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Canada Goose

canada goose leaps from the garden pond
into a spring storm, calling like my nana

with an arrowhead stuck at the back of her mouth;

she feels it catch every time she speaks.
she buckles her neck around the pain.

how long can one man elude winter?

go on while I rest, he said, and
she flew south without him.

now she remembers she lost something.

Theodore! she calls through vernal rain,
point of an arrowhead crying across the sky,

looking, looking, looking.

Vernus

Long months of darkness saw
your careful shaping, each detail intricate
as a passerine’s nest, your snowdrop petal fingers
and sugar maple veins: winter’s
lovestruck gift to summer.

The day you arrived,
Zephyrus whirled his brothers aside and
swept us into his arms, laughing,
while we kissed your new skin like gentle sunlight,
a sudden touch of joy that stirred the daffodils
and woke the sleeping thrushes—

something of you made us wild
with life, and our fevered happiness went singing
like the wind, and we told your name
to the flickering moon, and we whispered it
to the tender rain that fell,

and it tangled in wet branches—
our love among white blossoms, nestled
in the crook of an arm,
some sweet place in the dark
where the dogwoods had begun to bloom.

Seven Steps to Cure Loneliness

It is not what is given,
but only your hands,
your hands that are too small

The morning after rain, measure your fingers
against the sidewalk earthworms. Be kind;
this is not a contest.

Find the storm-drain kitten with matted fur
and meet her wild eyes: she is
so stubbornly alive—

Stop wearing sunscreen. Instead,   
learn to braid the rainclouds into your hair
and let them dangle down your back.

your voice is never loud enough,
your dreaming never strong enough,
your shivering too small

Brush and bring the cold kitten home,
while the sunset smiles and burns up the horizon;

then, though the neighborhood peregrines arrive
with eyes big enough to stargaze in,
do not let them in. When you are ready,
they will disappear forever.

And the gilt-clawed wolves in your dreams,
listen to what they tell you,
what they sing beneath the clear light
of the moon:

it is not what is given,
but only your hands—
your lovely, lonely, empty hands,
your hands that are too small.

The Rust-Footed Dog

Last week the quilted cold quivering
across the pool was much too thick
for building underwater, so the children
brought the dog with rusty paws
inside the shivering garden walls, and
made themselves a house of laughing vines.

They laid the stationery out in fans
before the woodstove, assembling plans
in drafts of edgeless pencil—
children, those tireless architects!
They built the house together, daylit again.
The rusty-footed dog kept guard.

Stay by the children one more year,
though they demand eternity:
give them your youth, and do not sleep
silently on your rusted feet,
as long as they are here to build
the spectral home before it disappears.

Red

You have always known red
by its closeness:

you know it in the pinprick
of salmonberry thorn, and the drip of blood
that hugs your fingertip,

the fruit’s sweetness embracing
your tongue, and your tongue itself
an embrace of your mouth, your teeth,
your syllables and sounds.

You only speak red with a clenched throat.

You swallow red on the mesa,
wrapped in its midday swelter, where the heat
curls up in your nostrils, and it
folds around your lungs

and you have heard it screamed,
heard it sung, heard it shaking
in the shell of your ear. When red returns

it tastes like rust, something
you have always known: seal of water
between your palms,

and God’s fingers, light
as a mourning dove’s wing, resting
against your cheek.

The Wooden Step Stool

I remember the old life dimly,
as if through half-light of the forest itself.
Bold sons like tall shadows around me,
each of us hastening toward the sky
as if to touch, as if to hold.

How suddenly the cutting toppled us
into a new dream! We had heard
that somehow out of us you could beget
yourselves again, so I waited
for a face and eyes, hands and a mouth

but found myself instead like this.
Four knobbed knees
and a single bent board: what was I
to do with these?
Some cruel half-image

you had made of me—
if I could not speak
or even stand, how would I bear
this shame? Nevertheless

the years went by, and hope
grew slowly, a seedling struggling
to raise its head. Every morning

I bowed down and gave
my back for your feet, until at last I shook
under the weight

and one day, lifting your children up
with my stooping body, I knew
I had become like you after all.

The Glass Vase

I would like to forget
the moment of my birth;
after centuries
in agony, I woke hot-blooded
and glowing with marigold light.
Slowly, I drew in breath
and have been holding it
ever since. Shall I curse my hesitation?
Believe me, I have much to learn
from you, forgetful ones who exhale
without thinking, who are always
putting yourselves back
together: I am so afraid
of emptiness.
Someday, like you, I may sigh.
I may sprout flowers from my belly
to fill my mouth.

Mockingbird

Mockingbird puts her wings akimbo and talks
my ear off at the bedroom window. She rambles

the way I imagine my grandmother calling
about her day, how the autumn breeze fluffed
her feathers and reminded her of husband and children,

how much she misses them, how she wishes
they could come home soon.

Languages skip in and out of her mouth
the way rainwater skips between leaves.
I recognize only one.

She waits, perched on the windowsill, disappointed
until I tell her—I only understand
when you say hello. Then

she gets it. She holds my face. She says:
hello hello hello hello.

Psalm of Waking

I. Princess In The Tower

You stand in the wings again, squinting.
It is not stage-light brilliance that blinds you
but the flash of her teeth,
and her quick glance your way as she flickers
across a wooden floor.
Here, in the wings, you could
open your mouth, you could open your arms,
you could open everything that is locked
behind your ribs and fidgeting
inside your stomach and poised
across your knuckles but
the one thing you cannot open

        Autumn in the bogs,
        wet feathered reeds
        bruised and yellow beneath
        cold stumbling fog.
        “Ho! Wanderer!”
        spoke the king.
        “I know what you need.
        Step here, fear not—
        the surface
        will hold.

        “Come, my daughter:
        You are mine. Make no
        mistake. Come,
        we will dine
        on jeweled snakes
        and frogs
        of gold.”

the curtain like a guillotine must drop
mercilessly to the wooden floor,
the curtain that walls you off
from your dreaming,
the curtain bending against
the sun at your bedroom window.


II. Lament

        Lo-Ruhamah, Lo-Ammi:
        Lama, lama sabachthani?

The girls in the dressing room sit side-by-side,
the last two left after midnight fled the blitzkrieg
of flurried kisses and rose trophies,
and the whitewashed cinder-block walls
let out a last sigh into the stillness.
Sophie closes her eyes, holds out her hand,
drops her pearl earrings, feels Madalena reach over,
smiles, looks at herself in the streaked mirror
ringed with harsh white lights, realizes
she’s alone, cannot find the earrings again,
spends the rest of the night
staring at her fingers.


III. Birth Of The Betrothed

That lagoon and its lavender houses at dusk,
soft gold light mirrored over the shoreline. We are
beyond it almost before we realize—probably
Tatiana is driving too fast—so you and I slip back later
to dangle our ankles in the water.
Who are you? I ask. Three years ago
you were the kindred soul I never thought I’d lose,
but who have you become?
Are you my brother? My father?
Answer me!

Hoshea the king of clean city streets
did not hesitate, splashed straight down into mud and
had his Oxfords swallowed off his feet;
the grass stank from its own rotting and
stuck to his cheeks, and he just kept going.
They say he climbed back out the other side
days later, holding a baby girl,
his tailored outfit good as new
and not a whiff of the swamp on him.
“A baby girl?”
        Maybe his wife, actually.
“Or his wife! Which is it?”
        Look, if I had all the details I wouldn’t be telling
        this story, would I?


IV. You Follow Me

                 if you saw him

The ocean’s pulse is endless here, Poseidon’s bitter wrath
relentless, thrashing at the stubborn sand—and I,
transfixed between—

                standing there, holding out his arms

Foolish daughter, who stole you from me?
Who gave you legs and set you on the land?

                standing there to welcome you to shore

You who were brought forth in iniquity,
your skin is new, soft, not meant
for stones and grass that cut like knives.
Now the saltwater at your ankles—ha!
I see it stings. I see you shrink from me.

                    you would wade
                    you would wade

You will not pass through unharmed. No daughter of mine

                    not only through a sea of wrongs,
                    but through hell itself

Who are you? I do not know you. No daughter of mine

                    if you saw him
                    you would wade

Out on Tiberias we threw our nets
    into dark waves, which crested with a whisper,
splashed cold starlight on our hands, and broke
    the image of the moon cast on the sea.

Mary

He just hasn’t made my bed yet,
she used to say, when the ground grew too hard
and she’d sit on a pillow to weed the garden,
when her skin had been folding up for years
and her world had long been slipping toward silence.
It wasn’t that she wanted to leave us,
but I think she was tired.
Did she picture sheets made of stars, smooth
and tucked in like clouds, maybe
smelling like spring blossoms, or like old pine?
Did she dream of quilts crafted by
his careful hand, filled to the binding
with a century’s worth of stories—did she want to see
his gentle smile as he drew the covers to her chin,
did she imagine clean summer wind
as she slipped away to rest at last?
She left so much behind, even my house bends
to gather the pieces. My mother tends
bereaved orchids at the window and keeps
one of her blankets on the living room couch, which
I’ve been hiding under and wondering
if we got it backwards all along: could it be
we were the ones who made the bed, smoothing
sheets and trembling at the emptiness beneath,
the best our human hands could do—
we braced ourselves for night, and
maybe we were wrong,
maybe he burst into the room and threw back the curtains,
maybe he pulled her up as sunlight streamed in
and he sang in his joy, I couldn’t wait
to wake you, there is so much for us to do today,
so many birds and trees and flowers to see,
mountains to scale with your new strong knees and
rivers to splash with your new young feet,
a whole city to show you and all your friends
looking for you, my darling,
my little girl, get up!