Thief of Stars

I am

the reflection

of a star

on the dark glass

of the river

just before dawn

breaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Disobedience of Rain

October rain

ebbs and flows and

falls and falls and falls

on the crooked pine trees and the roof,

on the old swing set and the black driveway,

on the cold, wet burn barrel and the American flag

at the hundred year old house on Shady Lane

where my parents live

still.

In the basement,

a dehumidifier pulls water from the sodden air,

dutifully filling and re-filling the pan.

Two sump pumps run full time,

a generator stands at the ready.

The water is carried by a snaking black hose

into the low-lying woods surrounding the house

and seeps back in again, later,

like a teenager after curfew, quiet, 

up through the cracks in the cement basement floor.

The stone walls

press large boulders against the earth

like praying fists.

It’s never rained this much before

this time of year.

My mother, 72 years old,

raised by practical German and Norwegian folk

on the Minnesota plains,

already sleeps with one eye open to make sure my father,

six years older and soaked years before

by Vietnamese monsoons and Agent Orange,

isn’t swept away into the woods,

disappearing

over his head.

She now sleeps with the other eye open, too,

straining to hear any absence of the motors,

first one,

then the other,

like twin chambers of the heart,

one ventricle pulling in the tired gray water,

one aorta pushing it out, clean and quick.

Pull, push.

Pull, push.

Pull, push.

It’s hard to listen for, it’s hard to hear

nothing.

And meanwhile the rain keeps falling

drop by drop,

drop by drop,

drop by drop

on the turning leaves,

on the feathery moss,

on the withered corn,

on the rivers already swollen,

already tired of carrying things away.

9.6 Miles in September

On the last Saturday

of my 40s, I drive alone

to Fish Creek to take

the Sunset Bike Trail

at Peninsula State Park.

It occurs to me

as I review the map,

then fold it into small rectangles

and put it into my back pocket,

that if I live to be 96,

it’s a decade per mile.

Miles 1 and 2 are gone faster

than I can remark, tall grasses

and small dense trees huddle

on either side,

mud on the trail

from the rains I never saw

pulls me sideways,

and I can’t see much at all;

But all along

Miles 3 and 4,

Lake Michigan

opens up on my left,

hurling itself

over and over

in small tantrums against

the worn rocks and pebbles,

the bottle caps and driftwood,

while on my right the sunlight is

shredded through the branches and leaves

of the still green trees

and it falls and falls and falls

in smaller and smaller and smaller

pieces

to land

on the forest floor,

shards of light that you can barely

see at all.

[Interim poem:

Hark!

Lake on my left and

Woods on my right,

they shuffle their feet

and finally ask sincerely

which shall have a place with me

in Heaven,

but I cannot choose,

I can’t abide a Heaven

that doesn’t contain them

both, it’s a failure

of my imagination, I suppose, but

tales of

Streets of Gold

and Milk and Honey

and never-ending Light

and the unfailing singing of Sincere Hymns

bore me to tears and truly,

terrify me.

I can only hope

all that was figurative, Paul,

(was it even Paul?

Maybe it was John,

he seems more like the

apocalyptic dreamer and

a bit of a kill-joy)

because I don’t want a

Heaven without this green glade,

without these smooth pebbles

passed back and forth

between the hands

of the splashing waves

in the cold, clean water

along Lake Michigan’s

shore, I don’t want a

Hereafter

without guitars

and bikes and dirt trails

strung with shining cobwebs

and trees that have toppled and

pulled up the roots and boulders to

show what hides in the dark

Earth,

I can’t see a

Paradise

that doesn’t have

a pitch black lake of midnight moonless sky

harboring a loosely moored fleet of stars

that sail into dreams,

no, I don’t see that

at all.

Here ends

the reading of

the interim poem. Selah.]

Mile 5

cuts suddenly through

a park,

children on a seesaw,

children like ducklings

that are quacked over, buckled,

brought in line

but I am

veering away from the lake

and into uncharted

territory, I have a map

but it doesn’t show these hills

as the lake falls away behind me,

it can’t predict this

slow grind until I’m

standing on my pedals

and just waiting for

a plateau

to catch my breath

before the next rise

but still and all,

as Miles Six, Seven, Eight

unfold,

it’s uphill and beautiful

in the shade of the afternoon,

the far-away sky

is the surface of an unmapped lake,

the long smooth trunks of the trees

holding up their leaves

like an offering

of lily-pads,

this congregation of trees

swaying in the current

like seaweed

while I swim slowly through them

like a fish,

silent –

the road

uphill and beautiful,

the road

uphill and beautiful,

rising

upward to the light.

The Nest (Or, a Father Considers the Odds of Raising Successful Small-Mouth Bass Offspring)

That afternoon at the cabin

we sat by the river

after I had cut up those small trees

that you dropped at my feet with the tractor –

(an offering, a challenge,

one that I tore through haphazardly with the new chainsaw,

black and yellow like a drunken, terrible bumblebee).

It was quiet after all that noise,

the dog (our fourth) now gone, our offspring absent-

(one washing other people’s dishes in dirty water for $7.75 an hour,

one in the throes of new love, thrashing in the shallows, and then

one that has swum out to her own sea)

so we sat without them

on cheap and dirty plastic chairs

that had sat outside all winter

and swatted at mosquitoes,

talking a little but mostly just

watching the male bass

swim back and forth around its nest,

guarding the 20,000 – 

give or take a few hundred –

eggs ditched by the female – leaving him

to patrol the nest alone, watching for

panfish looking to gorge on eggs coming in from the left

while he is preoccupied with crayfish coming in from the right –

there are always more predators.

(Five bass fry will live long enough to grow ten inches long;

it’s better that the father not consider these odds,

yet, how can he not?)

A muskrat broke the perimeter –

rat-tail moving side to side like a pink snake, but

the bass didn’t break patrol.

A father knows, or thinks he knows, what is a threat.

Really, I had almost certainly just waded right through the nest

through the muck and rocks and branches

(a sweaty, mosquito-repellent covered Godzilla

sending translucent globes helplessly into the current).

But we kept watching the bass,

circling his trampled nest while the sun

slowly arced to the west, and north,

the surface of the river sparkling like

glass from a broken mirror.

Behind us, up the hill,

no one tended the fire;

and though it was light, still, for so long,

in that week leading up to the solstice,

it was too late for us

to go home.

 

NPR Asked for Summer Haiku

I.  Shady Lane

barefoot at twilight

we play Ghosts in the Graveyard

vanishing in dark

 

II.  Rook

cards slap on the porch

after-dinner Manhattans

kids drunk with freedom

 

III. Beckoning

June is ever-dusk

fireflies wink in gangly grass

as I pedal home

 

 

When They Finally Wake in April

‘Round the ankles of the birches

autumn water gathered, murky –

winter held it down til frozen

cradled gently in the hollows –

skirts of ice surround the low limbs

stopped mid-fling by frigid wind

embroidered not in poodle, plaid,

suspended there, upended, glad –

wee peeping frogs, asleep, adorn

a petticoat of moss and thorns,

but soon the sun will stretch its rays,

will rise with sorry in its gaze

will slyly springly shine and and flirt-

with earth disheveled, melt the skirt,

will knit from nothing new-leafed clothes,

and creeks will race and overflow –

Lake Michigan (and back again) –

and groggy frogs’ oblivion 

then doused, will rouse – a peeping throng,

agog in thousand strands of song

that soar and wend through gray-screened doors

in search of mates, in search of more,

through windows, chimneys, landing damp

in dishes, teapots, toasters, lamps –

we hear, in twilight, in our beds

the raucous din of recent dead –

we doubt, deny, or trust their cries

of sweet reprieve,

alive, 

alive.

 

(Honorable mention: 2019 Writer’s Digest Contest – Rhyming Poem Category)

The Jade Rabbit 2 Tells Me My Fortune

 

i.

I came to Earth in the Summer of Love,

September 1969, just after Apollo 11 carried

Neil and Buzz to the proper side of the moon,

(the one she’s shown to us from the start). They left

bootprints all across her face.

This morning, almost as an afterthought,

NPR tells me that the Chinese have put a rover

on the dark side of the moon, Jade Rabbit 2 sending

photos of her knobby bare backside to us

via satellite.

ii.

After the funeral in December

I am on my knees, sorting through

the official papers – birth, divorce, death certificates,

report cards from 1952, photos of girls in stiff dresses and ringlets,

picnics on the Michigan grass beside a Model T;

but there are also things from the far side

(not always in darkness but never shown to us,)

never-seen photos and notes in the margins of the party menus:

“She brought an angel food cake, but no one touched it,” and

“We waited, but he never showed.”

iii.

What do you do with transmissions from

the far side, when the jade rabbit scurries to the side

that has forever been turned away? What do we do when we learn

how the truth has lain along, wondrous and terrible and banal, when

we’d only been trusted with the light?

(Meanwhile, I turn,

again and again and again,

so that I face you,

as though my secrets

will not someday be scattered like clover, like blood

in the bright green grass.)

 

 

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/02/health/china-lunar-rover-far-moon-landing-intl/index.html

Irish Evening

Auld Jack Devine, as afternoon bows to the long shadows of a June evening,

stands there, then, in the green and wet field, as they all are green and wet,

appraising these Americans searching County Mayo for Jack Devine,

clutching a damp ship’s manifest:

Well. Aye. Ye found him.

Auld Jack, eighty if a day, points with crooked finger to the new house,

built in 1927, he says, where he and Mary live,

and then over to the stone cottage where Agnes was born

(before crossing the Atlantic on her mother’s hip at three, brows knit) –

and then east across miles of rolling misted hills, promise after green promise:

Ye see over t’ere? Down dat hill, like, t’ere’s a shrine, in Knock.

(I see Agnes in white, marrying big John Madden, a Galway cop, so being

Irish and Catholic, of course, legends are then born, and children, at 509 Hubbard)

T’ey sell bottles of holy water to tourists. T’ey tink it’ll do them some good.

(So many children, she named two Thomas, so the lore goes-one Thomas they called Lester, the other, Patrick, and one or two didn’t get a name at all- )

T’ey tink tat after t’ey die, like, they’ll get t’heaven, says auld Jack.

But he looks over the fields, sniffs as though smelling the phoniness from here,

(They say that during Prohibition, the police raided Agnes’ kitchen – all signs pointed to a still, an improbable amount of sugar and yeast-)

and spits on the ground, leaning on his gnarled wooden cane;

But, I, says auld Jack Devine, I t’ink dat when ye die…I t’ink dat when ye die, ye jest go right into t’ground, like,

(But I imagine a flourish as Agnes opened the oven door on eight loaves of bread baking, and then the cops, embarrassed, looked at the oven, looked at each other, saying Thank ye Ma’am, have a good day.)

and dat’s t’end of ye, like.

And Jack Devine just looks at us, then, rain dripping from our faces, and there is nothing to say.

But though Agnes

(born Bridget, a name lost in the new country with a single flick),

died an ocean away from the stone cottage,

she’d already passed along strands and strands of gleaming double-helixes –

adamantine baubles, a secret code passed to my own children,

(though German and Norwegian genes washed up, too, on the shores of our bones)

faint constellations of freckles, bright red strands in long brown locks –

with every infusion there is an evening, of sorts, a fading,

love means compromise-

and until we are completely conquered, we shine.

And so, auld Jack Devine with blue eyes that pierced,

(and Mary in tears at our goodbye, surely, she cried, I’ll not see ye again in this life but in heaven! Surely Mary, it’s so!)

though I did not say it then, no, I don’t believe that when you die, it’s t’end of you, like.

Jack Devine, here you are-

Sláinte.

Grief is an Animal, Slouching

For B.

I.

Grief is an animal, slouching

behind the bolted door

in your soul’s bleak

and darkened house –

ranging around with muddy paws

and ragged claws,

dragging the covers

off the bed, off of your chest

and thrashing through the cold ashes left

by the fire gone cold

in the hearth of your heart –

swiping open the door

of the icebox in your belly –

cracking eggs, dripping juice, smearing jelly;

the milk curdles, a fine mold grows, meat goes bad –

leaping up the ladder

to the past-laden attic,

crashing down the stone stairs

into the churning bowels of your basement,

shattering the thin windows and

bursting the aging pipes –

and then through the jagged glass

comes the bitter wind,

and through the frigid pipes

comes the brackish water,

wave after wave,

unceasing.

II.

Grief is an animal, hungry

it will not be starved

by holding back tears –

the less it’s fed,

the angrier it growls, the fiercer it will rise,

clawing its way up the staircase of your soul,

your ribs cracking from the wracking sobs –

it will not be caged, placated, tamed, sedated –

Close it up in the cellar –

and cornered, it will lash out,

in a flash it roars

out of your throat with howls and spittle,

keening, wailing, snarling,

knocking

you to your knees, breathless,

rocking.

III.

Grief is an animal, undenied;

it demands full rein,

spends every coin

of rage and sorrow until

angry and hollow and broke

it lies panting

at your feet,

glassy-eyed and beaten,

tamed only by hours,

and even then only some,

your hands running along

its soft coat

until you can get up

and walk again

through the splinters

of your shipwrecked soul.