busy in Brooklyn, rambling in Reykjavik,
dodging Dublin, rowdy in Rome,
pouting in Prague, munching Mongolia,
chewing Chernobyl, sweeping Siberia,
ploughing the Pole, sifting the stars,
winging to Venus, melting on Mars.
Winds so heavy today
that pear trees are snowing,
a blizzard among the tulips.
Absurd not to give apple blossom
a fighting chance, but there it is,
the invisible violence of moving air
not as bad as the vortex
that sucked up Oklahoma
yesterday and tossed cars
and roofs around like
the baseball cards we shuffled
as kids, but the harsh armor
of spring's warring climes,
the sugary syrup of new warmth
across the plains sparring
with the pale sleet of winter
retracing its steps over the lake
which may never thaw again.
We should have expected these
little battles to grow bigger every year,
their random cruelties slicing the sky
with hidden knives. Caught unawares,
we watch the clouds bleed purple gusts
on unsuspecting buds below.
As a child, I, the little Yankee from Jersey,
would visit Betty, my aunt and godmother
in New Orleans, for summers drenched
in mosquitoes and melted popsicles.
Unlike my mother,
a drunk and a mean one at that, she
let me run barefoot through the rough
St. Augustine grass, walk to the store
two blocks away with a handful of change
to shop for white bread and root beer,
and catch snails on the way, darting among
the Seven Dwarfs in her manicured garden.
Now, when backache threatens, I think
of mornings down south, dewy with humidity,
seven air conditioners rattling in the windows.
I'd pad out of "my" bedroom
and collapse into her arms.
She'd already been up for hours brewing coffee,
stirring pots of red beans and rice.
But when we hugged, her long, tapered,
red-lacquered nails would scratch my back
right through the ragged cotton pajamas
like the beaks of rare birds sent from heaven
to spread comfort to the tortured below.
It was a grand awakening to be loved like this,
and now that she's gone to her grave
with Parkinson's, diabetes, senility,
and who knows what all else, I hope
that some kind nurse at the hospital,
or some dog-tired aide, sat by her bed,
lifted her up, and scratched her back
with fingertips soft as roses.
Today I tried balancing
on one leg, eyes closed,
as my knee therapist recommended.
I do as I'm told,
perching on my bad leg,
my arms searching for yoga
above my head, or like the walker
on the tightrope over Niagara Falls,
stretching sideways, waving
my invisible pole. I wobble
and weave, cheating now and then
with a surreptitious blink. I imagine
myself a tree, rooted firmly
in the ground, the trusted earth
holding me against freefall.
I love gravity, its weight
both friend and enemy, keeping me
upright while opening its arms to age,
worn cartilage and the atrophied muscle
above the knee that used to take stairs
two at a time.
Some days are better than others.
For now, I'll try the other leg,
thinking of a heron in the reeds,
sustained by nothing but air
and high grass, tucked into itself
and its own reflection.
They huddle together in the upper room.
Shivering, they speak of ordinary things:
fishing, the weather, a broken sandal strap.
They had followed the carpenter-king.
A month ago, he hung on the hill,
begging for water. Then he stepped
from the tomb into dawn. He ate here
among them, rode the bright cloud as surely
as he rode the shaggy-eared donkey.
Who are we? Why are we here?
The wild wind clamors at the door,
bringing flame and strange words,
the foreign tongues of drunken revelry.
But love, not wine, lives here,
even for those who speak in different hues.
Beyond the grave lies a world rich in blossom,
fresh earth, blood not for wars but bread.
After the winds die, silence
shrouds the common space. While the rich
count their coins, hunger asks,
Now where are Your urgent little fires?