"when the Gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers"
--line from the film "Out of Africa"
She stopped, transfixed, a breathless
butterfly pinned to a board, and she said,
"That is So beautiful!" Then, turning
to her husband as they stood in my kitchen
before an aerial photograph of L'Ile de la Cite'
shaped like a ship in the beating heart of Paris,
(young Yuppie wife of entrepreneurial architect
who owned half the houses on the street
where I lived), she asked with pleading eyes,
"Could we go someday?" Knowing the appetite
for that which lies beyond Beyond: Paris,
La Cite' Emeraude, or wherever is the personal
Shangri La, I wished I could have shared
what I've known: a second floor apartment
in an historic building in the 12th--its
circular staircase royally carpeted in red,
enclosing a tiny lift, depositing us
to a storied paradise, its rooms extending
beyond glass doors of an antechamber into
a formal salon, two stately bedrooms
with balconies, and a "bureau," birthplace
of poems, diaries of dreams, and in the interior
courtyard beneath our common windows,
open to the Paris bleu, a caged canary sang,
lusting for open sky in mornings filled
with the perfume of freshly baked pastries
and baguettes from the patisserie below.
Once, I was besotted with a man who told me
after lovemaking, "I never knew how
much yearning you needed." He divined this,
and for a time he fed that soul hunger in me, so
that it was hard when he left, and they always leave.
Ships seeking harbor, leave in their wake
a yearning in the corners of your life, which will
surely bring back Paris and everyone you have ever
loved, which will somehow, somehow, against
all odds, satiate the supplicant heart.
January & February this year,
prescription lenses lost. I count
the cost (it cost me dear).
A place for everything
and everything in its place,
my grandmother said,
but I only know
where my glasses are
when they're on my face.
as if Time
to exit with
not a shout--
for the final
nyet, I do
Baby birds, it's said, are born not knowing
their notes. They learn them from their mother's
throats in the way children learn their ABCs
at parental knees, muh muh muh becoming mother,
da da da, daddy; cheep cheep cheep, a cantata.
That being so, do poets find a poetic ear
in the sphere of their predecessors?
Young, with island sand and salt my milieu,
my concerts were the calls of shorebirds,
the forlorn foundling cries of gulls, the staccato
siren of a tern, should you carelessly venture
too close to her nest; the stuttering dance-step
of sandpipers, miniscule but mighty. Then,
there were the rest: foraging land birds, seeking
fare left by the incoming tide, their darkness
incongruous on the purity of a beach.
There was a time, walking to my garage
when I found a songbird dead in my driveway;
its small body supple, still warm to the touch,
not ready to die just yet like all of us. I
placed it in a box (ashes to ashes, bird to sky),
laid it to rest under the fig tree in my backyard,
and not knowing its persuasion, I
fashioned a cross of sticks over the fresh
earth, believing we shared the sanctity of
simple beauty, the brevity of life.
Near a lake where I live now, sibling to the sea,
briny by proximity, birdsong is rampant
in early spring. I have heard the 'death bird',
he of the shrill one-note filled with foreboding,
who heralded the passage of a dying husband
in an interminable summer of illness. Here,
there are the sharps and flats of ordinary
choristers, and one whose mother was surely
a coloratura soprano in a former life.
This one whose concert halts me spellbound,
turns me to stone (not salt) with his serenade of
couplets, no two the same, some so comical I laugh
out loud to the absent cars and senseless concrete
of my parking lot. He sings and sings, never
abated, nothing by rote, and I? I wait, heart in
my throat, should he be the songbird from
under the fig tree, reincarnated.
If it hadn't been for poetry
what would I have done
with all those cliffs
I almost jumped off of--
with all the riffs
in the music of my life
I couldn't seem
to get enough of.
With all the passion
I imagined I couldn't
live without. Poetry
was the place I passed up
the junctions I might
have chosen otherwise,
when Wise had nothing
to do with it. You can
be sure of it: Poetry
saved my life.
Our fig in January, entirely denuded now
like my heart in your absence, is but
more beautiful, if possible, in its seasonal
solemnity than in summer's exacting extravagance.
The trunk, grown massive in manhood, is a citadel
of strength supporting the curving bowl of its
branches as they bend back into themselves, becoming
the bare black sculpture of winter trees Hemingway
described in Paris in the Jardin of Luxembourg
where we used to walk, following in his footsteps.
These prayerful branches, grown as large as
the beanstalk giant of storybook lore, cup
the sky, making a sieve through which rain filters,
better for unobstructed passage to its
earthbound blessing, clearer for the distillation.
Above ground two massive roots, more visible
in winter definition--veins from the beating heart
of the tree--though siblings still, sprawl out
in different directions, then disappear wherever
they are traveling, who knows where? Not
climbing skyward like Jack on his leafy ladder,
but earthward out of sight toward a Southern
provenance, toward Provence, perhaps,
as if impassioned for home.
HAPPY NEW YEAR FELLOW SOUPERS!
Dark as a demon, but with the soul of
an angel, he's a Portuguese Water
Dog who's never been to sea, but, as
he oughta, he loves water, and highly
proprietary when you're watching
TV, downtime is shared, so it's his paw
on your foot, or else it's his head.
Morning ablutions, one leg in the air,
he waters a thicket, which wakes up a
cricket who begins to sing. The world
is his lavatory. Noblesse Obligatory.
It's a Water Dog thing.
for my granddog...
It's rocking an empty flowerpot perched
in a pine tree: 'RockABye Baby in the High Top,'
its contents shell shocked in this February
of zero wind chill. It's the heart's empty nest,
cold ripple of a lake that threatens to overtake,
were it not for higher ground. We've wind
from the northeast, sharp and heartless,
harbinger of storms, but I am Barrier Island,
formed by one who taught me by salt, sea-
shell, and the sting of sand, bitter winter spray
in remembered summer. Land bound,
one learns to light where something shores us.
So here am I , despite trade winds, the Skull
and Bones of picturesque pirates, failed
story tales where even the wind lies.
In the lake one small duck, sustained by
its currents paddles my direction, drawn
by intuition or design of a kindred spirit who
would sail, dive with delight, endure
the cold solitude of seagulls at evening,
seeking harbor far from their ocean.
They are white flags signaling Yes,
You will find your heaven.
It's used as an afterthought, fattening festive
arrangements for Mother's Day, Easter,
someone's birthday. An underrated vine,
enhancing center-stage flowers whose star-power
doesn't wear well. It's the "coming attraction"
that's there after the clapping dies down,
replanted by doorstep or gravestone. "Grow,"
I say, "Change my life with your traveling beauty,
your common denominator, your scrawling
signature seldom sought for autographs.
Snaking around graves at our family plot,
it's an ongoing gift, out-giving the giver
with its "overwhelming darkness", reminding us
where there is life, there is also death. Surviving,
thriving in hanging pots the less hardy exit,
it surprises and delights, reaching down from limbs
of trees for soil, unchallenged there in pine straw
until tender tendrils insinuate their way
to daylight through tapestries of needles
When the ivy becomes dense, I will know
you are there: ivy of my heart, ivy of essence,
the graceful way it swings and sways, how
it takes to new habitat in the way you, Julie,
cut a swath through New York City after lifetimes
in the easy South. We are old souls, older
than the hedera, cousin to ginseng, reminder
of the movement of the heavens, the ability
to bring things together. You were shelter,
the poets' headpiece, bringing peace
to my household. Resurrection and rebirth,
Julie, in this Easter of ivy.
They know how to jimmy locks when
I'm curled in utero, creep like cats into corners
where darkness is deepest, or by the edge
of my bed where, freed from sleep's fist-
hold, I find them in the silence
keeping watch like winged messengers
of Biblical times. But they do not
bear tidings or pronouncements
in rhymes. They are silent by definition,
and sure of their mission,
you see mouths moving though no sound
is made, as when one of their company
snuggles close to my body like a lover in bed,
whispering wordless secrets
left better unsaid. Embodied,
but faceless, my nocturnal guests
come as close as we get to that Stygian
scythe. They are ghosts in the garden,
rehearsing their deathwatch
when I leave this life.
posted for Carolyn Devonshire