Copyright ©2013 by Jeanne Weston Cook
They leap wild and uncontained
across New England lawns, and when
I try to cut one out, it re-erupts
I dig the dandelions up, boil the leaves
with salted pork and vinegar.
Bittersweet and pungent,
this stew reminds me of my mother,
who gathered the weed from the farmhouse lawn
to serve for supper.
Near the end of spring the stalk gets soft,
the resplendent head goes gray—
a puff-ball that the slightest breeze
sends floating. Seeds lodge
all summer and winter long, unseen.
One early morning, come next May,
a thousand suns will light my lawn—
banishing for just a week or two
those Puritan grays.
for my daughters
A mapmaker walks a rocky coastline,
traces the bays and inlets,
the outcrops and saliences.
But she finds, after each step,
that the shoreline isn’t as it was.
She draws lines on the map
to trace her true path, but as she breaks
them down into finer and finer fractals
the lines straighten and dissolve
into infinity. So she draws a compass rose
to bloom in a distant corner of her map
to set the true meridians,
to orient herself.
On my map, there are two such emblems.
My beautiful compass roses bloom
at the center of my life, mark
my relation to the world, remind me
of my place. They bring me back to true.
for Hazel, Medfield State Hospital, 1961
She was nineteen, carried from the music conservatory
to that gothic ward, where she spiraled down
into utter silence. I was nineteen
when they sent me there, a student taught to care
but terrified of those I came to tend. I brokered time
by playing songs on a broken-down piano
in the dayrooms of the haunted.
It started as a hum, then rose,
full-throated, just behind me—
a voice not heard for thirty years.
I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair
erupted from that soul so long considered dead.
Music, they say, lives only in the moment.
It’s memory that repeats sound in the dark, coiled recesses.
The two of us made music while I stayed.
I heard no song ever surfaced again
before she died, though fifty years later
I think of her still: the sinking, the rising up of music.
CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, BOSTON, 1963
The world funnels down to this ethereal cave
that floats above the city streets. No one
ever sleeps here, kept awake by alarms and beeps,
soft voices, peculiar light that pales the nurses,
makes blue babies even bluer.
I stand all night by the isolette, helping her
to breathe, reminding myself to breathe.
I count the blood drops in, the blood flow out,
I empty her tubes, I watch the monitor
for signs. The night bears in.
I count the minutes she’s alive,
try not to think about the mother
at the Boston Lying-In across the street,
who’s never held her child.
Just before dawn,
the monitor’s peaks flatten—
her life, less than one day long,
has been spent with me.
I remove the lines
and wrap her in a soft white shroud,
carry the two pounds of her
through hospital corridors, down
elevators, and through the heavy door.
Then from her first and only embrace
I release her finally
into the cool metal crib.
THE WATER STRIDER
Between the tiny insect on the surface
and the oval shadow-feet gliding along
the sandy bottom, is space like the air
between Jackson Pollack’s paintbrush
and his canvas, like the silence
in the nave of the cathedral
after the Lachrymosa ends.
Something in that space
swirls and rumbles in the brain.
But when a cloud covers the sun
the shadow-feet disappear.
There’s just a water strider,
walking on the pond.
At eye level, the quatrefoils are easy to find
without looking up. Visions of gruesome torture
and deaths of martyrs confirm my renunciation
of religion and the violence done in its name.
A little higher, the Gothic capitals—
leaves of oak and buttercup, branches of hop,
holly and fig. They lead my gaze still higher,
that light! Nothing
has prepared me for the fiery, jeweled
stained glass walls rising hundreds of feet,
pulling my eyes upward to a world
where Adam, Eve, Elijah, Mary,
the wise men, a carpenter gleam
in riotous color. So expert at holding back,
doubting, living in shadow,
I am stunned by this illumination
of the book my heart, however fragile,
still loves. I cannot look down.
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