Lent, In a Time of War

Where the young girls sat in the sunshine
along the river and the young men
strutted and swore, thunder was heard.

Night came suddenly, sun sliced
to darkness. A curtain dropped
before the eyes of a thousand people,
millions more.

Memory was blind to the iron
and rust of history. No one had thought
the cities would swirl up again in flame,
dust and ashes eager for the sky.

The tulips were profligate that spring,
blood-red cups brimming, the sun
pouring into them like gold.

For Lent that year, they gave up fear.

While the River Runs

I wake up from rivers running
through my dreams. When I say dreams,
I don't mean ten impossible things
I have set my heart upon.

When I say set my heart on,
I'm not casting my heart overhead,
tossing it up like a grappling hook,
hoping it will catch on the best.

When I say I hope for the best,
I haven't abandoned the rest —
that which I live toward each day,
one day much like another.

When I say one day is much like another,
I mean every day carries its sorrows,
I can breathe any day to gladness,
each day is a spring of new beginnings.

When I say new beginnings,
it begs the question of old beginnings,
broken ones limping through deep ruts,
world without end.

When I say world without end, I wonder
how long these dreams will pulse through my heart,
new water flowing each moment down the river,
bearing its sorrow, carrying its hope.

Sign

In a diner, making for
the coffee stand,
I paused for an aged woman,
as fragile as a shell.

Our paths wove together
in a stitchery of chance.
She would have given way
as rough custom demands:

old age bows to youth, female to male,
height and impatience trumping
courtesy and care.

"Thank you for noticing me,"
and her eyes glinted a little.
"When you're my age you are
invisible."

In the counting world
youth rises and whirls,
broad strokes and flash
springing off the feet.

Old age lifts memory
to its ear, a conch shell's
far-off ocean calling
faintly from within.

Vinyl

Then there is that anticipation
as the arm swings stiffly over,
pauses and delicately descends
upon the first groove.

If we still had carriages,
this would be the moment
when the beautiful young duchess alights
and glides up the steps of the opera house.

Or when the angel touches down
outside Mary's door, having burned
across the cosmos at the speed of light,
briefly touching up its hair, then bowing.

Just now, on the branch outside my window,
a thrush has landed. She will shake out her wings,
jitter to one side and back, cock her head,
and open her throat in a delight of song.

Children’s Stories

I cannot remember the stories
I heard as a child at bedtime.
I must have taken them in, laughing softly,
stored them carefully in a room
in memory's house, where
I could find them once again.

I was not thinking of them when I hacked
through jungles of algebra, swayed in
the crow's nest of Magellan's fleet, carved
the water behind Nick Adam's paddle,
or stepped carefully across the stones
of Greek on the river of St. John's Gospel.

Much later, with my son fresh-scrubbed
and nestled in my lap, his blond curls
soft and damp, we found where all
the wild things are, why Peter ate
the parsley, what the two bad ants
got into, and every night
we said goodnight
to the red balloon,
a pair of socks,
the bowl of mush,
and the moon.

I have not found my bedtime stories.
They slipped out through a window,
shinnied down the tree and crossed the yard
into the forest, as quiet as a fox.

All these years they have been free,
living off the land, circled round
the fire each night, waiting for
a distant time to be the gift for
someone else's child.

Saving My Umbrella

My umbrella is blue and white,
with spots of rust where the bones
and joints of this ancient pterodactyl
have bled into its skin.

More than once I have gone back
to some coffee shop or restaurant
to rescue my umbrella from under chairs
or from the Lost and Found,

which umbrellas call The Orphanage,
and where on moonlit nights they gather,
whispering of how their People
will return at last to claim them.

They do not talk about the ones
flung off in wrath,
their limbs awry and twisted,
their People stomping them in fury.

On sidewalks and in vestibules or getting into cars,
they are pounded, torn and kicked, jammed
headfirst into trash bins, abandoned in
the gutter — ancient birds brought down at last.

My umbrella rolls around the floor
of the back seat in my old car,
to live its days in comfort there,
stained, arthritic, loved with care.

Polaroid

When I leaf through the poetry book
from the secondhand shop,
the Polaroid photo falls into my hand.

The young man in the foreground has curly
blond hair, a white shirt, and black khakis.
His arm is raised to the camera at his eye.

His gaze is on the young woman,
as dark-haired as he is blond, as olive-skinned
as he is fair, in a white dress gathered to her neck,

her tanned shoulders bare, her hair
draping soft around her face
and down to her shoulder.

She sits side-saddle, long legs crossed
at the ankle, espadrilles braced
against the black cold barrel of a cannon.

It's a summer afternoon, maybe four o'clock,
the light slanting in from the west. Just over
the ramparts, the wide horizon of the river.

He swings her down and they wait
for the Polaroid with his best friend, the one
who took the photo, and the three of them

look for a coffee shop before they drive
back to the City. And she keeps the photo in
the poetry book he gives her for their anniversary.

When she moves out, she drops the book
off at the library sale for homeless vets.
She's forgotten the photo, pressed between the poems,

but she remembers that afternoon, the soft,
creamy light, the stiff cold muscle of the cannon,
and the one who took the Polaroid.

The Bridge

Sundays I slip through
the dozing streets at dawn,
down to the boat house
by the river.

The owner, brisk and abrupt,
not unkind, takes my card.
I, with the skin on my back
warm from the sun, my feet cold

in the slosh of water in the canoe,
watch the jeweled line of drops from
my paddle. The bridge looks closer
than it is; the arches flame in the light.

The piers are smooth with strength,
green under the waterline, the water
purling clean around the base,
and all in red the words,

"Paula, I love you."

Paula, if you're reading this,
I was stroking up the river,
a solitary voyager,
wishing you were there.

Faith, or Something Like It

I keep coming back to it —
this word "faith" —
like someone trying to finish
the crossword in the Times.

If I throw down the pencil
and walk away, I know
that will end it for good.
So I doodle in the margins,
reluctant to stop,
helpless to go on.

We've worn our faith like a baseball cap,
sifted it like salt upon our hearts of ice,
sandbagged it along our swollen rivers of fear,
talked it comatose.

I declare a moratorium on the word "faith."
Do not use it to seal the deal. Don't
call it "money" by another name.
Please, do not count your miracles by it.
Foolishness cannot be reversed by it:
it is not a vaccine.
It cannot be bought, but it will
cost you everything.

Let us speak of hope,
endurance 'til the end,
joy in all times.
Feet walking, ears open, eyes to see.

And in another place to hear,
"Well done, good and faithful servant."

Honestly, Really?

We don't really want to know what you are feeling
when we say, "How are you?" By the time you answer,
we're already down the hall. That was just a comma
in the sentence we have meted out to you.

"Do you have anything to declare?" asks the
official at the border. "Don't get me started,"
we think. "What I have to declare you don't
want to hear," but we say politely, "No, nothing."

"I'll be honest with you," says the politician,
and we whisper to ourselves, "When did you
stop lying?" but we respond with a smile
and an attentive cocking of the head.

You want to talk about honesty, really?
You want to admit to a slew of wordless crimes,
crimes of thought and passion conceived in silence
and excuted deftly without apparent motion?

We're as honest with each other as gears
which need the oil. Time counts 
more than tenderness; efficient are 
the boundaries drawn clear. 

Humble friendship bumbles artlessly along, 
throws its arms wide in a yes to all of life,
its truth a tree whose roots go deep in every season.