There is no Wizard

If we were still in the old world,

the six-weeks ago one,

right now a girl with a make-up pencil

might be standing before you with a mock frown –

stand still!” she’d say,

drawing crow lines on your face,

not crow’s feet,

but lines to make you look like a crow,

so you could argue with Scarecrow on the fence post.

You might be adjusting your feathers, or tying your tail,

or trying to drink hot tea out of your travel mug,

your beak clacking against the lid,

your stomach a haven

for blue and white butterflies.

Tonight would be opening night.

But all of the moms

have deleted this spring musical

from calendars,

(nevermind the concerts, Forensics,

E-sports, graduation, prom.)

Anyway, Zach is not tuning his trombone

to play in the pit band,

and Justin is not hiding behind his curtain,

transforming into the Wizard

who has no answers to give.

But we are in the new world, now,

so just to go somewhere, anywhere,

though you’re Safer at Home, of course,

though there’s No Place Like Home,

you’ve taken the car to drop off

home-made cookies for them.

There is no “next year”

for your merry little band, only

the three of you making it through

the field of poppies,

the attack of the winged monkeys,

the vengeance of the wicked witch, and

then packing up

and taking your friendship with you –

a bond forged not in Kansas,

but in Wisconsin,

by D&D, fueled by caffeine and Doritos,

by video games played into wee hours of morning,

by summer work in the fields, and paintball,

by skiing at Brule (and two broken arms),

by fireworks and Lyme’s disease,

by Magic the Gathering,

by nights at the cabin,

by days on the lake,

the afternoon sun

shining

like it would shine

forever.

There are far worse things, it’s true,

we have warm homes,

we have food in our bellies –

but this empty space

on this gray April evening

has me melancholy and feeling sorry

for the whole lot of us,

boys and moms.

What I wouldn’t give now

to be settling into a squeaky chair

in the auditorium,

waiting for the music to come up

while the lights go down,

waiting for you to strut across the stage

in black feathers,

waiting for the Wizard to tell us

that what we are looking for

has been inside us

all along.

It’s all right, though,

the summer will come, and fall,

and the three of you, full of

heart,

brain,

courage,

will follow your roads

to different parts of Oz.

And I’ll remember this night,

this small crick in the universe, how

this sadness came upon me like a cloud,

and how you drove away

with plates of cookies,

bent on sharing

goodness.

Which,

of course,

you’ve had inside you all along.

 

(for Declan, Zach, and Justin, and the class of 2020. And their moms.)

The Book of the Covid Moon

This full moon

is an open book

left for you

in the beach house

you rent for the summer,

full of some other family’s things.

The preface,

nothing but light.

As days flip by,

thin as ghosts,

you lose the plot:

the moon comes up

in another part of the house,

sets when you aren’t looking.

With each turned page,

each spent day, a sliver of darkness crosses

from right to left,

back to front,

until the book of the moon is closed

and there is just a dark space in the sky

where the brightness was.

The Lights Flicker Once, Last Call in Suamico

And it’s the beginning of the end of the world –

the regulars are turned out of the taverns,

red-faced and singing defiantly,

swaying and carrying their jackets under their arms

into the almost-spring night, leaving behind

the warm beer-sign bubbles,

the cracked cheer of the bartenders,

the pilsner philosophy of their fellow compatriots

holding forth from duct-taped barstools;

Tomorrow they’ll pick up their fifths and their cases

in the grocery stores, they’ll drink at home

one shot at a time, idly crushing cigarettes into empty cans –

Jeopardy muted on the TV,

no sports to cheer, no clack of billiards, no thud of darts,

just scrolling through their phones, waiting

for a text to chime, or a single notification

like the ping of sonar under the heavy black sea,

confirming a round has been made –

the signal has gone out, has found another

traveler in darkness, at least one person who remembers

their name.

By Tacit Agreement, Sunday at the Sensiba Trail

We do not speak of the outside world –

we whistle at the sun nosing around

the fraying stratus clouds,

lifting and dropping

golden rays that splash our ankles and

the winter-dead grasses –

we call out to our dogs

sniffing one another in turn,

then exuberantly rolling in the dead carp

that the bald eagle has dropped.

We ask each other, on the other ends of leashes,

what breed of dog they are, and how old,

and if there are kids running ahead

or lagging behind, they shout out random bits

of information, like what they’re having

for dinner or about the mitten they dropped

somewhere in between the car and you.

The woman cradling the camera and

walking slightly behind the man with the cane

smiles at me as I kneel down to frame up

a pussy willow branch struck against

a ragged patch of blue sky; she says

Spring is coming, and I feel in my bones

that it’s true, that its grace is sufficient

but too late, too late for us –

in a moment it will burst into green flame

and lie like a shroud upon the brow of this fevered world.

A Confederacy of Dunces and Castoffs

We “go thrifting,” my daughter and I,

because it’s again cool to be uncool

and because she can’t yet hear

the murmurs of each discarded thing.

I dread finding items I’ve already cast off

at the Goodwill on Oneida street;

I prepare to glance away awkwardly,

pretending to see something that interests me

in the aisle of plaques and knick-knacks.

Cast-off things do not forgive,

perfectly good coffee mugs from Fleet Farm,

ShopKo shirts that look matronly,

backpacks with empty, growling bellies.

“I don’t know you,” I’d have to say, fiercely.

“You must be mistaking me for someone else!”

Alongside several copies of Fifty Shades of Gray

here is A Confederacy of Dunces, inscribed inside:

“To Jennifer, this is one of my very favorite books.

I hope you get better soon. Sean A.”

Not just one of his favorites, very favorite –

Jennifer must have been special for Sean A.

to divulge this secret with her, so I pay $4.99 for the copy,

and carry it home with a gossipy fuzzy sweater,

wondering about Jennifer.

There are four main possibilities in the matrix,

not counting half-starts and stasis:

She read the book, she didn’t. She got better, she died.

I find out Sean A. was a local English teacher once,

but no longer. Perhaps he too is dead, although he’d be

just 10 years older than I, and I hope i have more

than 10 years between me and death.

I see him living with his ancient parents

and a cat who curls up on his lap on Saturday afternoon,

leaving long white hair on his brown corduroys.

He watches This Old House and Wheel of Fortune, absently,

thinking about Jennifer,

about fixing up an old house for them

and filling it with books,

books that will be read and loved from either end of the couch,

books that will stay where he places them,

books that don’t wander off.

“M,” he guesses.

“T.”

Thief of Stars

I am

the reflection

of a star

on the dark glass

of the river

just before dawn

breaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday at the Abbotsford Auto Parts Store

On the way home

we pull off Highway 29

near Abbottsford

to get gas.

It’s been raining since

we left Minneapolis.

An Amish buggy

clip clip clips

into the auto parts store

across the road.

The horse doesn’t question,

just stands there,

dripping.

Maybe they sell

tractor parts, too; or maybe

the man just wanted

out of the rain,

wanted to walk on the smooth, dry, floors,

wanted to walk up and down the shiny weedless furrows of

floor mats, motor oil, windshield wiper blades, headlights

stacked squarely in piles, shoulder to shoulder

on shelves, swinging slightly from the pegs

as he walks by, the headlights

briefly reflecting his dark form

like the shadow of a cloud

on a lake.

His hand

trails in the air just above

the perfectly machined boxes

before he pulls his hat low on his brow,

thinking about want and need,

thinking about his horse,

the hours since breakfast,

the nails in his shoes,

the blinders alongside his big brown eyes,

before he walks out past the girl

scrolling through nothing and everything

on the screen in her hand,

walks out past the bright orange

slow moving vehicle triangles,

walks out without buying anything at all,

into the driving rain.

 

 

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.

Somewhere, Another (The Pied Billed Grebe)

A pied-billed grebe

has already paddled madly

halfway across this cove

(its crested head sporting a half-hearted mohawk,

its body a sputtering vector moving toward the northwest,

Lake Superior swollen like a too-observant eye)

before I realize

that it has darted out from under this porch

that hangs over the water where I stand holding my coffee,

not wanting to go home.

It’s as though a magician

has produced an egg from my ear,

or I’ve rummaged in my purse looking for car keys

and I’ve found a room in my house

I didn’t know was there.

Somewhere, that grebe has

another grebe,

and chicks that have fledged and gone

by this late September Sunday,

and a worn and forlorn nest

patched together with empty reeds and sticks,

bits of plastic water bottles and lily pads,

feathers and hollow crayfish claws –

holding nothing,

bobbing along the indifferent surface

of the lake, pulled north

by the false promises of the moon,

swamped by the wake of passing boats.

I wonder then,

my coffee grown cold in its paper cup,

only the fading ripples left on the lake,

what I may be capable of now,

what other secrets

I may harbor.