Copyright © 2019 by Robert Rennie McQuilkin
for Kathy Carle and Dick Martindale
I caught her stalking a hallway near the repair shop,
a Great Blue Heron tucked under her arm
protruding like a dislocated figurehead,
finding the air of the retirement community empty
of fishes, not like the koi pond where it had been
knocked silly to the ground, its wooden leg broken.
But there’s life support there where elders go
to die, which they refuse to do, e.g., Carpenter Dick,
who took the heron into the shop and gave it
a leg to stand on, which now gives it a view of
the koi who play hard to get but are a constant joy
to the slender, elderly heron, too old to do anything
about it, but not too old to revel in such goings on.
for Jeff Dugan
Stone was his undoing, shattered him
so effectively that all the doctors’ surgeries
and endless rehab services
could barely put him together again.
And cancer was wild to complete the work,
attacking so many organs
it’s a wonder he’s here, hurting but hale,
his cancers at bay at this solstice ceremony
encouraging the sun.
We beat pots, raise voices, rattle all we can
to rout the dark,
and he reads his poem, words so interlocked
and corbeled they seem carved in rock,
their title a keystone: “Newgrange at Dawn.”
He praises that Neolithic barrow mound
north of Dublin, ringed and supported by
massive stones from as far as the Mountains
of Mourne, floated down Irish rivers 3000 BC
before Stonehenge, before the great pyramids.
He reads in a strong voice, this man of stone
all but ruined by his fall down a mountain’s
granite and marble. He describes the dawn sun
on the day of Winter Solstice entering a sort
of Neolithic skylight above the entryway
at Newgrange, the way it streams down
the central corridor and strikes the stone floor
of the main chamber, filling it with an amber
glow, softening stone like a bed
to rest our hopes upon.
The Monarchs of Seabury
The sunflowers are heavy, hanging their heads.
The sun is going south.
But the zinnias (Merrill’s pine cones in drag)
flaunt their colors, and nonjudgmentally
the Monarchs are feasting on them, working
wings in an ecstasy of preparation for the long
migration to Mexico.
We elders, leaning
over the garden fence at our retirement home,
are in love with such beauty, such God-
given courage. Like the Monarchs, may we all
ride the updrafts as if we’ve always known how.
After Learning of Mary Oliver’s Demise
A great spirit has died, they say, but I see her
in this two-year-old continually releasing
her yellow balloon and watching it float away
no farther than the ceiling, providing her
with one of her bright new words: reach, reach.
She pulls in the lost balloon with a joyful cry
and runs up the hall at the retirement home
she is visiting, not at all ready to retire.
She introduces her balloon to all comers, wields
another of her names, trying it out
with various inflections: yellow, yell-o, yel-lo . . .
She will not let the Word lie low, this brand
new emissary of the Muse.
for Nancy Grover
The light talk and banter were a feast
at table, a celebration marked by crinkles
of laughter raying from her eyes –
crow’s feet delighting in the conversation
of our retirement rookery after a long day.
Nothing better. Until something was:
her thoughts on the art of collecting
the cutting-edge photography coveted by
several museums. When one of us asked
how she would define “cutting edge,”
her answer was a parable, a description
of one collectible, a snow-softened allée
in Bosnia: an archway of poplars, perfect
for meandering to a summertime wedding
after the discontents of winter, an allée
at the end of which a mass grave occupied
the place of troth. Her brows and forehead
darkened like a world eclipsed, then
with effort brightened like sky remembering
itself, despair deepening to joy as she told us
the best part of collecting was coming together
with her husband over a good Sancerre after
a day of frequenting galleries and studios:
intimate talk about the art reviewed, the joy
of disagreeing, sometime lunge and parry,
the passionate comparison of delights and jolts
from the eye of the camera – intimate talk
like the bouquet, first taste, second taste and
riposte of the Sancerre rolled on the tongue
as she and he tasted the sensuality of Thought.
At the Mardi Gras Celebration
for Libby Merrow
We built floats from pushcarts and dollies,
disguised ourselves as hipsters and courtesans,
paraded past nursing stations, waved royally,
with Father Time bringing up the rear.
It was hard work. I was hungry and bit into
a slice of King Cake, first removing a tiny doll
embedded in it, not wanting to crack my teeth.
I left the doll splayed pinkly on a coffee table.
One of the other Mardi Gras revelers, her hair
painted green and purple, took the doll gently
in hand, cleaned remnants of the cake from it,
arranged its plastic arms and legs so it looked
less like the victim of a bomb attack, and sat it
on top of a table ornament, a blue glass globe,
like an orphan saved, a great grandson
delaying the onslaught of time, or perhaps
like the Little Prince astride his asteroid.
I suddenly believe the child
in a 10¢ plastic toy from Party City may
surmount the world, may save it from itself.
3.5.19 (Mardi Gras, celebrated with King Cake
in which a Christ Child is traditionally placed)
Spring Moon in Charlie’s Courtyard
in memoriam, Charlie Ferguson
Come with me through a secluded door
to a courtyard like a Japanese monastery’s
this first night of spring and see
before we are ready
the full blooded Super Moon so low
it looks us straight in the eye as it lifts
beyond a paper birch, beyond words.
Now all the lamplights
in the courtyard ignite. Hold my hand.
3.20.19 (Spring Equinox)
We had been listening to her “mother-mumble”
deep in her throat for two weeks, the ewe imprinting
her voice on the unborn. Then the waters broke and . . .
nothing. The ewe wandered helplessly about the stall,
weakening. “They’ll both die if you don’t get that lamb
out, right away!” phoned the vet, too far afield to help.
So there we were, I with a manual on ovine obstetrics
under a flashlight in the dark sheep shed, reading aloud,
my wife pulling on long plastic gloves,
all the neighborhood children ringing the birth pen
as Sarah reached impossibly far in to the place of birth
where a lamb was reversed, facing backwards.
She turned the lamb slowly. This was taking too long –
fifteen minutes, twenty. At last, covered with sweat,
she worked the front legs forward,
and we chanted Pull, pull, pull until we feared
for her arms as she hauled the legs with both hands.
Then just like that, there it was,
a muffled bleating in an orange caul like shrink wrap.
The ewe licked it off as if nothing unusual had happened.
The cheers of the children said otherwise.
As the ewe gnawed the birth cord and ate the afterbirth,
we knew that life and death had come home to us, knew
we would never be the same.
3.29.19 (to introduce Sarah to new friends at Seabury)
The Morning After
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air . . .
William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”
More than eighty of us put heart, mind, and limb
into the biennial play, writing, building, rehearsing
for months before the week-long production.
This morning, after a spirited performance, the actors
have melted into . . . thin air, the brilliant costumes
of their revels now put away for the next show.
Those I meet in corridors, café, office suites, clinic . . .
are not dancing, are not singing,
are looking terribly ordinary in their civvies.
Mary Marvel in tailored suit no longer wears nothing
but a barrel; Tess Trustworthy and her cohorts
sport no nifty little lights on their gaudy bosoms;
Mustafa, back in Marketing, has no villainous mustache;
Susie Sweetful is hardly dolled up to seduce Mustafa;
and the whole umbrella-twirling troupe is gimpy as ever.
Everyone’s back in the old niches. But I know better.
We more than hobble or work 9 to 5 in some CCRC.
Come see for yourself what a troupe we are.
Day was all but done, the sun setting royally
as we met in fine red-white-and-blue fettle
for our first-ever Fourth of July Sing-a-long,
our wrists glowing with particolored bracelets
less like name-and-date-of-birth hospital bands
than ID supplied by the night club we’d entered
to be with a band of other Independent Livers
looking out over purple mountains’ majesty
of a sort, even if worn down like aging molars,
and fruited plains gauzy with tobacco netting.
No matter – it was a temperate evening, a breeze
ruffling the flags before us as we raised our voices
to sing of the beautiful America we’d known,
asking God to mend thy every flaw and
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.
The heavens answered us with the apostrophe
of a thin crescent moon, a mockingbird joined us,
singing its remembered songs as we sang ours,
and then as evening deepened we saw, far off to
the north, sprays of every-colored celebration –
only the blooming, no militant bombardment.