SAMPLES FROM THE BOOK
copyright © 2023 by Rennie McQuilkin
War has invaded us.
Nothing seems real but homes blasted,
their rubble littered with shoes torn off,
spines of books, parts of stuffed animals
and their owners.
Refugees bearing little but loss clog roads
and are strafed.
This should be a joyful time. Spring is near
and the Great Migration of amphibians
searching for safe haven in wetlands
has started – salamander, wood frog, newt,
and peeper (Hyla crucifer bearing a dark cross).
This year, too aware of the terrible odds,
I pray for them, for all migrants.
On the Possibility of Renewal
Last night my son called to say he was cheered
for the first time in months. Maybe the world
was not ending, maybe tyranny was in retreat,
maybe war mongers would be upended abroad
and civil war avoided here, our own monger
manacled. “Listen,” he said, “to the late reports.”
I couldn’t find the remote to tune in,
searched everywhere and in my distraction
felled a leaning tower of books, left them lying on
the floor, too much like the unburied dead
on the streets of a war-ravaged land.
This morning, in the unbooked space on my desk,
the remote, which did not fall with all around it,
turns up, a survivor bearing, I hope, good news.
I raise bodies of knowledge sprawled on the floor
in their colorful jackets,
try to imagine them as revelers at a wedding.
Hunting for Tees
Once I went with my usually commanding father
across acres of links wet with dew
to the 16th hole, the tee box on a knoll,
to hunt for halved remains of many-colored tees
hidden like bight fish in the rough beyond,
sent spinning by eight and nine irons.
We knelt down to find yellow, white, red beauties.
When I found a few perfect tees, I tossed them
to Father, closer than I would ever be
after gin and whiskey replaced me in his affections.
Every so often I’d take out my jar of splintered tees.
I cherish the cut-glass tumbler
from which I drink my cider,
not because the glass is perfect
but because it is not – a chip
on the grin of its rim
recalls my mother’s chipped tooth.
Holding up the tumbler to admire
the chicory engraved on it, her flower,
my hand fades into hers
as she feels the petals and stems
of the chicory. She sips her last, lifts
the tumbler, sees me through its lens.
Magnified, I am more than I was.
Tree Ceremony by the Farmington River
Kayak paddles sign figure 8’s, small symbol of infinity
in this temporary eternity
by the clear-flowing Farmington reflecting
sky where elements of David mingle and commune
with multitudes, returned to their beginning.
Bald eagles gyre to make much of the abundance
our departed friend loved as he would love this maple
we’ve planted in his name, a tree for all seasons, a tree
into whose opening in earth we shovel dirt like the grave
of death, a tree whose roots reach to clasp other roots
as we clasp David to ourselves.
Saint Lizara of the Shell Convenience Store
I reach Hartford’s Asylum Hill, but how to find a way
to the heart of the city? Road blocks, neon cops, carnival
in full swing. Floats of revelers, punk rock blasting.
Detour. Take Broad toward Frog Hollow. Wrong lane!
Swerve right. Not far enough to miss a concrete divider.
Which is why two wheels are kaput where I park now
by a Shell convenience store, forlorn enough
to attract locals who scent blood, are moving in by foot
and two in a boom box car. Do I need help, a ride?
Maybe protection? Could I spare two dollars?
Hardly all the king’s men. I make it inside to the counter.
Smokes, lottery tickets, Pepsi? No? So what do I need,
she asks. She has magenta nails, big copper hair, a smart
phone. Would she call Triple A and Rent-a-Wreck?
She would, magenta thumbnails quick as lizards.
She gives me a Milky Way, won’t accept my two dollars.
Before I know it, I’m back on Broad, then headed down
Capitol to the reception. Soon champagne is popping
like a handgun or tires exploding. I hear
just the tap of magenta nails dancing like angelic lizards.
Saint Mother Teresa
She was too busy for miracles. For years they found
only one, the necessary second elusive. Her work was
earthly: feeding untouchables, washing lepers, brokering
a truce to save children stranded in a bombed-out clinic,
seeing to it that Muslims dying in a Calcutta hospice
received the Koran, Hindus water from the Ganges,
Protestants communion. “A good death,” she said,
“is for people who lived like animals to die like angels.”
She was a problem for Rome,
had doubts, sometimes felt forsaken, knew
her tongue to “move in prayer but not speak.” In an ICU
for a heart attack, she was exorcised by an Archbishop
who announced Satan had taken up residence in her
when in fact it was a Pacemaker, which gave her a few
more years to scour the world for those she held
worthier than she to be salvaged.
By blood, she said, she was Albanian, by citizenship
Indian, by faith Catholic. But her calling, “the calling
within the calling,” was from the world. She was herself
the miracle required.
The spring moon has blossomed. It’s a week from Easter,
a time for celebrating, repeating Christ’s
procession into Jerusalem. We wind around churches.
A friend has placed a cross of palms outside the door
through which my wife and I are expecting
our son to come for a reunion. Any time now he will enter
our small world again,
come into the Jerusalem of our hearts.
But we worry: his blood count’s low, an aneurysm latent.
Arriving, he bears richly plush pussy willows.
He always knows what we need. How apt that in the Ukraine
(under siege like him) pussy willows, old symbols of rebirth,
have always replaced palms on Palm Sunday. May Ukrainians
again touch loved ones with the lush fur of willow catkins
as now I touch my son. Oh my dear, long life, long life.
Fable of the Pigeons
in the voice of Kathy Carle
How could I have been so wrong?
I saw them as a bane, doing nothing
but swirl like a whirlpool at the base
of my neighbor’s bird feeder,
mounting and being mounted,
or sitting like gargoyles on a roof,
On my porch’s greensward of carpet
a pair of them is home-making.
He returns and returns with sticks,
feathers, moss, and bits of batting.
She continues to sit in a corner
piling around her all he brings,
making a nest in the image of Pigeon
and pushing out two tan eggs.
He takes the day shift and she the night,
neon-bright eyes cocked. And in due
course, two small yellow-tipped beaks
break through, tiny heads gold-crowned.
I watch her go to the rim of the porch
after a sleep-in, looking up into the sky,
waiting for him to return.
He does, always, looking positively
iridescent (blues and greens like Earth
seen from a distance),
his crop full, ready to take on the feeding.
If I was so wrong about them, how much
more might I be mistaken about –
you and you I am ready to think better of.
Sipping from the round of my morning cup,
running a finger about its rim like tuning a wine glass,
I watch the turnings of this revolving world:
a tiger swallowtail inscribing circles over the lantana
and black-eyed Susans, and above, a day-moon circling
toward the west at the tip of a contrail curling
over the round of Earth;
and all those rounds of August bloom, so many colors
cycling from hue to hue, the purples of the hibiscus
starting to fade, the late whites of the rhodos beginning
beside the circling red and purple koi.
I’m dizzy when I add the many ways that all else turns:
the Earth spinning counter-clockwise,
the solar system describing its own circle
within the galaxy revolving in a universe expanding
like the hide of an immense balloon that everything rides
at the speed of light, and I a speck on it in my small
cycling through the seasons of life.
Dizzy, yes, but not with vertigo. Such joy, underscored
by the contrail of that tiny plane rounding out delight,
full day moon at its tip – exclamation point in the sky!
for my daughter Eleanor
Her living room at last is done, shelves ready
for the books, volumes and volumes, some
from her namesake’s pen, generations of books.
She loves the living room’s colors, saffron softer
than pale narcissus, tints of green more subtle
than olive leaves coming and going in a breeze.
Light, after such rain, pours through tall windows,
folding her in this moment of respite from so much
restoration. The sun moves, vague planchette,
over the sheen of the fresh paint and sunflowered
wallpaper. She watches it, as if on a “Spirit Board,”
coalesce to the oval of a brooch, a locket she could
almost open . . . and does – faces fading into faces.
The eyes, like the new sky, become whose –
her mother’s, Norwegian blue, gone so recently,
and now her grandmother Eleanor’s
and her namesake’s, back and back, no end to it . . .
How long this continues she has no idea.
In the end a cloud passes over the sun,
the locket closes, fades, is gone. She remembers
all she must do before nightfall.
Still, she has seen and will see again and again.