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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Backroads \ What We Pass Along

Nancy: The cabin’s weathered grey, there’s an irremediable leak in the roof, but my windowsills bloom and petunias brighten the doorstep.


We ask green things to stand for us
against reality.
Those plants, lined up along the sill,
defy the snow,
and steal the meager winter light,
and grow.
And gardens live in tins
and tires,
to bloom against unpainted walls,
to shut out heat,
and dust;
to fight defeat.
And will they stand for us when we are gone –
a flower in the woods,
a tree,
a shadow on the wall –
become reality?

Alan: I still wear my Sears overalls, knees worn, seams half-torn, with my name and “Stone Man Farm” stitched on it, from all those years ago.

What We Pass Along

We called it a farm but it was in our dreams only.
And what did we mean, anyway?
A place to grow some vegetables,
run a few chickens, sell the surplus –
where? no farmers’ markets around here then.
The dream added a cart,
whimsically painted, by the roadside.

That’s what we called it: farm.
The old folks who knew farming,
and even those middle-aged who remembered
grammy and grampy’s place outside town,
from when they were kids,
must have smiled secretly, too polite
to swamp us in the cold squall of history.

“Farm” meant a few cows anyway,
maybe pigs, beef critters, a couple acres potatoes,
or for the ambitious, hen pens full of layers,
and hayfields, hayfields for sure.
Dairy went bust in the ‘50s
when they went to all stainless and bulk tanks
– old Daisy couldn’t pay for that!

The hen pens went out with the railroad
and the cost of trucked feed.
If you were a gambler, you could go broke
on bull semen and bank loans.  No one
had those big flat fields like up in The County,
it was all patchwork, you got by
with loggin’ or truckin’ or fishin’.  Mix-and-match.

Still, we called it a farm,
drove 60 miles each way to meetings
of the Ag Committee, sat around the table
with a few other confused homesteaders,
picked up the buzz on “micro-business,” “entrepreneurship,”
learned how to wrap green foil around potted plants
to make ‘em shiny so they’d sell,

learned about gunk-holes (“everybody needs a gunk-hole out back –
that’s where you dump stuff to rot”), learned the mantra
“alders to goats to pigs to chickens to good, black soil.”
Wondered what happened to 4-H,
heard that parents hated the thought of their kids
in coveralls and muck, that’s what
they’d left behind twenty years before.

We were too late to farm, it seems, and the place was no good for it.
That’s why we found just a few half-swallowed fieldstones
where a barn was, bricks where a chimney fell,
a rusty stove door, axle, empty bottle of Antiphlogistine, good for man and beast,
but no reliable water, no sign of a garden,
nothing you could press your hand down into
and say, “here’s where things will grow.”

We were too late.  We were too early.
We were too poor.
There are farms now, again.
Mostly people from away, and a few locals
who never gave up or came back to it
after working somewhere else for awhile.
Eat at the New Friendly.  We know who grows their spuds.

There’s great yogurt down the road toward the village –
take the lane past the Jerseys (they’re gentle).
If you’re feeling flush, order a whole
organic free-range chicken, all prepared,
right from the back door, as good as anything
in Boston or New York.  We hear wool is coming back,
and wheat: “artisanal,” small-scale.  Fitting in.

Our farm was just a name and a dream.
We had to move, after more than 30 years.  It got too hard.
But still we go back sometimes.  To us it’s still home.
We see now that the place itself was the seed
and we had all the soil we needed in our hearts,
and our crops were poems.
That’s what fed us.  That’s what we pass along.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Red Flag Warnings \ Underway

Alan: Some years, winter lingers and lingers and then... we’ve slid right past mud season and on into something not quite spring, not quite summer, not quite right. 

Red Flag Warnings

Saying: don’t burn.
Saying: snow-pack
to drought.  Bone-cold
to hot.  Mud-soft
to dust.  So fast.

White throat calling
“Sam, Sam Peabody,
Old Sam Peabody.”
Old, yes.  Could be
the last day.  It could be.

Today I have heard
a vireo, seen a first
orange butterfly, smelled
balsam stirred by
a dry west wind.

Nancy: Off with the shrink wrap, down with the props, up with the hulls and away to the water!


May is underway and
daffodils are blooming and
boats are on the roads,
the multi-thousand dollar ones
with their winter shrink wrap
riffling and
the ones with their outboards
tilted up: those are the ones
hauled behind pickup trucks
like the one I saw this morning
a white truck
with one red door
with a blue-green panel
with (probably) a rebuilt engine
flying down the road
proud to be underway
to the waters
to the fisheries.
Yes, hurrah, it's May
and the daffodils are blooming
and the boats are underway.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Kneeling By Stones \ Birds

Nancy: How many days – months – years – I knelt beside my grandmother: in cold and heat, early and late, from the digging of greens to the gathering of seeds.  A weaver learns to weave, a blacksmith learns to forge – a gardner, I learned, learns to kneel.

Kneeling By Stones

My knees ache already; think
of the knees of gardeners, gravediggers,
penitents, petitioners,
of cold stones, holy ground,
of seasons trudging through death,
of faith and readiness.

Our knees stiffen, they gnarl,
they scar; the fat goes out of them.
We lean on our tools.  We walk in pain.
But when the time comes – and we are
waiting for it to come – we kneel
in ice water, in mud, wherever
we are when the mystery catches us.

In this, I follow my grandmother,
no saint, she, but – like me –
ready to drop to her knees,
to let her bones cry out,
to reach out her hands
for the blessing of the first green shoot.

Alan:  I think here of children who never experience the out-of-doors unattended, who grow up knowing nature only as something beyond the window or mediated by screens.


Yes, there were the birds.
Not as many now, true –
but in those places that still
had seasons, in the time
formerly called Spring,
a thin trickle of freshening sound
flowed through the Scrablands.

Small bubbles rose up
from the blackness, each one
bursting with a long-forgotten name.
Sparrow.  Warbler.
And once she noticed these, others.
Black-and-white.  Black-throated green.

Entranced, she made her way
farther from the thrum,
stopping often, until it faded a little
in the still-bare thickets
and under it she detected
a faint music.

She wanted suddenly to share this,
return the names to all this “what,”
tell the others, teach them,
though it was, she knew,
strictly prohibited
and would be severely punished.

“Birds” is from a work in progress, Annals Of The Nearer Soon (preliminary title).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Almost Mid-March \ Now Rises April

Alan: Winter, like all of us, can be vain, even as it starts to show its age.

Almost Mid-March

Winter notices its fat thighs.
It thinks it’s a white beast
breathing down all our necks.
But it looks at itself now
and sees: cellulite.  Or at least
the snow sagging and dimpling
under this outrage of sun.
This breeze from afar.

Just days ago winter, sorcerer,
sorceress? – this ungendered maw,
taut belly of need, held us,
batted us around as it willed.
But today?  Today winter
looks at the calendar.
Almost mid-March.  Suddenly

it’s tired, tired of all its tricks
and tired of itself.  Time,
thinks winter, for a vacation.
Time to attend to those thighs.
Time enough to go
and come back ravenous
and roaring one more time.

Nancy: Waiting for a day of mild air, a day when I might take a deep breath and hum an old tune from my childhood.

Now Rises April

as from a winter sleep
     as from a dark constellation

April rises: birdsong, watersong
     green shoots, promise of flowers

saltmarsh perfume, call of shorebirds
     as from a dark sleep

I rise, surprised, take a step
     toward rising light

toward the promise of flowers
     an old woman


fair, fair is the morning

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snow On The Windows \ Climbing March Hill #4

Nancy: When the windows are obliterated with whirling blowing snow, only the mind can escape.

Snow On The Windows

a landscape
a geology textbook
a campsite at Jumbo Rocks
a canyon, walking deep into history
a rolling meadow
a cave
Mount Kailas, streaming cloud
I might say
    I am shut in
    yes, I am shut in

Alan: Snowstorm after snowstorm, six feet, nine feet, eleven feet... And yet even in this hard winter, early March hints at another season coming.

Climbing March Hill #4

You say, “Look at the sky!”
I see “bruised.”  I see “angry.”
“Livid.”  I see welts,
something stretched out wounded.
Your pain and mine, everyone’s.
Lifetimes of hurts.

I see a storm far to the south,
heavy thumb on the mid-Atlantic states.
Stranded commuters.  A jet
off the runway, almost
in the river.  People running.
I see long tongues of flame.

I see this through another window
than last time.  Another angle,
a little farther north.
I see a furnace banking itself behind spruces,
the sharp line of trees on the crest of the hill we live on.
A blindly biting mouth.

I see winter suddenly afraid of its own mortality.
I see a break in the storms, a chance for the snow to settle.
I see another cold night coming and a clear dawn,
the evening star setting west.
I see seeds waiting under the snow.
“Beautiful,” I say to you.  “Beautiful.”