SAMPLES FROM THE BOOK
copyright © 2023 by Ellen Hirning Schmidt
Snow and Roses
“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”
my father asks no one in particular,
his big hand over my little one as we
stroll past seaside cottages swaddled in scrabbly rose blooms.
And even at five, I know what he means.
Now when I look at roses,
impossibly garish ones planted in front of public buildings
or the swoon-filled, lust-petaled blossoms
lazing gracefully on big unruly bushes,
I push my nose in one and breathe, eyes closed.
As June weeks move on, petals drop one by one,
fall in a thin ruby carpet,
first lustrous, then brown, curled, and damp.
And I think of snows and roses and my father,
all so here, all so gone.
“You were the only one,”
he told her.
Randy, blond, blue-eyed
crush of all the girls
in Mrs. Addis’ fifth grade,
playing spin the bottle
at Lynn McPhail’s birthday party,
dashing in his Boy Scout uniform.
Randy’s dad at the annual Firemen’s Carnival
selling chance tickets.
Randy’s dad called out one night,
Randy going along in the big red engine,
watching flames engulf the Jensens’ house,
watching his dad step on that live wire.
At the 50th high school reunion,
he told her.
“You wrote a letter to me then
to say how sorry,”
“You were the only one.”
Last week an old friend’s son called.
He and his siblings were writing her obit.
What could I tell him, he asked, about his mother.
They knew a little, he said.
They know so little, I thought.
I hang up the phone, and in my mind
my father, dead some forty years,
voices his favorite passage
from Kahil Gibran’s “On Children”:
Your children are not your children
For they dwell in the house of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit. Not even in your dreams.
My father’s eyes water, his voice quivers;
Young me finds his recitative display maudlin.
Today I think of my children
in their cat’s cradle lives
and I want to tell them:
“Your parents are not your parents
For we dwell in the house of yesterday
Which you cannot visit. Not even in your dreams.”
My yesterday house resides firm, sturdy,
My today house, assembled such a long time
in fragile parchment, even if strong at the broken places.
Wherever I stand, the bridges
between our houses, my children’s and mine,
each disappear, dissolve midway.
We each view bridges
to nowhere discernible.
There can be no crossing.
I lie next to the open window
listening to the sounds of frogs
and nameless night creatures.
Drunken trees darken the space
surrounding the house this night.
But I cannot help seeing
how the sky glows bright
from the jeweled city a few miles away,
how this light blanches the silken sky,
how it enters the room,
grabs fistfuls of my restful darkness.
I have heard that there exist
a few havens that lie very still
under the airy dark quilt
on our future-borrowing planet,
where blue-black evenings
merge into the close and holy darkness,
where light takes an utter holiday,
where night nourishes all,
while creatures hunt,
plants pause from making food –
these places where I imagine
brain, bone, and blood burgeon
in black satin sleep.
Night’s nourishment comes
with the drink of sleep
in a long unmeasured blink.
Now black foliage slides into shadows
moments before sleep sweeps me away.
When I will awaken hours later,
still night time measured by clock,
my eyes half closed, half open,
the high moon will flood
the garden with a light far brighter
than distant stars or nearby planets.
If I could hold one day
in the palm of my hand,
it would be this day
in September, goldenrod
waving slender yellow fingers
in sunshine, in the fall of summer.
If I could hold one mouthful of this day,
it would be the turgid tomato
bursting its glistening guts to teeth and tongue
and shirt. If I could see the contour of this day,
it would be this bumble bee’s bottom
backing out of this blue morning glory.
How many bumble bees’ backsides?
How many bursting tomatoes?
How many fields of goldenrod?
Step Right Up & Try Your Luck
Just one bolt of lightning
fried the answering machine,
as it had two weeks earlier.
What are the chances?
It took only one train to kill my sister.
Strange hand, finger on an unknown trigger,
cocked without aim
in absurd Russian Roulette.
one shoe or another will drop.
or dread disease
might claim victory.
Of course, there’s a chance
that an errant comet will
take care of all of us at once.
Last night the wind formed
archipelagos of slippery pine needles
with dry oak leaves
into gliding mines on the road.
This morning, picking my way
in the channels between them
in another game
of chance, I am
armed to the teeth
Mining in Upstate New York
Lilo, fifteen months old, tucked into her stroller
as I push in the chill of early April.
We walk in that spring of 2020,
my husband and I, our son and his wife.
From under her quilt a mittened hand escapes.
Pointing to the saffron sprays of forsythia
lining the side of the road, she shouts
“Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh! Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh!”
Glancing at bushes of yellow wands,
we smile, straighten the stroller cover,
and resume our conversation
about these new Zoom meetings.
We pass a yard boasting golden daffodils
“Yeh-yoh, yow-yoh!” She claps her red mittens.
The grown-ups nod, caught up in the strain
of this strange new world.
For a half mile she shouts and points again
and again at buttery bushes, at blond blossoms.
Wrapped and snuggled, she affirms
her urgent claim.
Under the endless, dreary clouds
she’s panned for gold,
struck it rich,
rapt in her new wealth.
A red eft salamander wriggles across our road
as together my neighbor and I walk six feet apart.
“It’s all going to hell in a hand basket,” she says as I
lean down, reach my thumb and forefinger
around the soft orange body,
long and flexible like a young string bean,
so supple, so squashy.
“We’ll not survive it,” she adds.
I place the newt near the watery ditch on the side of the road
where she seemed to be heading.
“No income. No food. No health care.”
I see another tiny orange body, carry her across
to the other side, where she seems to be journeying.
And then there’s another one going the same way
and I carry her too.
Each time we walk another round in the neighborhood,
another squiggly amphibian wiggles
her tender body on rain-drop feet, making her way
one way or another.
In the end, nine salamanders
airlifted to the other side.
We too go home to our houses.
Waving good-bye, she smiles and calls,
“See you tomorrow!”