The heart is not a foot | February

The heart is not a foot. The foot still stands, walks into rooms, down halls, up stairs.
Snow again? Time for boots.

The heart is not a leg, pulling the foot up, putting it down, over and over, onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight.
This way please, sit down.

The heart is not a mouth, cleverly answering Idon’tknowIdon’tknowIdon’tknow until questions stop.
You need to eat.

The heart is not a hand. Hands are clumsy and kind, choosing clothes, smoothing back chill hair, cupping skin like stone.
Sign here please.

The heart is not a shoulder, shifting the sagging bag, straightening, squaring, bearing the weight.
Would you like to check that?

The heart is not even a heart, splashing stupidly still, a gaping trout in the shallows.
Nothing is broken (everything
is broken.)

Everyone says ‘there are no words’ | March

We ask a lot of words
though they weigh less than wood
or even paper.
We ask them
like origami
to pleat themselves
into the pinioned span
of a swan’s tucked wings
or to stand strong, ample enough
to offer a cleared shelf’s space
to the broken bits and pieces
of our cluttered,
unremarkable hearts.

Many of us are
clearly no carpenters,
clumsily stacking the wood slats
and cinder blocks of our
poor student shelves
from the found around sounds
of our impoverished imaginations,
praying they’ll hold the weight.

Still, workmanlike words
humble themselves to the
task at hand, humming a little
as they level each line.
No job too small they seem to say.
Free quotes.

Though words may work
for a poor man’s pay
even the master builders in the end
are only supplicants at their feet.
John Updike famously prayed
“Be with me, words, a little longer”
though his body was
eating a long, unhappy
meal of itself.
He’d be gone within the year.

Widow’s weeds | April

How foolish to miss
what only exists
now in books. Still,
I miss widow’s weeds,
mourning brooches cradling
cunning snailed curls in amber.
Black plumed horses, hats held over hearts,
dirges and draped mirrors,
black baize armbands, muffled groans.
Say what you will of Victoriana
they knew how to live with their lost.

There’s no place for death
in life these days.
It can’t be crammed to fit
between grant-funded grief groups
gratitude journals and
facetimed celebrations of life. 

There are no sturdy wardrobes
with depths wide enough to hang it in–
even if you could shrug it off
like an ill-fitted coat
too close for the season.

Nothing that remains in this bright world
can bear what is left
of its weight.

Banners | May

The crabapple always
shelters in place
indifferent to the news,
working overtime as ever
in my suburban side yard
doubling down on her
carnal insistence that life,
despite all,
soldiers on.

Each branch an avenue
studded with bravely furled banners,
new leaves festooned overhead,
buds shamelessly spreading
their lambent lips wide open,
loosening in the sun,
luscious with the promise of
sugared depths
and parades.    

Law of Identity | June

It’s a problem these days
getting things to add up
to be what they are
and no more
a checkbook in balance
a seesaw a scale
a night passing sleepless
a window grown pale
a day in December
half light and all rain
a ring in a drawer and
a ring on a chain.

There’s a sternness to math
where an egg is an egg
not a trapdoor to memory
– the sunlight, his leg–
but the mind freed of sums
tilts off kilter as earth
will teeter then totter
by summer give birth.

An egg on the solstice
balanced on end
he gentled the sides just so
June sun on his neck
and his hands, peasant square
then quietly, softly
let go.

The square root of one
is not greater than one
but let’s face it
it’s not a jot less
at the end of the day
even skeptics will pray
to let x
on its own
equal x.

Quarry | July

Sleep is a thing with sometime teeth,
hunted, hungered for
but also hungry right back. How endless
the stretch of sandpaper hours
too late for the slightest
hope of a father’s voice
or a parcel with twine.
There’s no action to play-act,
no daylight list to check off
in this waste that sags to
the quivering horizon,
just a shivering stillness
to be borne.

Eat or be eaten:
that’s the binary deal
sleep strikes with the sleepless
and there’s no place to hide.
Turn your fur to the stillest rock,
blur into a burst of speed
for the hope of an outcropping
or sweet dark den to hunker down in.
Drink til you’re drunk or
read Dickens again, it’s one and the same.
You’re still lumbering flesh
and your pounds
are still owed to the night.

Last Living Speaker | August

A  language is said to become functionally extinct
when the last living speaker grows old
with no children or younger speakers
passing the words along.

Yes, I think, that’s it exactly.
Our language:
the thousands of shortcuts, glances, tics
that signaled everything
without any fuss.
His painfully long pauses
anyone else would stumble into
but I knew always meant
a longer explanation was being composed
and so I’d wait.
Or at least usually I would.
(He could deliver lectures
well after his teaching days were done
that would try the patience of any saint
or scholar, and I, as he knew better than anyone,
am neither.)
So– my hand on his knee– then he’d smile.
Sorry, Sugar, I’m going on too long–
No, no– it’s fine, I just wanted to say–

All those words, our entire lifetime
of conversation. I’d save up bits from my day
tender morsels of foolishness, wonder
or outrage.
Did you hear?
Good Lord, that flag pin– right?
I know, Jesus, while he’s being indicted.
A glance at the fridge.
Is there anything ? –
There’s last night’s –
Oh yeah, that was –
I know, right?

Now I talk on the phone
or friends drop by
and if I concentrate their words
make sense. Maybe I do need to
download that app
where the soothing British voice
reminds me to breathe.
Or maybe I need to,
as everyone seems to tell me,
Talk to someone.

But when I said to my friend
It’s an amputation –
Her startled laugh, then a frown.
Wow, that’s graphic –
You really might need
to talk to someone.

Funny, I thought I was.

I’m pretty sure this should count
as an extinction event.

The Teacher, for Manuel, 1987 | September

He first taught me the stars
by day, tracing out their constellations
on my freckled firmament,
naming them tenderly as a child
would name her children
when playing house.

Improbable purple names
like Sirius, Dog at Her Feet,
Alpha Centauri, Betelgeuse,
Taurus the Bull.

Calling this a quasar and
that a pulsar, whispering white dwarf,
supernova, red giant, quark.
Tracing over and over their shapes
until I too saw a bear
on my belly
and the Milky Way scarred on my cheek.

This was his gift that somehow
opened me
and for that one clear moment
I had no need for beauty.

I saw God as my tattooist
burning over and over again
His promises of the usual
on the flesh of my infinite self.

I saw Heaven as the barnyard
it was meant to be,
peopled by crabs and warriors
chopsticks and feathers and goats
and I, like the Dipper,
contained that dark starsoup
and was contained by it.

A black hole, he said,
is a star so dense
that its own gravity prevents
any light from escaping.

How well he should know
having held me through a variety of midnights.

Calendars | October

I woke up this morning missing calendars
though they were awkward houseguests all those years.
The gift I never really wanted from the friend
who never really cared.
Too heavy to thumbtack to the wall
too sloppy and slick to stand.
Plus, who wants to face their bald demands for admiration
month after staring month?

Saucer-eyed kittens who will never be cats,
empty white smiles of sand scoured flat
under Windex blue seas.
No wonder Mammaw’s months
would wear out their welcome in days.
Always turning the pages too early
baring April’s bluebonnets
to February’s milky gaze
running out of time at the end, like us all.

Acer Palmeratum | November

This November morning
my Acer palmeratum had dripped the palest pink
onto the white scab of snow below.
Good blood maple
with your late-lingering leaves
thank you for surprising me
through my gray day window
with this small shock of beauty.

Twenty two years we’ve slept
in our respective beds
back to back.
Who knew
you too
cried at night?

I’m catching up | December

I’m catching up
though I never meant to. A dozen years always
separated us.
Comfortably enough in recent years
after he’d retired
and we’d learned to dance cumbia
hiked up to the Pioneer Cabin
spent Sundays out back with the Times
and coffee.

Uncomfortably enough
in the years before
that I sometimes thought
of leaving
him behind.

Ha! The joke
as they say
is on me
as his birthday
passed him by yesterday
blank and drear
a day just like
any other.

No King for the Day
no mock catering to his every desire
he’d say he didn’t even know he desired.
Then he’d laugh
and say I was always two steps ahead of him.

Next year we’ll be ten years apart,
then single digits. Day by day
if I live
I’ll grow older
and he won’t.
Funny to think of us
growing closer–
and now of all times!
He would get that joke
that I don’t dare make.
They’re already creased with concern
about me, bless their hearts.

Still. How droll
that he’s gone on and
left me behind
and now I alone
have to find a way
to keep going.

His side | January

Lurching again from the depths
fully awake, 3:40 am,
I tangle with
sheets and
spaces.

23 months today and only now
do I suddenly understand
why within days
I took to sleeping
on his side of the bed.

From my side
the presence
of his absence
lies heavy
and whole.