Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Johnny Morrison's Garden \ Weather Report: Straight Bay: Last Week of April

Alan:  Johnny was a gentle soul.  He welcomed us back-to-the-landers, made his near-empty store a place for the food co-op to break down bulk orders, and always had a few donuts around for any kids who stopped by.  I miss him.
Johnny Morrison’s Garden
Some folks take a long time dying
if they die at all.  Johnny’s like that:
it was a year ago – last Fourth of July –
I saw him sitting on his stoop watching the parade.
You could tell he was dying by the way he waved –
weak, kind of glum – his face fading
like July sun when the fog pours in off the sea,
the smile still there but all the sparkle gone.
Next we heard, he was over at Ocean View,
and we knew it was just a matter of time.
He’d have given up: some folks don’t transplant.
I didn’t visit – couldn’t bring myself to go –
as I watched his storefront geraniums slowly brown and droop.
I wonder, when he packed, did he leave the table
set, as usual, for himself, Mother and one guest?
“Don’t sit there,” he’d say, as you reached
for the dusty chair, “that’s Mother’s place.”
His voice apologizing, like she’d just stepped out
and would be back a little late for supper.
Then he’d start: “Mother – she’s 102 now – ,” family
always present tense, and all of them gone
years before.  Johnny’s home at last.
So just today, we were discussing Johnny Morrison’s garden.
“It’s a wet one – always was...”
“He put in a lot of sand, but I don’t know if it’s done much good...”
and I thought, Johnny hasn’t died yet in this town
and I doubt he will, until all of us have too.
It will always be Johnny Morrison’s store, and Johnny Morrison’s woods,
and as long as there are powdered sugar doughnuts
we’ll be thinking that maybe he’ll be out to see us
Sunday with a box.  Johnny’s geraniums are gone
and the store is boarded up,
but we know his garden is back there, wet and clayey as ever,
and – whatever else fails –
the Johnny Jump-ups will have come on strong.
Nancy:  Do those old migratory tides still flow in our veins?
Weather Report: Straight Bay: Last Week of April
The low moves offshore.
Hawks cast over the field and over the spruce.
Geese ribbon out in Vs.
A heron tribe gathers to fish and rest.
The heavy overcast gives way to sun.
Hawks come out of the sun;
they come out of dark shadows; they wheel
and fall; they watch.
Geese waver out to the east,
offshore, toward Musquash marsh and Shubenacadie,
toward the eelgrass beds in the bay at Willet Rocks.
Herons lift and flare with the ebb and flow of the tides,
from the upper bay to the small coves notched out of the shore,
from the bluff by the apple tree
to the saltmarsh beyond Clam Rock.
The wind swings round and comes out of the south and west.
And it plucks at me, a fixed point, a pole star, lodged,
deep-rooted, in place, enduring, not
discontented, and yet
all this motion tugs at me;
It tugs at me.
“Johnny Morrison’s Garden” and “Weather Report:  Straight Bay:  Last Week in April” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Tuberous Begonias \ Sweet Sovereign Root

Alan:  We tried growing begonias once or twice.  The sun burned them, the cold rotted them, and the wind blew them apart.   It’s not the Susquehanna River valley.
The Tuberous Begonias
Baffled against spring’s edge,
needy of sun, foreseeing summer
again too short, dry, cold,
you recall the old story –
driving south from Windsor
along a winding river road,
you come upon the small, tired house,
almost a shack,
completely fronted in lipstick-bright
Begonias potted along the porch rail,
jungling from shadowy eaves;
begonias waxing from window boxes,
coffee cans, resisting with pink
hungry mouths the wall’s sad lean.
You passed there a few times,
never stopped for the old man
who sat, amid roof-sag and paint-peel,
content in his poor-will’s paradise,
as if to do this one thing perfectly
could forever uphold a house, or a world.
You have travelled so far
from that valley’s nuzzling embrace,
for fifty years wishing you had asked him
how you could do this too,
especially here
in this scrape of rock by the salt sea shore
where the saw wind shivers your fruit trees
and mice gnaw incessantly at your roots.
Nancy:  One smell, one taste... it’s early ‘30s depression Indiana.  What a powerful effect our tastes and smells have on our memories.
Sweet Sovereign Root
My mother died in the Spring.
She died of thick blood.  That grieved me
and I thought it astonishing; I thought
of her death as caused by a successful transition
to the middle class.  I knew, without looking
behind the fruitwood veneer doors of her cupboards,
what I would not find.
No fever root, toothache root, sweet sassafras.
No sassafras.  Mama, I thought, we’ve come a long way
from our childhoods, from black salve and sang
and spikenard to an empty cupboard
and you dead of thick blood.
No spicebush, flower of melilot, rose gold sassafras
tea of Spring, to thin the blood.  Mama,
you never let me down; your paper packages
of bark followed me to college.  You had never read
Proust, you only knew that it was dangerous
not to quicken wintry blood, but when I brewed
your roots it was suddenly Spring, even there,
among the unbelievers.
No more.  The palm trees outside my mother’s room
denied the existence of Spring.  I thought, if there are ghosts
(yes – I hope there are ghosts) they will be wise women,
with aprons full of comfort, and they will take her home
to chamomile, star root, sweet sovereign sassafras.
“Sweet Sovereign Root” first appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poets in Spring \ A Dance of Innocents

Alan:  I read this once at an open-mic poetry event and got a spontaneous round of applause, which I didn’t know quite what to do with, so I read some more.  I should have quit while I was ahead.
Poets in Spring
In Spring, when the metaphors run upstream to spawn,
poets camp by the waterside,
hooks sharpened, nets mended, trap weirs set
and prepare to feast.
They come leaping, sliding, singing the music of the Spheres,
their smooth muscular bodies slippery with magic,
rooted in proteinaceous delight.
And the poets move.
The poets wade.  They grab them, hook them, net them, trap them, haul them, hoist them, fling them
on the shores of the rippling roaring river
and then they feed.
And they split them, gut them, hang them, stake them, smoke them,
stack them like red resinous shingles
and then they leave the river, swaying,
obese with metaphors,
staggering under their bales of dry metaphors,
ready for the lean times when the hovels creak with the weight of the cold
and the Hunger Moon begs for a metaphor in the dark.
Every year, some survive,
find at last the bars of clean sand,
mate, sink to the bottom of the quickly running waters and die
among their eggs.
Every year, a myriad of tiny metaphors
wriggle into life, look up
at the flowing world through enormous eyes,
turn downstream,
start swimming.
Nancy:  The world is not romantic, warm and fuzzy, not the real, beautiful, complex world of our coast.
A Dance of Innocents
It is not good to be judgmental.
To hear the Spring song clearly is to hear
hunger; young must be fed,
and fed with young.  It does not do
to dwell on the ravaged nest.  The sounds of the night
are night sounds, a part of Spring.
The silences are hunger stilled.
I take note of them, and of absences –
but it is best not to brood.
In the Spring, it is enough to be grateful
for mornings, early, those minutes
drawing water at the well,
before the high rumped hares have lost their innocence.
“Poets in Spring” first appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal.  “A Dance Of Innocents” first appeared in East of the Light (Stone Man Press & Slow Dancer Press, 1984)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Winter Wren \ Bones Filled With Air

Alan:  I’ve been to places where these feisty little guys are everywhere, shouting and posturing from the tips of branches.  Here, we only ever seem to have one, and it stays out of sight.  It often wakes me, in April and May; after that, I hardly hear it at all.
The Winter Wren
You do not come here in Winter
but in wintry Spring, old snow
still tucked up under trees
and along the shaded edges of fields
and back roads.
In this country you are never seen;
rather, from the thicket, before dawn,
the long line of your song casts,
looping, into pooled shadows
where, hungry for anything
this silvery and bright,
I rise.
Nancy:  Commitments.  Responsibilities.  Demands.  And out there... the wild, compelling call of my favorite bird.
Bones Filled With Air
The wind came up at night
and it blew offshore
and the small birds settled
and the Willets rose up crying;
they called me out
they pointed to another bay
they rode off on the wind, calling.
Then I looked at the walls I had built.
Paper walls.  Paper windows.  Paper between
me and the wind; every day
another layer of paper.
I opened the door and I left it ajar.
We fly toward the sun, toward stone,
toward eelgrass.  On the hill behind me,
the dogs have covered their eyes with their paws
and the door swings in the wind.
“Bones Filled With Air” first appeared in Fencing Wildness (Slow Dancer Press, 1999)