Keeping it All

In the basement are three large boxes,                                 

not yet collectors of dust, but close. 

Surrounding them, are the carefully labeled rows of Tupperware: 

Christmas, Easter, Baby Clothes, Memorabilia.

My husband’s trophies from soccer;

they are an awkward puzzle on the shelf with the last remaining space, 

paused across three eras of time.

 

There are my journals, 

chronicling the claustrophobe of teenage years in attempted rhyme

and the floundering use of words;

those do have dust.

 

There are countless wires and connectors and things for which I have no name,

and their labels represent as such: The Engineer’s Collectibles

(harder to organize), so base attempt was made.

 

But now that we are middle-aged, 

and the memories we keep beneath the life of this house

resemble the exponential growth of wrinkles on our faces: 

still more to come, 

yet presently plenty,

 

we have no room for these boxes.

 

When my mother likes something, 

she buys three or four. 

She maintains their fabric perfectly and folds each item meticulously in plastic 

until those items are no longer needed, 

(She was the western Marie Kondo long before Kondo was born).

 

Then, those items are packed in a manner that keeps

packing tape, bubble wrap, and Ziploc in business. 

The encasing that is their fortress will not be not easily penetrated 

after they make their way through the zip codes of the desert, 

through the unpopulated southern towns of Colorado, 

north through Denver,

and back to the landscape and weather 

more representative of their former life. 

 

There have been countless deliveries

throughout these last several years,

and I’m sure there will be more.

 

Within, I will find more than anything, Smart Wool tops–

never will there be a fabric more synonymous with a person 

than Smart Wool with my mother.

 

She wore them hunting, no doubt;

each fiber collecting the fast pace of her heart as she 

bent herself over Wyoming’s rough terrain.

 

There will be at least twenty pairs of gloves. 

I see these gloves in pictures:

On the top of a mountain and at the base of Iguazu Falls.

My father is smiling 

with his gloved hand over my mother’s shoulder;

she is wearing the same as their smiles are joined.

Who knew there were twenty pair…

 

There are hats. And fanny packs. Handkerchiefs, and pouches.

The former, dully colored for camouflage;

the latter brightly colored to be seen.

Among them, I wonder which is the hat that came off when the grizzly charged;

 

which, the fanny pack that held the pepper spray?

Was this the same handkerchief that when lifted, unmuffled the voice

to make the bear huff, and turn around?

 

I wonder if instead, these are the ones

that made it to the top of Kilimanjaro, 

witnesses to my mother’s endurance

on the summit of Aconcagua? 

Was this in the Arctic with my father, present,

as his hands ran across the wild fur of a wolf?

 

 

And so,

I will find places for all of these things.

In corners already spoken for,

and on shelves already bowed under the weight

of a collective past.

I will sing along with the radio 

while sandwiched between support beams and thick walls,

as the wind carries the storm across the sky outside,

and as the faint whistle of a train sings life into our confinement

joining in song with the possessions we keep.

It is then I will begin to see,

that all of these things

are doing their part in holding up this house.

 

Wild Horses

South and west of Grand Junction, into Utah

wild horses push against the wind at the side of the road,

where the tips of grass show hints of green.

Their manes are long and twisted exhibitions of hair.

Two of them, impossibly and luminously colored, ignore their closeness to the highway

as cars blur by;

three more are a galloping pageantry flying towards no water in sight,

chasing the feathery cover of clouds.

They show themselves again, when we pass into Arizona;

dust devils spin behind them and kick up their tails.

 

Into the reservation and they are harder to see, but we find them still,

hovered under the small overlap of roof

where there are roundhouses, abandoned and effusive

and turning the thoughtful heads of my somnolent passengers.

 

Here, there are towns that are not quite towns,

and the horses turn domestic.

They are kings and queens behind fences and yards that outshine houses.

Their slick fur has been combed free of winter coats, and their muscled, racing bodies

haven’t forgotten the hot, crimson dirt where they used to run.

 

We stop on the reservation to spend the night, falling into familiarity

absorbed and welcomed like we have been here before,

like we have come back.

 

Nightfall turns cold quickly and takes away the day’s heat from the red rock and sand.

The drive behind us cases with a peace that has no words,

and in the morning my youngest awakes to tell us his dream,

 

I dreamed we were on an island; his words are the slow and groggy words that follow a

sleep without movement, sound and deep-breathing,

and we didn’t have to search for food,

and we had a good shelter.

We listen, resting our heads on our hands, watching him,

 

We had everything we needed, he said,

on that island.

Something Great

For years now I have missed

the calves being born

to the mothers in the field on the other side of the fence.

 

During the day,

they stand with their bellies as wide as they are long,

moving slowly

sometimes with their unequal ribs

shifting to throw off their shuffle towards shade.

 

One will stand rocking, as mothers sometimes do in labor,

but then she will ease her way below the cottonwood,

occasionally lifting her nose to meet the flash of doves in the branches above.

Sometimes she will look at me: the whites of her eyes telling nothing,

only waiting.

In the morning, there will be two or three new calves,

altogether pointed joints and bounce,

awkwardly bent to nurse.

 

And the mothers will stand there the same,

as if nothing has changed from yesterday.

Their big, solid bodies remain indifferent following their performance overnight.

The steady arch of their necks are bent to eat grass in a shrug.

Even the calves move about with the nonchalance of having legs

and perfect tufts of fur at their fetlocks.

Their markings are like brilliant, individualized maps.

 

How ordinary that the wonder of their coming waits for night.

As if the thousand-pound mothers are designed to get on with it,

Nothing to see here but life moving forward.

 

If only,

the holiest of affairs weren’t so easily elapsed.

How often would we stop to consider then,

that something great has happened

“And as I watched, one bird

prompted by accident or will to lead,

ceased resting; and, lifting in a casual billow,

the flock ascended as a lady’s scarf

transparent, of gray, might be twitched

by one corner drawn upward and then,

decided against, negligently tossed towards a chair.

Melting all thought, the southward cloud withdrew into the air.”

—John Updike

 

Fall

The sluggish flies of fall will soon surrender; not yet the days too cold, we swim in splendor.

I am yours now; the grasses golden at my knees.

I am yours too; the brilliant fire of sundry leaves.

The wind is here, but not too much; the chill is too, but just a touch.

Bring me those clouds, festooned in sky; bring me their shadows, over mountains high.

Show me the smile on the face of a child; show me her face, all pink and wild.

Help me to find the longest way home; all time is too quick, this season on loan.

 

october-28-2016-1

Only Every Day

It is too dark in the morning still,

and I can’t find the light switch to save the banana bread

forgotten on the counter last night.

 

In the dark, I feel the untouched foil

where the cats haven’t yet found it cooling;

there is still some warmth, as my fingers reinforce the silvered seal around

the pan.

 

Outside, the horse becomes a broken statue in the corner of our yard.

The dog has started to stretch and the cats with their tiny, belled collars

weave tuneful figure eights about my legs, then move to judge me from

across the room,

waiting.

I examine the contents of the refrigerator for lunches, then slice the banana

bread for breakfast;

each move is a thoughtful delay.

 

There is the sound of the first faucet being turned on upstairs.

The sleepy water trickles through the old house somewhere down and

between the kitchen walls.

Then one by one, more slow footsteps rasp on the wooden floors above,

muffled only by the slip of area rugs where Legos are hidden and dirty socks

aren’t.

I hear the forced closure of bureau drawers, where too many clothes have

been stuffed and remain unfolded from last week’s laundry.

I know that if I go to check on them—if they are too slow and groggy, and

I’ve already spotted the bus beginning its route on the county road across

the field,

I’ll have to ask them to pick up the towels on the floor, the toys, the clothes

—to clean the toothpaste painted across the bathroom sink.

I’ll want to keep them

and I’ll want to send them off.

 

But now I linger at the base of the stairs,

making everything else wait

while I miss the way their rooms smelled when they were babies

and already miss the mess they’ll leave behind.

 

 

 

Alarm Clock

What is it that I say to my children?

Only the boring get bored.

Yet here I am, allowing those grudged words to ricochet

when the world outside is too still and good.

Please just the hint of robust cloud moving over the ridge of western mountains,

something that is strong and self-willed, and can hover over my house for some time.

Let me hear the groan of walls without the shift, the bend of windows without the break.

Find fissures in doors and windows;

run arpeggios up and down stairs.

Listen—

the wind is a radio that has just turned on,

an alarm clock set to go off at an odd hour.

It startles you upright, into the cold air

from the wearisome warmth of stale sleep.

Sometimes it is static, and sometimes you can make out a song from the opposite side of the house,

the shrill of a stretched-out exhale toward ghosts

who must be everywhere.

Outside, the leaf-barren boughs of trees stretch their arms up and down

like kneading dough. Fingers linger low with a lull and then rise again, pulling.

Nails on windows, dragging them up

and up

and open.

I like to see what you are made of.

 

Bringing Lunch

Between the morning and the afternoon storm,

I drove the lunch and the dog out east

through the yet unplanted fields,

where big oil has quietly left its mark.

Cylindrical, tan vessels perch at the corners of farms on top of county roads;

underwritten barrels of the prairie promised to be smaller.

 

The radio crackles from distant lightning when I arrive,

and just as I exit the car, her age-hushed voice calls from the tiny house; a

well-built, obvious survivor of the tornado that happened nine years ago.

 

The table where we dine is pressed into a corner of her kitchen. Paint peels

from around the heating vent at her threadlike ankles, warm air pushes into

softened polyester.

 

There is a clear window overlooking a bird feeder and the darkened sky

beyond; I like to watch the weather too, I assure her. Yes–And the birds—who

flutter around the homemade contraption as we watch, despite the

metronomic bark of the dog in the car.

 

The silver blue heads of prairie blackbirds twitch their quick necks at the

window; wind stirs the incomplete pattern of chimes on a leaning pergola,

and her words are saved only for things she wants to remember:

 

her husband and the child buried in the yard,

her children and their children,

the medicine she sips from a straw,

where she keeps the unused plastic bags, and what time her evening

caregiver comes.

 

The rain starts to fall when I leave. The resigned dog has given up his voice

by then, and his face is pressed against the window;

whisker smears in the condensation.

 

She is too weak to wave from the clear window, but I can see the bright blue

of her eyes through the rain, smiling at the silly dog

and the moisture gathering on the thrilled taupe of her lawn.