SAMPLES FROM THE BOOK
copyright © 2022 by Rennie McQuilkin
Against the Storm
for Lorrie and Chuck
The pestilence of 2020 directs them,
he to a new life of painting focused
He sets them in windows facing the sun.
When its rays level with their translucent life-
saving lanterns, they shine for anyone at sea.
And she has created globes of colorful yarn
recalling the rope sailors coil around heavy stones:
attached to hawsers they throw to those on wharfs
who pull them in for safe harboring
no matter what storms might batter them.
She has set out bowls of her own Monkey Fists
like many-colored hydrangeas
assembled to preserve lost beauty, haul us back to it.
A “willing suspension of disbelief” is a saving
grace, according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Strange how it always seems to happen.
A heron stands in for my departed father,
looking my way insistently, not minding
its own business that first day without him;
a loon floats back and forth below the bluff
behind my friend’s house on Grand Isle, not
diving or working the waters, just being there
for days after her husband’s death.
No doubt we read too much into these things,
but this morning, a few minutes before
the service for my friend, a late Monarch drifts
(doesn’t dart or flit but drifts) over a pond,
before a few last takings-in preceding its long
migration to Mexico, riding thermals,
bound for Michoacan, one of a thousand thousand
Spirits of the Departed arriving
on the Day of the Dead.
Something in us deeper than reason,
simple as prayer, willingly suspends its disbelief.
9.26.20 (for Margy and Martha)
Windows have become my world –
I look out from mine at theirs
across the pond, six picture windows,
each with its own display. I like the one
with circus animals lining the sill
straight from the big top of their collector.
Through the window of my imagination
they perform all night: tigers dive
fiery hoops, bears dance, seals applaud . . .
Two smaller windows hedge the one
where the animals line up all day, waiting,
both windows with shades drawn at night.
At daybreak I see the shades,
first one, then the other, tremble slightly
and slowly rise like eyes opening to
take in the day, adjusting to its demands.
The circus animals freeze in place – but only
until the night sets them free.
New Year’s Morning 2021
At midnight last night, New Year’s Eve 2020,
after an at-home lobster extravaganza,
I found myself in the Recycle Room
at this home for the aged, removing remnants
of the feast, shell and toxic tomalley, wishing
to dispose of the year, whose horror persists.
This morning, having refilled the bird feeder
with a dessert of crushed, cream-colored peanuts,
I watch a winter goldfinch up from the field,
a bit gold-bibbed despite the desolation of winter,
gorging in this leanest of seasons. On and on
the finch indulges, eye to eye with me at the window.
I am listening to a simulcast of the New Year’s Day
concert from Vienna, for encore “The Blue Danube,”
written by Strauss the Younger to revive the spirits
of the Viennese after the loss of so many
in a terrifying battle finishing off the previous year.
Like Strauss and like the finch, I will persevere.
On the Enlarging of Diminishment
As parts of me fall away,
legs growing lean, chest caved,
might and mane diminishing,
I feel my spirit enlarge like
a child’s birthday balloon let go
into the sky, its skin thinning,
the breath expanding within it
and all the colors expressing it
about to be released, scattered
into the greater world
full of a light more stunning
than its own.
Nature’s first green is gold – Robert Frost
How fine these sunny-sides this morning
collaborating with February’s first gold.
Beyond the pond’s sleeping red-gold koi,
BJ’s old gilt-back ceramic tortoise
is out from under a lid of snow to ogle
the local gold. Crocus? Such amazement!
Last night’s warm wind has whipped away
winter’s decent snow-white covers,
exposing the pleasure of the young lovers.
Blessèd scavengers, bacilli, wings from the sky
recycle inglorious remains, put death to use,
refine life’s mess and welcome it to eternity.
Deep down where rot rounds into purity
detritus decaying prepares the way for bloom,
dirt restoring like scavengers, wings in the sky.
From deadest fell of timber, nurse logs lushly
feed saplings born of bacteria – skyward shoots
recycling the forest, welcoming it to eternity.
Circling above, buzzards and crows keep an eye
out for gore incensing high heaven and dive to
reuse it – big wingers scavenging, down from sky.
From possums changing dead mice to dime-size
young in birth pouches – to God giving us room
in the end – scavengers, bacilli, wings in the sky
refine life’s mess and welcome it to eternity.
I was still terrified in 1946. The war
raged on in me. I’d seen too much
at Loew’s before Bambi – war news,
disaster on disaster.
When rain fell heavily four days straight,
I feared what it meant. In one of my
dreams, torrents tore tiles from the roof
and I made sure my war surplus life raft
was ready, filled with dry surplus food.
Now, 75 years later, it goes on.
A friend of mine saw the waters rise
to the murals of San Marco in Venice
so high the flood touched the base
of a rainbow sending Good News to Noah.
My friend and I talk Apocalypse.
But she knows better than I what to do.
She does not blame the water.
It has its uses, she says, and collects it
in a rain barrel rigged to water her garden.
She has no illusions
but still goes on tending her garden.
She is nicking dozens of sweet pea seeds
with a nail clipper, splitting them just
enough to make the most of the waters.
for Joan Cox
How serpentine the writhe of
orchid roots, pale snarl of them.
But see the glory above,
as I did for weeks
when my dear, departed, left me
a favored orchid’s mauve blooms:
weeks of lofty elegance
reminding me of hers
before the shriveled petal-fall.
Why I kept the potful of roots
God knows. Then one root rose
as if to take in the sun.
I watched, amazed, as it budded
and flowered, mauve
wing after wing of her unfurling.
The Clock and I
It too is a grandfather.
I visit each day to see if all’s well
since it too has issues,
is compulsive, runs fast, abruptly
stops, needs me to hold its hand
and gently nudge it until we share
the time of day.
I wind the works
then tick the pendulum.
For the time being, not a second
separates us. It will not last
but I will keep at it.
Such labor love is, but O the worth!
In the grey time before dawn, my sins
pass before me, enormous, a stench, must do
their stint of heavy lifting – like so many
parading elephants tail to trunk, trunk to tail,
on their way to a huge canvas flat-out on
a dark fairground. The beasts strain, pull
ropes attached to three center poles,
and the canvas stirs, billows up . . .
The trapezes are lifted high, cubes are readied
for the performing seals, and soon the show
gives the lie to the dirt of the place.
Twenty clowns pile out of a tiny car, delighting,
and now a muscled man in shining tights catches
his beautiful partner midair. Around and around
they go, the bareback riders blowing kisses . . .
I rise for the day, getting on without a net.
I step out on a long line. I pray I will not fall again.
Solstice Celebration in a Time of Pandemic
It is Winter Solstice, time to beat back the dark
with noise-making. I blow a bird whistle
that makes the raucous kree of a red-tailed;
another beats a copper pot with a soup spoon;
a third rings a ship bell.
On our 5th floor corridor at the retirement center
this night of nights, we’re fine feathered
in our multicolored masks and gaudy doodads,
one in bare feet and pj’s, one up from a lower level,
looking for kindred souls. A lower level . . .
Unmentioned, deep down is a dark we would undo
with our December mardi-gras’ing. Beyond revelry,
Death stalks our corridors, the Virus bringing in
reinforcements daily. And even without the coup
de grâce of plague, endings are endemic here. Truth is
we’re making our ruckus to rout extinction,
putting a hex on whatever afflicts our dear ones,
banging away at disaster.
First sight at dawn, she’s tightly swaddled
in blankets pulled around her,
seems bound for the Egyptian Underworld . . .
No, the wraps are closer to a silk moth’s
cocoon. The slightest stir’s within.
I rise and wait, relying on coffee and biscuit,
collecting the least crumbs
with a fingertip, tasting them, savoring
all that is left – most of all her, remembering
how she reached deep in the womb of a ewe,
turned the lamb, pulled him out by the forelegs;
how she dug buried spuds, held them up to view.
I am willing her to break free of her wrappings,
flush, come back to me to taste the elixir I offer
and drink day in once more, no underworld for her.