purple flowers. I pluck her from the lovely pot,
but not before a clump of dirt hits
the table and she finds it didn’t taste a thing like turkey,
which was what she had on her little kitty brain.
Off the two go to explore the kitchen, tails entwined,
leaving me in solitude with nothing more than
steam rising from the electric facility at the end
of Korean Veterans Bridge and downtown
Nashville waking to another day of rain.
Now I hear the cats discussing how bacon is cured
and the virtue of Costco’s brand Kirkland,
fully-cooked, naturally wood smoked, thick cut
microwaveable, pre-sliced, ready in a mere 55 seconds,
reminding me we can have bacon for breakfast,
P.S. and by the way, one piece for each cat, please.
CHANGE OF SEASON
I’ve not wanted to leave the house lately.
I’ve been content as grass growing,
wild with color
and deeply rooted
as an old tree with new growth for spring.
I long for nothing—
dream of just where I am,
worry over the indoor plants,
and the camellias coloring the front porch,
the roses gathering strength from winter.
Oh, did I mention the coyote
walking down the middle of the road
at four in the afternoon yesterday?
And that I woke to rain today?
Did I tell you that I put a log in the fireplace
and when the embers turned bright orange,
I added all the court papers,
all but the final decree,
and watched as the whole thing went up?
They burned bright as a sunny day.
High above pedestrian streets, I think
of myself as the virgin maiden
in a tower. Sirens scream. In my imagination
they become alligators in the moat.
A determined wind from the north
pushes at clouds. Morning and evening
skies are red waves that spill
across twenty-foot high windows–
walls of steel beams and thick glass,
man’s idea of strength and style.
Mother told us red skies meant Santa Claus
was baking cookies. I remember many ways
she tried to make us secure with mythic
storytelling–money in the proverbial cookie jar,
guardian angels, saviors from every religion
watched over us. No opportunity,
no chance for wrong doing–a sky full of birds
kept us from harm. Big and very bad
wolves lived in the world, this we knew.
There were plenty of old women
who lived in gingerbread houses,
ovens large enough to hold my brother and me.
Today, a black cat follows me from room to room.
Sunlight fills every recessed corner,
and from somewhere, music, ethereal, angels singing.
North pushes all the clouds aside.
In our wild natures, madness fills the world below.
I am the maiden princess. I see blue sky inside and out.
I am thinking about my brother this morning. He,
whom I haven’t heard from in three weeks now,
must still be on that roof he said he was replacing
when the first in a series of great snows began to fall,
a uprising of snow, that grips the Eastern states still—
20 inches one day, 16 the next, until the strongest
of roofs cave under that weight. My blood runs thick as slush
through this man’s veins. I hold dear my memories of him,
first as a baby, then the smiling boy he grew to be. When he calls,
I concentrate on his voice, now the deep timbre of a man,
and I remember my great love for all that he was
when he first appeared out of the mysterious skirt of our mother.
BEYOND THE PADDOCK, STABLE, RING
I can’t tell which heartache came up in me
making the drive to Chapel Hill, and after,
standing among the horses, each one
positioning closer to have her head rubbed.
I felt the warmth of hide against my open palm,
heard the birds call as light turned soft.
Early morning does that these first days of fall.
And later, another overwhelming need to cry
while I sat under the gazebo listening to acorns drop
from a scarlet oak, a tinny sound against the roof
that made me think of rain falling on a coffin
until I was unable to see through my tears.
The old dog, the one we call Robin for he
is very brave and ferociously protective of us,
came into the gazebo to lay his head
in my lap. And, if he could, he’d charge
whatever it was, whatever that old grief
that still haunts me, but he can only
comfort, bear the weight of that which
he can’t see, yet knows surrounds us,
the heartache that gnaws at my edges,
nibbles away daily at the heart of me.
While Setting The Table
Daydreams are a form of reality, someone told me once, a separate
dimension where fiction and fact blend like eggs and sugar beaten
into a sunny concoction, grainy in substance with sticky qualities.
Maybe it was my daughter, as she whipped heavy cream by hand,
or rolled a lemon pepper pasta she hand-crafted and cut into wide
strips, then served so happily with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
I breathe in this scene, call family to the table where we all can sit
gladly, waiting for the door from her kitchen to open, and wearing
my red-checked apron, she will appear offering her latest creation.
I won’t tell anyone this is only a dream. I don’t even want to think
about the accident. From her kitchen, some sweet melody I can’t
recognize, will float around the dinning room—so different from
the rhythmic beat, beat, beat of one lone drummer as we entered
a garden where we gathered to scatter her ashes among vibrant roses.
THINGS MY FATHER SAID
Lay that drop cloth flat Kid.
Now, pick it up in the middle
like you’re making a tent. There now,
take your free hand and divide the cloth in half.
This takes two Kid, remember that.
Painting goes better with a partner.
Burnt Umber is your best color.
Never run out.
There—see it in my bag?
I always carry at least three tubes.
That’s a painter’s bag Kid?
all those flecks of paint on that there bag,
well, that says this man is a painter.
Check out this wall Kid.
Check it for holidays.
You know what a holiday is?
It’s when you skip over a place
and it doesn’t get painted.
Can’t have no holidays now,
Never put flat over enamel.
It will ball right up on you,
then you’ve got a hell of a mess.
Have to sand the whole damn thing down.
Check out what was done
before you come on the scene.
Some old guy could have used the wrong thing.
There are men like that out there Kid?
don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.
T.S.P. remember that Kid,
cuts through any kind of grease.
I always carry some.
Look in my bag Kid, see that box?
Closets are hell, little rooms with no windows.
Give me the outdoors Kid,
blue skies, a nice breeze;
small areas give me the heebie jeebies.
A man starts thinking about a tall cool one
instead of his work here.
See Kid, this here’s a finish line,
just the right amount of paint
on the brush, but not enough to let it run.
Now, a steady hand, easy does it;
a perfect line.
Some old boys use all kinds of tricks,
but you might as well learn to do it right.
Be good at what you do Kid.
And pay your bills.
Can’t work if the paint store cuts you off Kid.
Keep all the receipts too, so you know where you’re at.
Clean those brushes good at the end of the day.
A man should take pleasure in cleaning his brushes.
A good brush Kid, now that’s worth its weight in gold.
Clean’um up, the way you clean up for Sunday school.
There now…leave’um dry for the next day’s work.
A good brush Kid, is the painter’s friend.
You take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.
I know you’re just a girl Sis,
you’re not growing up to be no painter,
but you don’t have to be ignorant neither.
Show us some class now Kid,
bring your old Dad a beer why don’t you.
How Long Is One Man’s Time On Earth?
How Long Must The Life Of A Wanderer Last?
A river runs through the Biltmore Estate. It overflowed
its banks on Monday. More rain is predicted by nightfall.
Walking paths disappear into the murky waters. Canada
Geese ride the river where tall grass rises above the flow.
It’s peaceful, serene even. Grey clouds billow above and
quickly change form. The shape of our lives is like this.
We continue to ride the currents. It’s possible to be
at the beginning of some grand adventure, or at the end.
I am the caretaker of small things—darks
in one load, whites in another, sheets
by themselves. Only I, open and close
windows, turn on and off fans,
dust, mop. Hand out small portions
of food. For each person, each cat, a different
palate. I listen for wild birds, watch
a lavender sky fill to shades of blue.
An orange sun parades over fields
of hay, now strewn with cut bales—
I see Hawk circle overhead as I open the door
to find two FBI agents in my doorway. I listen,
careful to say nothing of value, allow nothing
anyone would find interesting to spill out.
How To Hold Your Arms When You’re In Love
Something beyond levels itself over the night sky.
Fog, yes, but a denseness of emotion too.
And this morning, separation. It moves through the trees,
catching at branches and no one but us will notice.
It drifts sideways, hiding important knowledge,
overjoyed that a world might take in
the relief of feeling so alive.
Time wants to show me a different country.
It says that North and South can join so that
there is no separation. So that one man, one woman
will be able to live in a place both call Home.
Home is wherever they are.
Family will become the common denominator,
and time will allow this gift in a million different ways.
I have saved for this day, tucked my love away
in the museums and churches of my heart knowing that one day
a love that can endure for all time will step forth
into the present. This is the way I hold my arms
when I’m in love, out stretched, palms up,
sending all the light my body
can manufacture to learn both sides of our nature
and become one, a family.
Drinking From the Many Rivers of Hades
We drink from the river of Lethe to forget.
Some ancient Greeks believed that souls
were made to drink from the river before
being reincarnated so they wouldn’t remember.
It doesn’t matter what, let’s just call it life—
that which flows from the headwaters
located in this earthly paradise, found
at the top of the mountain of Purgatory.
In the short time it has taken to write this,
the marina has become shrouded in fog.
Imagine! Fogged in and forgetful. I have to ask
the question: Where do I fit
into this outrageous life?
For This, For Everything, I Am Almost Out Of Time
I 65 North, going into Franklin, I pass by a family of buffalo.
The bull positions his hugeness between the freeway,
the cow and calf. That offspring almost as large as his sire.
Just to the right and beyond the buffalo, a white cross
in a ditch stabs upward toward infinity. The name, John Lund,
clearly visible written in black on the shoulders of the cross.
I always wave, Hi John, as the car speeds by at 75 mph.
This has been going on for eleven months now, ever since
we arrived in middle Tennessee. I have caught a speeding
train. It races toward a birthday that is considered by most
rational beings to distinguish middle age from old age.
So plain is it to me that I am moving through these last years
at an accelerated speed. It’s time I start making some contacts,
you understand, who have already passed over to the other side.
A warbler so yellow, came to sit atop
a young Leland Spruce yesterday
morning, and sang the soul of his
tremendous heart out. His song twice
the force of other birds much larger.
The sun rose up to stand directly
over our heads and a soft wind
fluttered around our shoulders.
Pollen filled the air of a fine Spring,
and everything was good. Children
popped in and out of a sunny doorway
with steaming dishes for breakfast
and we were happy, truly so. By 2 p.m.
every one had departed, traveling
to separate parts of different states.
I was alone. Clouds blew in. Rain assaulted
the land and by morning, snow. Into my
great solitude, the precious warbler came
once again to sing. It is enough for now,
the quiet of snow, the company of a warbler.
Darkly, I Enter The Ring
My father left school when he was fourteen
and joined the Navy—a fellow could do that
back then, lie about his age, doctor-up
his birth certificate or present a letter
from his mom, even if he had to doctor-up
that too. He came out a man, shaving,
all spiffed up, wearing better duds than he’d
ever been given as a boy. So what seemed natural
to him was to reenlist, but this time, man
that he was, he went into the Marine Corp
and traded one uniform for another to walk
around in, cock-sure of himself.
He got into boxing. Every chance he’d get,
into the ring he went. He knew the four
corners better than most men know
their own back door, the one they enter
and leave by every day. It was nothing
to him, a broken nose, ten stitches, twenty
stitches above an eye, shattered cheek bones,
a few thousand split lips—it was all better
than being that sweet boy with sun-bleached hair.
I got into the ring myself once, his baby girl,
lifted the top rope as he would have done,
paced corner to corner, jabbed into the air
just to feel the power in my back, my arms.
I even tossed myself against the ropes
to feel that sensation of being thrown back
into the game. I got down on hands
and knees, experienced canvas in my face.
I didn’t feel what I think my dad felt,
even though it was all there for me. I felt
nothing, except the dark presence of
that sheer stubbornness of his youth.
Postscript To Loss
Bird, flutters around the front porch.
Part of its inspection includes a pair of shoes—
my shoes, kept by the door as outdoor shoes,
run to the mailbox shoes, get paper shoes,
trash shoes, garden shoes—and for a moment
I wonder if Bird is thinking about
nest building in my shoes. Knitting
the long laces through twigs, binding things
a nest is made from into a stronghold,
a regular fortress for its young. Bird finishes
its inspection before it flies up into the eaves—
good choice Bird, eaves are built to last.
But, no matter how strong you build,
you can’t always keep your children safe.
And, even the best of homes
can’t restore your dead. I know.
Leave the shoes dear Bird,
build your home in the eaves. Bring me new life.
Out Of Nowhere
…this morning, the memory of me hiding in the closet
just seven years old. My father in the kitchen
of that small California Court apartment
past midnight. Across the center pathway,
all the lights of the other houses dimmed to darkness
and him, with yet another freshly poured drink
talking to the dead men in his unit, those men
back riding the waves toward the shore
of Omaha Beach, those rolling waves,
the boat about to fall open, that trembling boat
sweet mother of Jesus, into the cold water they went,
rifles above their heads. Have mercy, pray
for us all in the hour of our need…
James Bond Beach
There is nothing unusual about the day—
the sky takes on light about 5:10.
I turn the heat on,
feed the cats.
Nothing I haven’t done a hundred times over. No—a thousand times;
maybe even a million times by now—
who among us takes the time to figure these things out
yet, last night,
last night I was in Jamaica
walking along James Bond Beach
in the buff.
Honey, in Jamaica, the waterfalls cascade off the hills
right into the sea.
Why trees grow right out of the surf.
It didn’t matter to me that I was naked.
I’m telling you—I was ready for anything.
“James Bond Beach” from
“Crossing the Double Yellow Line” copyright 1999
A Documentary On Morning
The tide forces itself against the sea wall.
The gulls have taken up their post. The geese
fly north, the starlings in circles. Divers are
in the water for the third day in a row following
the police boats as the nets drag the channel.
I go higher, to the loft, where the next
step surely must be heaven. I don’t ask myself
any questions. I’m not looking for answers
I’m greeted by the still air, imposing fog,
and a chill that crept in over the long night.
I have climbed the steps with an unopened
envelope. I know what it contains; pictures
of my dead daughter’s child, a girl,
Genevieve, her father has named her.
I sit without trembling, my head tilted back
and watch as the overhead fan punishes the air.
Jillian, Jillian, a run-on of sounds that pour
through the air in a sweet murmur.
I named her that, never willing to leave
well enough alone. Her name had been Jill,
her eyes so blue, everyone who saw them
felt the need to comment.
She had a touch that would heal
a leper. Lovely, that’s what it is,
just to think of her now
without the constant energy of her
push against every boundary. I’m sorry¬¬
for the separation¬—who could have predicted
ice, that cliff. And had I to do it over,
I might have found a way to overlook
that one last argumentative push
that launched the parting of our lives,
but I wasn’t old enough
or feeble enough to welcome
her riding rough-shod over my life.
We both wanted it our way,
but for the moment, I won’t go there.
It’s far too hurtful to think of that
young life cut short
and so pleasant sitting here this morning…
see color spread across the horizon,
the moon still high in the sky
and remember a day she decided
to dye my eyelashes. How careful she was
never to lose physical contact
while my eyes were closed.
Don’t let go of me now my darling girl—
feel how tightly I hold that string
between our two dimensions.