“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.

 

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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.

 

October Dream

The sluggish flies of fall will soon surrender;

not yet the days so 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 there, yes, but not too much;

the chill is nearby too, but just a touch.

Bring me all of your clouds, festooned in sky;

especially their shadows over mountains high.

 

Show me the smile on the face of a child;

the blanket pulled back, her face pink and wild.

Help me get lost for the longest way home;

our time is too quick, this season on loan.

 

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How It Seems To Go With Change

 

Lately, I’ve been moved by too many things that move:

the chainsaw that cut the towering tree.

It fell to the ground in a struggle; layers of brilliant fall leaves like grown-out

hair put to rest.

I liked that tree.

 

And the field just north of our house.

Once it was a place to run—the golden grass of any season, really, meeting

my hips like brushing hands.

You can let it all go here, the speaking hands would say.

And there now, the Eiffel point of an oil rig is a baritone hum at night. Constant

and constantly lit.

I liked that field.

 

Even the backyard snakes who’ve met an untimely death

and the mice and wasps and spiders; each symmetric stripe and incisive

pointed ear; each delicate, specific detail formed flawless and inimitable.

The flowers.

 

And the doves who dive before the cars, and the raccoons and cats, and the

grasshoppers we never see, but beseige the feathergrass and winter wheat,

flitting for brief seconds in the air before they can’t.

I’ve loved them all.

 

But with greater force still,

I’ve discovered that I will love them again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

J and J

Right now she sits in the hot, still air of the front room.

The clock behind her is faster than her heartbeat, but it goes too slow.

She is silent and has sunken into the chair like one of its pillows; had she not been wearing white, he would have searched more to find her there.

That morning, he pulled the oversized shirt for its color and tried it over her hanging arms and midsection; his fingers touched the place where their children grew.

Then with his thick, curled fingers he grabbed her stockinged feet thinking that when you’re old, love is one of those things that doesn’t get bigger no matter how often it’s watered.

You’ve already given each other everything, somehow–left it all on the arena floor like when he was riding broncs in the rodeo.

When he hit the dirt it didn’t matter.

Just last week, someone listed their house in the mountains–the one in the basin of sunlight where all of the life happened. Their only home.

The door she painted red was pretty, and now there are yellow finches and a family of starlings nesting into its frame.

There are cobwebs there too, but they are host to full-bellied orb weavers:

in the same wind she use to face and let her hair whip back behind her, the cobwebs’ corners detach and swing an intricate silken weave of their history.

And the driveway–no longer lined with her carefully selected annuals is taken over by milkweed and crabgrass and wildflowers.

There are snakes who fill those grasses now, and there are bees just above them, intent on replacing life with life.

He knows she wants to join them there in that wild dirt,

where she will bring his steady love with her, so soon.

But until then, the clock advances behind her,

and he holds tight to her stockinged feet.

 

 

 

A Boy and His Cat

He was the one she came to first;

dragging her wounded leg through the doggy door

then down the hall and up the stairs to his room where she knew he would be

and laid along the length of her sleeping boy.

 

In the morning she was weak and the children didn’t know

what the choices were.

 

Can we save her, mama? They never asked—imagining a pink cast and a fast-

healing leg.

And when she came home again, she carried the arch of innumerable stitches

over the span of her hip

where there was no pillow of fur

over no presence of leg.

 

We tended to her scar so that it became a map of the path she crawled to find

him that night;

it healed without us knowing exactly what it took.

 

Patiently, she worked until her balance returned

and soft tufts of fur covered the certain line where her leg used to be.

 

On three legs, she brings him her gifts now;

she hears his cries and feels his

moods before he does.

 

And she would never miss a night to sleep by his side,

where friendships commenced in other worlds, collide.

Byron and Atlas