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.

Three Fields along Highway 42

i.

The broad face

of the February field

is tilted to the falling snow –

broken cornstalk stubble

waiting for the razored plow.

ii.

The snow, the field,

the fog rolling in waves

off of the lake,

a blank page.

The split rail fence,

the bare trees,

the broken barns,

black parentheses.

iii.

Beyond the fence,

nothing

but a white screen.

Along the road,

silhouettes of trees

suddenly appear and fade,

appear and fade

in the frames

of the car windows,

somber fireworks

in black and white

in a memory

belonging

to someone else.

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)

Midwest Poultry Show

Behind me a man at the Minneapolis airport

says: “I’ll see you at the Midwest Poultry Show”

except what I hear is not that but

“Midwest Poetry Show” which makes

 

slightly less sense but it’s too late,

I am already thinking of their sleepless night,

all the poets waking before dawn

and coaxing their balky poems into cages

 

lined with torn strips of newspaper

that are soon bunched into nests and absently

pecked at and read while they, the poems, make

derisive crowing comments to each other as the poets

 

drive their dented trailers carefully into the sunrise,

drinking bitter black coffee from the Hudson or Farmington

Kwik Trip until they arrive at a metal barn, bleary-eyed

and hopeful, now with combs and scissors and spray bottles

 

in hand they are fluffing out long metaphors and snipping

at tufts of too-flowery and winding prose, was that

too much? Well, it’s too late now, it’s all over

but the crying as bespectacled readers circle the cages

 

skimming unfairly, squeezing the stanzas and

splaying the words out at the ends, looking for

allusion, alliteration, allegory, imagery, rhymes

and near rhymes, iambic pentameter and free

 

verse while the poets stand silently near, cups of coffee

long gone cold under the giant ceiling fans, kicking stray

punctuation like curses along the concrete floor, already

reading the look in the readers’ eyes, thinking about next year,

 

when, surely, but surely,

they will place.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Crivitz Piggly Wiggly Philosophy

It’s a Thursday in May after five

when I swing into the Piggly Wiggly with two bikes

on the back of my SUV, and the dog inside;

The woman slicing my deli ham

struggles with the wrapper on the summer sausage, limps like

her hip is bad, too; she paces, trapped behind the glass cage;

When I check out, another woman

bagging my groceries eyes me and when I say “Everything in paper except for

the cold stuff,” she rephrases:

“Cold stuff in plastic, everything else in paper,”

which is what I said, but in reverse, and she seems disapproving, so then I hedge –

“Well, whatever makes sense.”

And she says “All right, as much as anything

makes sense any more” which seems a bit dark but also somehow

appropriate, and then referring to my copy of Vanity Fair

tells the checkout girl that the big Royal Wedding

is this Saturday and that the bride is 36 and who even knows if she can HAVE

kids, she’s been married before you know;

The checkout girl who is maybe mid-thirties

yawns and asks me if I know that I selected some organic bananas, I say yes,

I want them tomorrow and they were the only ripe ones,

and then she also clucks disapprovingly, either sorry

that they did not have non-organic ripe bananas to offer me or maybe sorry

that I am the type of person who cannot wait for bananas to ripen;

Outside the old man with a service dog

who looks like a floor mop and would do a credible job at it

asks me where I’m from, and I say where,

and he says that traffic in Green Bay

is terrible, he knows because he goes to church down there every Sunday,

taking his life in his hands, practically,

I say “Ah, the roundabouts,” knowingly, but he says no,

the drivers down there are terrible tailgaters, all in a hurry, and for what?

And peering in as I put away the iced tea and bottles of water

asks me what kind of dog I have, growling in the back seat

at his mop, and I say, and add,”He’s not really friendly,” and then

he too is disappointed, and calls to the friendly dog Brice or Bryce

and they amble off into the spring green grass, where

Bryce or Brice dutifully poops; but after the man goes to find a baggie,

he can’t find where the tiny poop is and when I leave

he is still walking in a circle, searching for the pile. But what I

am thinking about is how I’ve disappointed them all, and the way the woman

put my turnovers at the bottom of the paper bag and said,

“as much as anything makes sense anymore,” maybe referring to

lava breaking through the crust of the earth or the president of the USA

paying hush money to a woman they call Stormy,

or more likely something to do with her children, who don’t call,

or Piggly Wiggly’s schedule for the weekend,

rather than heroin leaving a wide path of destruction across the American cornfields,

and meanwhile I, privileged and having all advantages,

unfairly, undeservedly, drive with a dog and bikes

and cheese and chips to a place where the sun makes a wide and slow arc over the river,

shooting sunlight like glass marbles down the its path

and the sky turns the clouds pink, lavender, yellow, by turn

and a silver fish flashes in the shallows and then darts like guilt into the deep

and I turn to ascend the stairs, going up, and up, and up.