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

The Madness of Birds

When I left the mountains,

there was a space in the pit of my belly

that thought it couldn’t be filled

with things like the things at my back:

the mule deer in the falcate sun,

sideways on a morning hill;

footprints of an elk and her calf

pressing into a natural spring

before the soft earth was hardened;

the nighttime yelp of coyotes and rabbits—

not always a genial sound

but a reminder of the wild world at work.

 

Then down from the mountain the prairie spoke:

Dear, sweet woman,

her voice that rose with lavender,

you are mistaken.

 

And then she gave to me the madness of birds

—all of them—

they dart before the afternoon rains, and they are pendulums through

the sky when monsoons bounce above the ground.

They spin their heads with brightness and warbling and unpeel the skin of

nature forgotten.

She gave me the Jays in the willows and the Killdeer along lakes and rivers—

the Killdeer–

who jump through irrigation ditches with pecking, poking beaks; too quick on

the shell of a Snapping Turtle and too fast along a blade of grass to make it

move.

She gave me the Lark Bunting’s plateaued nest and unspoiled white down; the

prairie notes of a Red-winged blackbird.

She gave me their wings—brilliant colonies and communities of airborne

partners unending and saturating that same space in my belly;

mocking my incertitude

through their flight.

Shaping the Tree

He thinks he’s lost me in the store.

Mad because he can’t find his matchbox car; (the one I told him not to bring because history has a way of repeating itself with five-year-olds),

he hides behind the rack of Hallmark Cards and then wanders farther. He doesn’t know I am watching him.

But I am.

And when he comes back to me, his head is down and the disappearing fullness of his cheeks peek out from above his neck.

He lost his baby fat somewhere between the parked car and the aisle of perennials.

I reach for his hand and guide him toward the Evergreens; the little ones that can be pruned and shaped when planted in a container.

His fingers pull away from mine to touch their prickly texture and we pick two; their green is vibrant and otherworldly when we load them into the truck.

Everyone likes our trees he says, and he must be right:

the shoppers who push their empty carts back through the parking lot smile at his proud, dirt-smudged  face as his nose brushes the scent of sapling promise.

When we are home, we go about the business of moving the eager trees into their bereft planters, and the little big boy at my side starts to talk.

Don’t be scared, he pets their temporarily faded branches;

Hurry mom, he insists, touching the first tree like a favored cat.

You’ll like your new home, he whispers into their upward stems while dirt is poured.

Then the second tree into the empty planter: both are dually satisfied and his talk more confident this time.

It’s okay tree, his singsong words are a poem caroled across the yard when he runs to retrieve the watering can and then the open mouth of the long hose.

When the two meet, a feathery spray of water dampens my clothes and we laugh.

I’ve grabbed the pruning shears by now,

and I even out just few branches on each tree before we set them in the sun

so the little gardener can pour the arching stream of water into their roots.

 

No Witness

 

This morning

I can see through the thick fog of a premature spring

an extra set of legs;

wobbly and dark across the creeping haze.

 

Sometime within the chilled hours of an unseen dawn

the heavy cow must have labored silently

with her back turned against the off-putting wind.

 

And there, she bowed her head with the lowered calf

and the rising steam

only to lift it again when the fog cleared and the calf was standing

 

and the cars on the county road whizzed by.

Spring Prairie

 

Faith

Today I stood underneath the belly of a goose,

its feathers formed the perfect intersection of down

from each side of a soft, plump paunch.

 

Then past my arched neck and over the road,

the falter of a bent wing threw the bird off balance

and I caught my breath for the goose and for the car below.

 

But then its flight amended towards the greater air,

and my fingers unfastened from a tight, frozen clutch

wondering at palms that know how to merge

sometimes without cognitive consent.

 

And when we have tilted sideways on uncorrected wing—

when we are bent in half by the unexplained

and move quickly towards the asphalt,

or watch the perfect spine of others try and correct their flight,

 

somehow the faces of our furrowed hands know to come together

and mouth the words that have always been there

for us, and from the vastness of sky

 

Snow Day

Remember how we left the kitchen warm

to high-step through the falling snow;

the call from school coming hours ago.

 

How we knew that fine red line would form on our shins where the boots rubbed,

but still we floated through that feathery, sallow sand

to meet the neighbor-boy who hiked a mile up the hill

with his eyelashes stuck together

and his joyous face chapped and numb with exultant cold.

 

Spirits of the dead soared and sunk repeatedly

when we built the network of tunneled snow

from which to hide and then fly through the air on our sleds;

adrenalin and joy stronger than hunger.

 

Yet a lunch deferred awaited us in the kitchen,

like childhood revisits the adult;

hot chocolate and tomato soup lingered on the table for discovery,

grilled cheese expecting to thaw our mouths.

 

Then banana bread of course,

before we were obliged to send the neighbor-boy back down the hill

ahead of the early darkness.

Where he would see in the fading light

a pair of barn owls splitting the air silently above his head

 

and those frozen stars of white

would cling to our names forever.

Bluebirds in the Alder

I’d forgotten they were there

a world of them flitting through air

with jade and sapphire wings at their side

unshaken when two worlds collide.

 

Unnoticed when the tangled roots are spry,

their nests don’t seem quite so high

for a coyote or even a fox to spare

yet still I’ve found, they’re always there.

 

And when those twisted vines do drop their spring,

when there’s little green on which to cling

their brilliant feathers spread and swing

 

and bluebirds in the alder sing.