In Our Bed
My grandmother’s bed,
a boat for dreams,
its mahogany posts reaching up
to a white laced canopy sky
that hung over us on warm nights.
The tall windows welcomed
a hazy sun for yellow mornings,
opening our days from the east.
She would tell her stories:
her childhood, her nine brothers,
her father the minister,
a man who lost
three wives to early death.
Stories about stepmothers, their pictures
on her hallway wall. Her uncles
whittled and whispered on the front porch—
you know how family can do that?
Her eyes would gauze over when she
was sleepy. She talked about Sweet
Jesus on those honey mornings.
She would stand in front of her mirror,
a tall woman. I am like that.
Her gray blonde hair full and thick
hung like a waterfall.
She looked in her box of jewelry to find
round earrings. Each day she wore
a flowered cotton dress, her tiny ankles bare.
My grandfather had his own room.
I played in a sunny spot with trinkets,
his gifts to me from a bottom drawer.
After his travels she would lie with him
in his brown bed, and learn the news.
They would talk and talk and talk.
I stayed up all night with that book,
fourteen, my first novel, stolen from my parents’ library,
falling for all the characters, and the next day
I saw one of them on the street at dusk.
I walked close to him, or he walked close to me.
It happened naturally, how my hands trembled
when he reached toward me, or I thought he did,
though we did not touch. This is how I learned
to turn for refuge to a book, find hope in its pages,
project it to my world, make everyone I knew
become more available than the ghosts
they had been before.
She stands in shifting light and shadow on the side porch
and feels the morning breeze lift her hair.
She understands this as invitation
and takes the blue broom,
anticipates the movement of sweeping her porch,
the twisting, turning effort from side to side,
moving leaves, small sticks,
crusts of blossoms, and brush left from summer.
In the November short light, she sweeps,
not thinking of anything else,
not how she misses her brother,
wishes he were on her side,
not about the coming breakup,
not about where she lives, or if she should move,
not of work.
The only focus is movement. She becomes the move,
the rhythmic flow, side to side, swish, swish, push.
She turns and sees a vee of geese.
She feels the memory of her dead grandmother in her own back
because she’s moving that same way, the way she saw
her grandmother preparing her garden, then, and talking
for hours with her neighbor-lover, amidst the confederate roses,
the magnolias, the extended sadness, yes, the shade under
the deep green leaves.
She imagines next year’s container plants on her small porch:
miniroses, tomatoes, flat leaf parsley.
This is why she doesn’t use the electric leaf blower.
I am so in love with you.
What more do I need
to know about you?
You say your mother,
your father, your uncle
too, all in prison for
What does that matter?
They will never come
You say your twin
brother is a chronic
paranoid schizophrenic murderer.
What do I care?
Your eyes are like
onyx jewels. So what
about your brother.
You tell me your
family are actually
werewolves and you must
prowl together when the
moon is full.
I, always the beginner,
dazzled by the new,
what do I care!
I want to marry you!
The Dead Woman Discovers Herself
The dead woman knew better than to cross the rivers.
Better to walk the rooms under moon glow, drift through walls,
slip behind framed photos and paintings at sunrise.
Each day at four she rose carefully through the sidewalk
or the grass with her small collie.
They would walk the streets. On Thursdays, the day
of trash collection for the living, they crossed at the corner
and paced behind the barrels all night.
Some afternoons she would throw a stick for collie. You know
ghosts are more visible in the afternoons.
Singing or crying or chanting without a throat,
or even knocking without an arm, was to her
an amazing accomplishment.
But if she crossed the river
there was no returning to the house.
Saying Something About Singing the Blues
I’m writin’ about the blues today –
some days they drive me crazy.
Today they’re for Franny, ’cause it’s been so bad for her.
She told me all about it. She knows
the blues from before she moved north,
and she knows, I know, what she’s talkin’ about.
Thinkin’ about Alabama, that other country
where she lived before moving here.
She already told me she was born under a bad sign –
there was a curse on her at her birthday,
and the low down blues was always waitin’ for her
behind the door
or under the bushes she was standin’ next to outside her place
or even here, up North, in New England.
She said the bad blues are like a slow poison.
Those sad, sad blues. Most often, they’re a cloud
hangin’ over your head, follow you everywhere
and move down into your body, curve it forward.
She’d sing, “I’m born under a bad sign,
a really evil, mean-faced time, that slow, mean, southern
can’t-remember-how-to-get-out-of-bed, sticky-day time.”
She could sing those blues in two-four rhythm.
She could sing and beat the black out of her heart
on her blues harp, and the spirit was in her singin’.
And the rhythm and the spirit would be what saved her.
Voices from the Collective Dead
stay with us. They nestle in New England maples,
southern oaks and trees across the world. Listen,
and they will tell you:
We are not gone forever, we are not the beast, we are not hungry
and have no teeth. We are the losses, one and all together, the We,
and we watch.
Our eyes see you, and more. We exist all times and watch
from every place. We see you through the eyes of a brown lizard
on a branch shifted by evening breeze.
We look up from the river bed, we see you from a dark chip of flint.
We are the pond turtle settled in the silt for winter,
we are October wasps opening our winter holes
in the waiting earth. We slip down shafts of sun to find
a dark and hiding fish. We see it all, but most of all
we see you on the street, in offices, buying and selling,
seated at a bar, or walking in the sun. We see the babies birthing,
astonished again at the news of coming life.
Wolves in November Dream
She hasn’t seen them in months, years,
but there they are, back again, smoke gray,
one white against the more-white snow,
Wolves around the house, the car,
circling and circling, in the dream a pack
of five...not unfriendly...protectors?
Earlier that night she went down a different
road. Later adjusted the bedroom window
with a small opening to take in the night
a wind, warm for this time of year with trees
humming, moving against the dark air.
What is it – this dream that repeats,
the hidden mystery of each ordinary night?
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