Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Learning What It Is To Be A Woman \ Pipits

Nancy:  Think of it as “take your daughter to work day” for the ‘30s.  There was work to do and more hands – even young ones – made lighter work.  Me, Mama, Granny, Aunt Mary, Aunt Nannie: often four or five generations.  In retrospect, I’d choose it over preschool or play dates. 
Learning What It Is To Be A Woman
I learned from women.
By example, deliberately: how to
shave heavy bars of laundry soap into
translucent curls; how to scald jars;
how to stretch curtains and plant roses
and hem handkerchiefs.
I learned
by maxim and frequent admonition:
not to run so much; not to sprawl;
not to be loud; not to call attention
to myself immodestly; not to go down the
creek on a raft with the boys.
I learned
elliptically, by half-sentences and silences:
as I sat beneath a ripple of words, three
women in straight chairs shelling peas;
as I teased out the knots forming and loosing
in the murmurous green air, three generations
of women, three kitchen chairs under the trees.
And of course I went on to learn
by misadventure and disappointment;
learn from men; learn from children;
learn from unexpected doses of bitter and sweet
as they had, as they knew I would.
For a long time I thought I was moving away.
But they’ve been waiting, I’ve been catching up.
There’s a chair there for me, four women,
four generations at the center of the maze.
I still have one or two things to learn.
Alan:  For years, Memorial Day weekend meant “Bird Day,” a 24 hour just-for-fun species count ending at our house.  Our friend Marion Stocking was like the whippoorwills that we could count on being here each spring without fail, until one year they weren’t.
In Memoriam MKS
Late May, and into June
we have, if no longer
a full dawn chorus
and its evening echo 
(too many losses in our
local avifauna for that –
the steady swirl of species
going down the drain),
at least a decent choir,
slowly diminishing each week
to high summer’s quietude,
the way your hearing thinned,
the highest pitches –
black-and-white warbler,
pine siskin – going first,
and gradually the range
of musics still emerging
from our depauperate woods
and fields becoming
half-felt buzz.
Still, each year’s visit,
you’d walk out at dusk,
pale with the exhausting day,
away from the chatter,
to cup your ear
for the Swainson’s thrush,
somewhere down the hill,
a bird of memory
you knew was there;
then, turn back
unfulfilled, pausing only
to savor the last daffodils
and the sweetest, pipits,
named for a bird we’d never
seen or heard here: small
yellow trumpets
glowing silently
in the almost dark.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Scented Garden \ I Feed You

Nancy:  That first day when I’m washing dishes and the open window says Thérèse Bugnet, yes, rose is.
Scented Garden
If you worry that
a rose is a rose
is inadequate reportage
consider how
the true message of
the rose was never
meant for you but
for some other creature
bee perhaps or some
precursor of bee
that it might
dance implications
of rose
pre-word scintillations
of rose and now those
lost volatile vocabularies
are buried under
layers of cells
rich in words coruscating
plangent susurrant
words for our tangible
solid fierce lives
Alan:  Another poem for my dead brother.  Why I use the British spelling of “airplane,” I don’t know, except that a lot of the books I read as a child, and would have read to him, were English.
I Feed You
One by one, the peas entered your mouth like aeroplanes –
they were aeroplanes, entering the hanger, not to re-appear.
It was a slow way to eat, but it worked:
the airport of your body made accepting, workaday noises.
I don't know why this matters, after forty years,
except that maybe it was then I learned
I could bamboozle your stubbornest rage
and that you had ways of forcing from me
the easy tribute of play.
And anyway, you are no longer here
to naysay: it was aeroplanes, not boats or bombs, their fat
green selves entering your body, swooping
or in a sly, circling slant; you sat on my left
on the hard bench looking out at the lake
and the sun sparkled on the water like sky,
the spoon descending again and again in the sunset,
or at least I think so.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Poem About Eels \ Indra's Net

Nancy:  The fyke nets are out in the rivers and the young eels will be shipped away to become gourmet dinners.  Meanwhile our eel populations are declining rapidly, a sad end for such an amazing fish.
The Poem About Eels
The poem about eels knotted itself
in words like catadromous and
Sargasso, and it wandered up
obscure streams, and it grew thicker
and longer until finally I let it go.
It left with an eelish quickness.
Nothing, I used to say,
propping my pole against the porch,
nothing but eels.
Then I saw them: elvers: glassy,
transparent, almost invisible.  They
were the poem I had wanted to write.
Just so – eye, spine, quicksilver.
If only I could write in light.
If only I could write on bright high cold water.
Alan:  Indra, king of the gods, is said to have a net of infinite extent, every node of the net holding a perfectly polished jewel, each jewel reflecting every other jewel and in turn being reflected by them.
Indra’s Net
Indra cast his net upon the dark.
Fishing for suns, he was; many he caught.
Fishing for stars, fishing for moons, he was;
many on many he caught.
Indra cast his net upon the dark.
Fishing for days, he was; many he caught.
Fishing for seasons, fishing for years, he was;
many on many he caught.
Indra cast his net upon the dark.
Fishing for lives, he was; many he caught.
Fishing for minds, fishing for souls, he was;
many on many he caught.
Indra trawled the darkness long upon long,
hauling up galaxies, eons, oceans, peoples,
past and present, never and future,
nowhere and somewhere, right here and all around.
He was done.  Darkness was empty.
The things in the net were light, all light and shining.
They were strong, they swam, they were fast
and they were afraid.
They saw themselves!  They saw each other!
They reflected and held each other.
They shone forth and burned deep in each other.
It was lovely.  But they were afraid.
Indra grew sad.  His sadness went into everything
just as it came from the fear in everything.
Perhaps he had wronged, where he only meant
to gather the light so it could shine together.
Indra grew sorry.  He cut the net open.
With a rush, the light flowed out and was gone,
taking its fear and sadness with it.  It was free.
Only a little fear, a little sadness, still clung,
and a little, little light, like fishscales stuck to the net.
Indra saw this, and seeing this, hoped.
Hoping, he mended his net.  With it mended,
hope grew large.
Indra cast his net upon the dark.
“Indra’s Net” first appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shadbush In May \ Full May Moon

Nancy:  Shadbush – shadblow – sugar pear – rarely on lists of “must have” ornamentals.  But we who live with it love it.
Shadbush In May
Because every road
every hillside
every streambank
every shoreline
every dooryard
every woods’ edge
froths and foams
we talk to strangers
at the gas pumps
at the postoffice
at the cash register
at the lunch counter
did you
have you
isn’t it
up my way
out by East Stream
for a whole week
no wind
no rain
the flowers last
no one remembers anything like it
oh, we say, oh
we talk to strangers
Alan:  Every Spring it seems, for one magical night, the shadbush have the world, and the lovesick moon, all to themselves.   
Full May Moon
This night
in the old fields
in the rough fields
in the lost fields
every sugarpear tree
stands up
spreads its arms wide
like a child wearing a sheet,
tilts its head back,
mouths, “Oooooo...”
Tomorrow, they’ll hold baskets
of tiny pink shells, cages
demure with pale butterflies:
tomorrow – for a week.
Then they’ll green; then,
for a moment, crimson;
then, when children
in towns and villages and suburbs
roam house to house begging for sweets,
they’ll take off their clothes, slowly,
under another open-mouthed moon,
whispering, “Oooooo...”
“Shadbush In May” first appeared in Fencing Wildness (Slow Dancer Press, 1999)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If I Were Ancient And A Sage \ Game

Nancy:  Waking at night with a poem only to find in the morning that the rock has dried, the wind has blown, the poem flown.
If I Were Ancient And A Sage
I might write poems on stones
and walk away.
I might tie poems to branches
as if they were leaves.
I might write poems on paper
for children to fly like kites.
I might write poems with water
on my doorstep.
I might write poems
in wine dregs, and forget them.
The tide would swallow them.
The frost would trick them into falling.
The children would break the strings.
Wind would dry the doorstep.
Two empty cups by the fireside,
wine spilled, sages dreaming.
Or I might write a poem and give it to you.
It might be a live coal,
or paper for wrapping fish, would you know?
If it turned to a bird in your hand,
would you let it fly?
Alan:  There are those who buy a hunting license every year, whether or not they get their deer (or bear, or what-have-you).  And there are those who take what they can, when they can, fair game or not.
It’s Sunday, and nothing’s in season.
Sunday, when state law still declares a day of rest
for game.
It’s the time of year bears stagger, blinking and starving,
from their dens with cubs,
when foxes, bobcats, coyotes are nursing young
and deer are desperate for green.
Two quick shots, squeezed off in the puckerbrush back over the ridge.
Two quick shots, out of sight in the woods.
Maybe that’s what the baying of dogs was, earlier.
No one’s sighting in their gun, pinging a few bottles
with two quick shots.
It’s Sunday, a good day
to kill something, and
everything’s in season.