Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oh, Who'd Leave This World

Nancy Nielsen died May 23, 2016 after a long period of declining health.  I had the great privilege of caring for her – my life partner, colleague and dear, dear friend – through her final years, and of being with her when she passed.  She wrote this poem on April 8, after one of many temporary recoveries from a succession of setbacks.  Somehow, we both knew it would be her last.

Nancy left behind a number of unpublished poems, some of which I will post to this blog from time to time, along with my own as they occur.  For those interested, here is her obituary .

– Alan Brooks

Oh, Who’d Leave This World

When the wind
                       that wind
wind from the sea
                       salt and wrack
lifting the meadow grass
ghosting with fog

or where
racket of crows
                       caw and caw
                       into the wind

Who’d set aside the book
                       this book any book
so filled with life
                       book on the table

Side by side
                        we talk of the stories
wind from the south

The wind outside
                       salt marsh wind
                       wind from the sea


Saturday, January 30, 2016

5:30 a.m. \ On The Other Side

Nancy: A dream, and slow rising light, and past and present and unexpected future, and out of that this day, this reality.

5:30 a.m.

bitter greens and fried pies

paw paws and fish sputtering
misty lake iron pan

Granny, Aunt Nannie, Papa
dawns noons twilight

and this is dawn
another dawn

I think of food
I think of being fed

how food is memory
how food is love

I'm still alive, I say

I'm still alive
shall we have tea?

Alan: When National Public Radio revived the old “This I Believe” program, among the short statements of faith was one that struck me as unarguably sensible: “I believe in biology.” 

On The Other Side

When it seemed clear you were dying
we could only live in the moment –
in and for it.

Death, which had always been invisibly with us,
became manifest now in the chairs,
the table, the rug: all the furnishings of our room.

We opened the door called “hope” and stepped through,
closing it gently behind us.
We saw we were in the same room as before.
The door had locked.  We could not go back.

So we took up our lives again,
moment by moment, as many moments as there might be –
there, here, there –
hope a door we could no longer open,
no longer had need for.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Exeunt Omnes \ Leaves

Alan: Yes, scene follows scene, the play begins again, but the audience?  Coming and going, here only for a while.

Exeunt Omnes

Down come the bean poles,
the temporary fences.
Down come the pea sticks.
Into the flower bed goes the spent soil
from pots and tubs –
fresh dirt over the dead and dying –
nothing will bloom again now.

To be a creature of a certain intelligence
aware mainly of uncertainty –
to do this knowing we may not see
another Spring.
Executioner, undertaker, gravedigger –
scarcely gardener.

To do this without anger or regret,
without fear or even hope –
to do all this one must love the soil
merely as soil, the earth as Earth.
Even stripped
of all this temporary living.

One must love hopelessly
the pale blue signaling late autumn,
the endless broken rows of white
from the west. The coming cold
after yesterday’s pulse of warm rain.

Nancy: Great aunts, grandparents, father and then mother, and yet that face caught in a sudden reflection comes as a surprise.


The leaves are whispering together in fence corners,
wondering where the birds have gone,
pondering immortality.
Foolishly, they seek the fault within themselves
          (not green enough)
          (bent often in the wind)
          (should have learned to fly)
Dryly they warm themselves in the pale sun
           (it seemed much warmer then, when I was young)
surprised that eternity is not green,
wondering why they were never told.

Next spring’s green glory,
sleeping in the bud
          never hears the whispers
          will sing wind music in the trees
          will not learn to fly
          will ponder, too, the chilling why.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beans \ Last Planting

Nancy:  Fresh peas for the evening meal, dry beans for soup, or next year’s garden, child or woman, a part of life’s story


some things never change, bean pods
the brown stiff curl of them
the beans, shining, speckled or
red or black or sometimes porcelain white
the way the thumb runs down the pod
beans sliding free
year after year, dry pods
shining beans, the wealth of them
beans are eternal
only the thumbs change
the hands, white skin, five year old hands
turn brown, speckled, stiff as dry pods
curled, bent, eighty years of knowing
the shining beans, the thumbs
sliding beans falling
the pan on the lap
the beans
the years

Alan: It is good to leave something in the ground for next year’s harvest.  To close the garden gate promising to return.

Last Planting

Still, I plant garlic, shallots,
push the dibble into
October’s moist soil.

Press the cloves down,
smooth-sided, pointy, root-end
first.  Count out –
six across, seven,
the steady rows.

Small offerings to the small
gods of the garden.
Northern, Siberian, Music, Santé,
Dutch Yellow, French.

Tamp the earth, still warm in the sun –
worms still rise at midday – with my palms.
The papered hopes.
Blanket the beds, mulch
against freeze-up.

Swirl of leaves around me,
each colored according to its kind,
not quite ready to fall.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forget-Me-Nots \ Night, The Old She-Bear

Alan: In a small town, small incidents – small kindnesses, slights, gestures or failures of reciprocity – linger, becoming the stories we tell about ourselves and our neighbors.  Scraps of experience woven into the fabric of the place.


You owe me two dollars, lady.
Not me.  Those nice folks
who do the plant sale each June.
Remember them?  It’s for a good cause –
charity.  Remember, ten, twelve years ago
you came by looking for forget-me-nots?
Not the blue kind – everyone has those –
the white ones.  Sold out.  I was helping, so
I said I’d dig you some from my garden.
Two dollars.  For charity.  And I did.
I brought a pot-full by the next day,
left it (you were out) with a note
on your front steps.  You never paid.

Ever since, whenever I drive by
your piece of suburbia
carved from spruce woods and puckerbrush –
filled and level lawn, gum-drop shrubs,
gazing globes on white pedestals, twee figurines,
that symbolic bit of half-sized picket fence –
I think, you owe me two lousy bucks, lady,
for charity!  That’s the kind of thing,
around here, we never forget.

Nancy: Bent fences, trampled gardens, nights filled with caterwauling, banshee squalls, hoots and howls – the wonderful wild roil of life at night – dawn and a sense of something missing...

Night, The Old She-Bear

A crazy old woman living on a hill.
She saw the night coming,
saw the heart shining where it hung in the ribs,
beating, saw the bones shining,
red, the old she-bear’s bones were red.
She saw the belly, welcoming;
she wanted to cry out, “yes, Old Mother,”
but she was afraid.

The Wise Dogs were licking one another’s lips,
and fawning, and singing love songs.
The woman noticed that all of the animals
were taking off their skins; she saw
that they moved easily, unencumbered.
They were going to dance in the night air.
She wanted to dance, but her skin was too tight.

Lululu, they were all singing, drumming.
The woman counted them, two, two, two,
singing hungry songs and waiting for the moon;
she saw them drinking the moon and thought
how much she wanted to drink and sing,
but they were twos, twos, and she was alone.

The moon went west and the sun came east
and the woman felt the light.  She felt it
on her skin, her hair, in the clock of her belly,
felt it through her closed eyes.  The women felt
the light, felt the light               ! oh, I, I feel
the light, feel it in my mouth, taste it,
the light, and feel how wide the bed is
as I spread my legs in the cool sheets.  Light
cool wide empty bed, the woman, I.

“Night, The Old She-Bear” first appeared in East Of The Light (Stone Man Press & Slow Dancer Press, 1984).

Sunday, June 28, 2015

16 And Never Bn Kssd \ Hoo-hoo

Nancy: In my world of the ‘30s and ‘40s, I heard “girls don’t,” “girls can’t,” and “we don’t take girls.”  Over and over I turned to Madame Curie, a girl who could and did.

16 And Never Bn Kssd

Thank God for Madame Curie,
my best friend in the years
when I could neither Talk To Boys
nor continue as Mowgli to their wolf pack.
Neither of us went to pajama parties,
or mastered pin curls, or eye shadow,
and although we never spoke
across the mounds of books,
she smiled and shook my hand
when I stood up and opened the door
and set out alone,
determined to discover new lands.
Sometimes it was a vaccine,
a city unearthed,
inscriptions read –
I smiled back at Madame Curie
and walked out of the library
into the sun.

Alan: A recent blog post by Christine Nielsen got me thinking, why is it that (some) men still just don’t get it?  Then I remembered a story a friend of ours told us about her young grandkids, and this poem tumbled out.


“I have a hoo-hoo and you don’t!” she teases
her little brother, pointing to the folds
between her legs.  Ah Freud,
where is that envy now?  Her mysteries
so out-rank his all-too-obvious wee appliqué
he feels ashamed.

What is the use of writing in the snow,
watering the tree trunk,
when she can boast such clean superiority,
such a tidy origami of parts?

She laughs and points again,
and in that moment we know
the Big Bang was not a male experience
and at the center of every maelstrom galaxy
lives a concupiscent hole.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Phoebe \ Summergreen

Alan:  Our phoebe’s a small but ebullient summer companion, whose explosive song Peterson calls “well-enunciated.”  That’s like saying a drill sergeant’s voice is “well-modulated”: while not untrue, it fails to grok the fullness.


You have betrayed me, Phoebe,
slipping from the pages of my books
like a whisper, a young girl
running barefoot in summer dew,
beautiful and painful as first love.

For starters, you’re a guy.
You sneeze your name, over and over,
from a nearby branch –
“Look at me!  Look at me!” – full of yourself.
Testosterone with feathers.

I know your type, June party-crasher,
hopping about, drawing attention,
snacking on the wing,
stumbling against the furniture,
wearing a silly grin and a lampshade.

But Phoebe! Phoebe! I forgive you.
You are otherwise sober, industrious, neighborly,
always on hand to give advice,
keep an eye on things, look me straight on,
ward off time’s passing and despond.

Nancy: Before weather, time and insects, new leaves like green candles...


the water was green
and the young corn
and the light under the ferns

outside the window
June lights the birch
a green flame

the old woman watches
now the ash catches
green, green

child, child, look at you
green the old woman remembers
the branch where she sat

the summergreen trees
water, arrowhead leaves