I thought I’d be a boy,
that by some miracle
I could be that child
my father needed.
I wore shorts, cut my hair,
stood, like my Dad, at the bowl.
It didn’t work. I had to face
the other way and half undress
to lower myself and sit.
I learned to throw and catch,
play cowboy, climb trees,
called myself “Tom Train,”
yet nothing seemed to make up
for the lack of proper equipment.
He gave me a new knife, taught
me to whittle: Keep your fingers
behind the blade. I still bear
the scar where that shiny blade sliced
my finger deep and blood-red blood
spurted. Gram called the doctor;
I spent the day, finger on ice.
I had wanted to be a boy he could love.
Her father must have sensed
her adventurous spirit
when he took her with him
on his yearly mission to the summit,
resetting crosses that marked the lost.
Each year he told the story
of that bright August day
tourists set out to wander the summit
ill-dressed, unprepared for the treacherous snow
squalls which hurled blasts from the Great Gulf.
The train which had borne them up
whistled piercing blasts
but left without them.
A year later, their bodies discovered,
crosses were set in warning and remembrance.
In frigid summer air the path, the huts below
appear and vanish,
lost minute to minute in the clouds
which tear across the saddle, obliterating
the child excitedly dancing ahead of the group.
I see her again,
bounding up the slopes,
knobby rock-scarred limbs akimbo.
Oh mountain! Remember her
with all those other lost.
ice. No sterile wasteland this
but a splendid wilderness
continent of mountains,
glaciers, penguins, leopard seals—
earth’s skin here is white,
reflecting all frequencies of light.
Sailing in the Southern Ocean,
mountains of seas to climb,
borne in on a storm “force nine”
my fellow travelers pale.
I revel in the screaming gale.
Part of me is a petrel singing its song,
part an albatross, lumbering along,
and part is the poet
doing what she’d planned to do
with her one wild and precious life.
in boots, parka and vest,
I climb a headland, fall
into a crevasse, test my limits,
proud to survive and know
I’ve left my footprints in that snow.
Sometimes in the early morning
when I wake, bruised by reality
and everything I see
reminds me of tasks undone,
I flee to that room in the tower,
arriving at the cool dark foyer
with its heavy Spanish furniture
outside the recessed hallway
that gives entrance to a room bathed in light,
not hospital white but rich vanilla.
In this chamber, under the embossed coverlet
I re-awake, lie on my back,
feel the silky sheets caress me,
sense sunlight through weighty white drapes.
Down at my left hand, close to the wooly rug
a small clerestory window,
put there for me to turn my head
and look lazily down at the swimming pool,
chaises carelessly placed,
opulent towels draped over like fallen women.
I am Rapunzel, not waiting to be rescued.
I do not open the windows to the world outside:
I will not hear the world clanging
or its strident sirens.
The sound I hear is rich white silence.
The “nest” was four twigs
on a hot air vent jutting
from my neighbor’s wall,
a beachhead they’d built
on the narrow grid despite
the icy sprays I squirted at them.
Poor bird! my neighbor wailed
as I snapped a white towel
and AWKed like Big Bird.
(Experts promised this would work.)
Unmoved by my terrorist tactics,
her mate now crowded in beside her.
A flap of my towel unsettled them.
Later I looked to see if they’d
called it quits, but there
she sat, batting her eye at me
in a charming sidelong glance.
Young women must have learned
their courting skills from doves.
She was an expectant mother after all.
Fifteen days to hatch,
fifteen days to fledge: a month
of low throated
warbly coo-oos at five a.m.
Next day I woke to a storm—
hard rain pounding the wall.
Looking out, I met the power washer
By unspoken agreement
We do not look at each other’s bodies.
Oh I peek, but I do not let the others
see that I see.
Perhaps they peek the same way at me.
But in truth, there isn’t much to see.
Here we all droop; some of us stoop
in the getting in or the getting out.
Here comes the Rabbi. I can tell him from
the flap-flop of his arms as he swims along
on his backstroke lap.
The man with the artificial leg
water-walks, making scarcely a ripple
as he paddles up and down.
In the corner is one who ceaselessly sings
World War II songs.
Now long-limbed, lean women streak down the lanes:
a bevy of beauties flashes by,
a school of multi-colored fish.
An indolent young man
who takes his rounded limbs for granted
presides over the pool.
Belying his straight spine, he sprawls in exhaustion
in his lifeguard’s chair while we, the truly expended,
put ourselves to tests that tell us we are still alive.
Back in the locker room, I swaddle myself in a towel,
put one withered leg in panty hose, turn to see myself
in the mirror and meet my younger self, superimposed.
A tan young woman, all points and juts
and black bushiness at the joining
fills her black bra with flamboyant breasts.
I pull on my undershirt.
Stubborn old man
curled in his corner
like a scruffy dog,
his house assailed by stale smoke
from the broken pipe stem
he clenches in his jaw.
T-shirt with holes,
pants that never knew a crease,
crippled feet that shoes don’t fit.
Days’ stubble on his jaw,
hair carelessly chopped
in the few minutes he can steal
from his ceaseless care
of the old wife who sits beside him.
She droops in her corner, a sunflower
gone to seed, head heavy,
stem bent, nodding.
Body so thin he can count every bone.
Mind as vacant as a deserted house.
God knows this old man’s worth
who gives his strength for her
last days on earth.
A community of lady bugs has settled in.
Obeying the biblical imperative,
they’ve explored and colonized,
increased and multiplied.
And they’ve taken over
Hard-shelled, soft-tummied bugs.
This must be their mating season.
Clumps of lady bugs—like football players
in a huddle behind the line of scrimmage,
their arms around each other,
their numbers on their backs,
red and black their team colors.
Finding ladybugs between the sheets,
I’ve lost my taste for sleeping in that bed.
Hurrah! Hurrah! they shout.
We’ve driven the people out!
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