This Thing We Call Mortality

When do we apprehend our mortality?
When we look into the mirror and see the same face we saw yesterday?
When we wake stiff and hurting from a night of frequent tosses and turns?
When we look to the left and then to the right and to the left again and to the right again?
When we forget the names of the flowers in the garden we have silently tended year after year?
No.

When we look into the eyes of a child and see the wonder of what is new,
When we observe the tender expression of restrained passion in the faces of young lovers,
When we look at the straight lines and right angles of buildings mounted on the graves of forests,
When we watch as friends and acquaintances of long standing drift silently by as we sit quietly here,
Then we apprehend our mortality.

April 2018

Who Am I to Say?

Below a bright, white sun there were clouds
     Scudding across the clear, sharp sky,

First white and puffy, then flattening and smearing,
     And now faded into a grey obscurity.

I know who I am – says the Black girl.
     Yo sé quién yo soy – dice el abuelo.

We know who we are – say the Grange men.
     We are who we have always been – say the Lakota.

I am not who you say I am – says Samira,
     But I know who I am. So who are you to say?

Who are we? And who am I to say,
     If we have faded into grey obscurity?

January 2018

Now It Is Really Winter

 

It is cold and it has been cold for days,

The cold that singes your cheeks

And makes your eyes run,

And your tears freeze.

Burningly cold.

 

So cold and dry the air feels like sand.

So cold that even with thick socks and mittens

Feet and hands feel buried in cold, sharp, dry sand

Drawing out the heat and moisture

Desiccately cold.

 

And it is quiet, dead still and cut off.

The windows and doors are closed and sealed

Two, even three deep, holding the cold dead air,

And curtained. The heavy drapes

Silencing the whoosh of traffic,

The thud of human steps

And the birds brittle song.

Deafeningly cold.

 

Inside, closed in and cut off as in a crypt,

Alone, holding a weeks-long breath of arctic air,

Staring at the white blankness of paper,

I chip words out of my frozen thoughts

As I listen to the booming in the walls

And the cracking of encasing ice.

Perhaps it is terminally cold,

Mummifyingly cold.

January 2018

Three days of rain

The rain comes, relentless,
Tapping out the rhythm of solitude.
As it darkens again, vision diminishes again,
And time is stretched out farther still.
Alone, how do I comfort myself,
When, alone, I cannot confront myself?
The cat follows me around the house
Feeling exposed to the haunting damp?
And yet on it rains and rumbles.
The plashing of a car ebbing and flowing
Outside as things are washed away.
Inside they are not;
Inside it is already empty.
Outside a downpour,
Inside a deluge of solitude.

    May 2017

To Be a Goldfinch

The goldfinches gather at the feeders by our kitchen window.

They cling to the metal netting surrounding the nyjer seed,

Pecking and eating, pecking and eating.

They must eat nearly their weight in the diminishing seed

To provide the heat to endure the cold

In the eight windy, sub-zero hours of daylight.

 

They cling and peck and eat and peck and eat and peck and eat.

And they will start all over again at dawn tomorrow

Pecking and eating, pecking and eating.

And they will do so the day after, and the day after,

Until the weather warms and they begin to molt.

And soon come the eggs and the young.

 

Then they can flit and sing into summer’s warmth,

When their melodic songs trill out

And their yellow plumes light up the days.

They cling and peck and eat only sparingly now,

Awaiting the harvest of autumn when they will begin to prepare

To survive another winter of deep cold and bitter winds.

 

They will come around again to where they were before and before and before.

Gathering at the feeders by our kitchen window,

Clinging to the metal netting surrounding the nyjer seed,

Pecking and eating, pecking and eating.

 

And when they fail to find enough,

And they drop to the ground,

To be eaten by cats and rot and time,

They next generation will carry on,

Clinging and pecking and eating,

Day after day, year after year, generation after generation,

Pecking and eating, pecking and eating.

 

January 2017

Indian Winter

Indian winter

A week of warmth

Then cold and snow

Wet and heavy

Bending branches

It’s only March

This can go on for weeks

Then wind and rain

Spring

The season of mud and broken limbs

Summer

The immutable promise

That it will happen

But what will it bring?

Promises

Like what we wish for

Must be accepted with care

Especially when they’re mutable.

March 2015

Little Red Riding Hood, 2014

Little Red may seem pretty small.
She’s better off red than just dead.
Poor Red isn’t riding at all.
And her hood fully covers the head.

Along comes a wolf in the story.
He’s hungry, and vicious and grey.
He develops a plan very gory.
He’s devoured some kids in his day.

Disguised as a granny he’ll wait.
Ol’ granny’s are cozy and snug.
So Red should consider her fate,
And look closely at Granny’s old mug.

False comfort is comfort enough.
The truth is hard, sharp and a pain.
Little Red really isn’t too tough.
And that’s why she’s gonna’ get slain.

A wolf in disguise is a lie.
But the lie isn’t quite the real crime.
A wolf in sleep clothing is real.
Little Red will get eaten this time.

Cold Comes in January

Crows on our snow pile,

Crows in the back yard,

Our frozen crows in January

Put us on our guard. Sleek and black,

Blacker than the snow filled night,

Like the squirrels, they point north.

 

The rooster on the garage roof points north too.

You’d think there was something good coming that way.

There’s snow and wind and cold,

And it’s been coming that way all night and day.

 

It’s a January day.

The bird feeder swings back and forth

And round and round.

Sparrows jump on and off, up and down

Like children on and off

A playground merry-go-round,

Laughing, arguing, screaming with delight.

 

The wind whips and whistles,

Blowing and bending as it goes.

The temperature is sinking, and it’s early still,

But it’s not still. It’s biting.

 

The wind fills its breath with snow,

Greying the air, filling the lately shoveled walk,

Clouding the car windows,

Merging the leaf pile with the piled snow.

 

And now they’re gone,

The crows on our snow pile,

The crows in the back yard.

They soared into the tall trees,

Waiting, watching, cawing,

Waiting for January to take its toll.

January 2014

A Lamp Is Lit

Chilling ghosts drift across the heavens.

Fragile fingers spread into a stream,

A suffocating, wan December sky,

Blankets coldly, easing downward,

And, humbly, we succumb.

Thus nullified, we rest,

And try to recover and rebuild.

We breathe slowly, and invest in solemnity.

We design aimlessly and conspire with phantoms.

We plan and plot and prepare. And for what?

We wait. For waiting is the last resort,

The final function, the night watch

When all the leaves have been stripped away,

When the brown ground lies fallow

And the lifeless sky presses down.

We are left on our own, alone at last.

Our winter’s wood has all been cut and stacked.

A kettle’s on the stove. Bread is in the oven.

The door is shut and barred. A lamp is lit.

It’s quiet now, and in the evening,

Dreams, unfulfilled, drift blindly to the ground.

They calm our solitude and sanctify our peace.

And in the spring, there won’t be any tracks.

December 2013

November 2012 (revised)

When the water in the dogs’ dish
by the coffee shop door
is a broken chunk of ice,
encasing a single yellow leaf,
When the windshield grows
an inner film of mist as
the defroster tries to thaw
the rime of brittle crystals
that map an early winter vista,
When the last rich aroma of leaf mold,
the warm colors of maples and oaks,
the royal purples and peasant blues
of the asters succumb
to the first hard frost,
That’s when my mortality
stares me in the eye.
January 2014
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