The Fourth Generation of Monarchs Remember the Future

Three generations of monarchs

unfurl their wings

right where they emerge,

dazed,

to mate for hours while the world pitches and yaws,

dusk to dawn –

six weeks spent locked

in an off and on fluttering embrace,

drifting in circles of lazy lust

just along overgrown highways

of the driftless area

(Trempeleau, Pepin, Eau Claire)

in endless summer back yards where

the glaciers or fires came through

(Marinette, Peshtigo, Brule)

disheveled females breaking away

to secure tiny pearls of hope

to the flat green ears of milkweed plants

one at a time

until there are hundreds –

like beacons in the fog,

like solstice lanterns,

like constellations

by which tiny winged boats are steered.

But the fourth generation wakes,

and though

no note with directions

has been left on the kitchen table,

no family Bible with halting names of three generations scrawled –

they squint their eyes at the barely perceptible

narrowing angle of the sun,

they tilt their heads to listen

to the slight stuttering

of the milk running through the milkweed,

and untutored,

uncaffeinated,

unpacked,

without thermos or podcast or even a hat,

they set their antennae to the wind,

and remembering the future,

not knowing the past,

fly away

into the

once again

unknown.

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.

 

Falling Stars

Outside in the drizzle of spring,

green, green is the grass –

lilacs are tiny purple fists waiting to unfold

to again welcome May –

once more trotting out its new beginning-

with sweet applause;

Inside, the window is cracked

because of the paint, and you,

at the far end of 16, stand

without a ladder, pulling plastic

glow-in-the-dark stars off of your ceiling,

cracking some, flinging them to the ground.

They have a dim glow, so

one by one I gather them, even the broken ones,

and consign them to an empty drawer.

This earth grows ever older, older,

sliding slowly toward the sun, but

each year it becomes a gangly teenager again

with ragged patches of grass waiting to be mowed,

dandelion acne spotting green fields,

saplings sprouting up in importune cracks,

robins pinning down their mates in a mad scramble,

frogs croaking and peeping in awkward turn,

barred owls rambling late into the night, looking

for someone they can’t name. Who?

But our paths are segments,

not lines or vectors, so

blue, blue is my heart, and oh!

You will not become young again –

I will not find you curled up

with your puppy under your covers,

we will not ever again make up voices

and quarrels for your stuffed toys at night,

and we will never read aloud the last few chapters

of How To Train Your Dragon –

it will always be unfinished for us.

Perhaps you are thinking of all of this

as you leave this room behind,

but I think probably not

as I watch you standing there,

peeling the last star away from the ceiling,

walking over it, without a glance back –

you will chart your course by new stars,

and you will not,

you cannot,

come back this way.

Vire-en-Champagne, April 1919

Two months shy of a century ago,

it’s been raining in France,

great sheets snapping like sodden flags across the farmer’s field –

And my grandfather’s father,

a child of German immigrants,

sits down in soldier’s boots, and looking at the crops with a farmer’s eye,

writes a few lines to his brother

in Barnesville, Minnesota.

He writes nothing

about the rescue of the Lost Battalion

after five days surrounded by Germans in the Argonne forest; but

he asks Alfred to tell Ma

that he got through it all right, he guessed.

He reports that the winter wheat

on this farm where they wait to ship out, was yellow, and poor.

He taps his pencil, then adds that

they’d been playing a lot of baseball,

because the Great War, the war to end all wars, was done.

He pauses, looking at the field

where he doesn’t belong, and finally asks

how the Titan is running, and whether they’ve planted, thinking

probably, of the cold black soil

drinking up the snow melt with a fierce thirst,

and the angled sun spreading like butter on the dark bread of the soil

after a long, dark, Midwestern winter,

and of his flax seeds,

thousands of tiny furled, unsent messages, tucked away in dry burlap.

He will come home

and bury them for ten days

until tendrils reach up, and up, into the sky that stretches lazily

across the great Midwestern plain –

each blue flower will live just one day.

But it’s hundreds and hundreds,

no, tens of thousands of them – that will open in wave upon wave across the field,

answering the call of the unbroken blue sky.

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

He Defends Gene Edited Babies

 

Lulu and Nana are drafts; edited before they are published,

in secret, He is bent over translucent twins

in a cabin by the fire while snow skims

the sky outside, He takes his red

pen and his scissors named

CRISPR and he snips

their DNA here and

then there like a

gloved boxer

making a

paper snowflake

and in the

story He puts

a squiggle through

HIV and with a glue stick

He tacks the ends of the double

helix back onto itself and reads it silently

to himself in Chinese, to catch any errors, then

He reads it again aloud in harsh English before he retypes, and

saves.

He is tired so their names are simple, Lulu, and

Nana, now edited and ready for printing

between the unedited thighs of their mother,

ghostwritten into the cradle of the world.

 

(https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46368731)

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.

Breaking and Entering

Winter broke and entered years ago,

pressing icy fingers against our skin,

wandering under our shirts,

searching for our hearts,

listening as we slowly wound down –

we were watches kept in a drawer of an empty house.

But I think you must have jacked open

some painted-over lead-poisoned window,

somewhere, deep inside,

(maybe in that sealed-up chamber of a basement tomb

with a wood-burning stove and

a second-hand recliner with a place

for a beer to slowly warm, but not a place for everything)

letting a southern wind blow through

this Northern plain and breathe Spring into my heart,

or my cerebellum,

making me wonder if –

anyway then you woke and

Summer bloomed into my lips, my hips,

they rocked like ships

oh, and

I think for a little while, maybe, you and I

can keep the window open, keep

the two by four jammed

up against the door, keep it

barred against the

ravenous wolfish Fall,

where he waits,

anticipates

the last of the ticks

as he licks

his lips

and yawns

at the door.

Wes and Jesus Come up Empty

I.

After

we see paintings of the sea, and moonlight, and doom by

Winslow Homer, after we work on income tax forms and insurance and eat

carnitas

burritos and watch Netflix, I don’t feel well,

it’s not a bellyache or a hangover or a fever or something that CVS can fix.

it’s like

this existential ache in my soul; it’s

not something that I really want to think about

because

I’d have to reach back all the way to the beginning

and anyway it’s dinner time and instead I’m reaching into this drawer full of

knives,

serrated blades that bare their

teeth along my fingers, but I’m careful to take just one.

II.

Last week

I saw a TV commercial for a microwavable cup

with bits of vegetable and potato and peppers, you just add an

egg

and your breakfast problem is solved, I am thinking

of this while you and I walk 38 blocks teetering on the edge of

Milwaukee;

this March Sunday morning question unsolvable:

is this it, or is there more? I wish I could just add an egg to this

problem.

Faced with that same question 27 years ago,

I stayed. Was it right? I don’t know. The thought of not having my

three

children, these particular ones, out in the wide world

brings me to fierce and sudden tears right there on the windy sidewalk.

Each

choice is wrong, either choice is right,

or could be made so, perhaps you learn how you feel before the coin lands.

III.

“Is he

a good dog? ….Who’s to say?”

Wes Anderson doesn’t help me here, or Jesus either; Micah 6:8,

what

is the right thing to do in this instance,

what leads to happiness? Do I say, stay, stay with this boy who is kind, this boy we

love

and who loves you, beyond measure,

even if you do not always sharpen each other, make each other better,

like

a knife against a stone?

The world is full of sharp things.

IV.

Life

is a yawning paper cootie-catcher

on lined notebook paper in a 5th grader’s back pocket, first narrow then wide,

narrow

then wide, you can’t know what’s

inside, you just have to pick a color, and pull up the flap, the

question

on the other side propels you

deeper into the story, back and forth and back and forth

until

you don’t know how

you got there or where you are going, you just hold on and

ride,

back and forth and dark and

light, yin and yang, pain and pleasure, if you are lucky,

until

it closes on this world for good

and opens in the dawn of another, without any

guessing at all.