Damp earth, library paste, lilacs arrive in dreams
as taste, not fragrance—mushrooms, chalk,
vanilla—and she wakes to smells of dirt paths running
with yesterday’s rain, brackish brown smells, and
the low sweet murmur oozing from the mountain that looms
above the cabin, casting damp shadows that shift until midafternoon
when a funnel of sun breaks through and steam
rises from the shingles—a potpourri of names and faces gone
missing, as has her own soprano voice that lives only
in her back-room memory and perhaps in the dreams
of those long-ago children, her voice these days
a raspy alto, but she sings anyway—about the tastes
of her dreams and the murmurings of the mountain
and the swirling-in-steam faces and longings.
[published in The Fourth River]
Zero in Kiev
Zero degrees Fahrenheit in Kiev today—
and yesterday and tomorrow and tomorrow.
The girl thinks that zero should mean nothing,
be just a pause, neither cold nor hot,
not one soul-chilling day
after short day
after dark day.
Afraid to go outside,
she fears her bones will freeze—
and then what?
She longs for the swelter of summer,
even the smelly air, the oppressive dankness—
the imperfect perfection of August,
peridot at its center, not the perfect gem,
not the luminous, deep-pool green—
she wouldn’t know what to do with such purity.
She holds her small treasure
up to the weak winter light—
a cloudy, mottled stone—
and stares at its heart,
the peridot’s own zero,
a speck of winter,
bone white, frost white,
and waits for green and white
to warm her rough red hands,
her rough red life.
[published in egg]
Geography of a Cloud
Once a long ago winter’s day she drew
a huge map of her world on butcher paper,
using every crayon stub in the small
cedar box that held the bright clear colors
of her life, an immense cloud-shaped world,
endless, with hills and wide rivers,
stick people, kind people like Teacher
and her aunties and her friend Jane,
houses, horses, dogs, sunflowers
and hollyhocks. The torn blue edges
were the sky and whatever lived beyond
the fall-off places and beyond the sky—
roiling deserts, flat black seas, ice-bound
lands, triangle creatures with wiry whiskers
and many legs.
Later, hundreds of thousands of miles later,
bittersweet and periwinkle and Prussian blue
and flesh and magenta later, and thistle, salmon,
gold and silver later, after decades in the fall-off
places, she found herself in that cloud-shaped
map again, the colorful world still smelling
of crayon and cedar, of onions and summer,
and of the fields she’d looked down upon
from her childhood window in that long ago
time, surprised to find her map so small
and so red, blue, and yellow strange.
Published in Flat Water
Potato by moonlight
Sweets for the sweet, the grandfather says, handing
the girl a carrot, still dirt warm and dirt-damp,
as they walk along the rows of potato hills,
eating carrots, pulling off potato bugs,
filling a dusty feed sack
(Ogallala Quality Rosebud Flour)
with the strange-looking, wriggling insects.
In the evenings, she sits with her grandmother
on the porch swing, snapping peas, eating a few,
humming along with the peas pinging
in the blue-speckled tin bowl, the swing creaking,
the crickets cricketing, the grandmother talking
about blizzards and babies, a tea towel
piled with radishes and a hillock of salt between them.
The girl tosses radish tops and pea pods into the potato
bug bag, shakes it, and weaves through the last fireflies
across the lawn to the waiting, scolding chickens.
On her way back, she detours through the garden,
pulls up a potato, pauses at the spigot
to rinse off the dirt, and eats it in the moonlight,
thinking that there is something of the moon
in the taste of these vegetables...
and something of sadness, too.
Published in Flat Water
Bone blades jut where her wings once grew.
Rolling her shoulders back and down,
she can feel the pulse, the strength of them,
can almost remember flying.
Riding the bike down the steep and winding
pot-holed lane—airborne, almost. Swinging
on the old saddle hanging from the rafters
in the hayloft, hay bales stacked against
the walls, mice nests, bird nests, barn cats
prowling, the owl tucked into his high-up
corner, haydust motes fogging the air,
she sneezing and swinging—no horse,
just girl and saddle, the barn window thrown
open to the green world, she wondering
if she can swing high enough, fast enough,
far enough, swim/fly out the window and dive
into the pond or the house-high haystack.
No, not the haystack—needles, errant pitchforks.
Published in Flat Water
Nine paper-skinned, pear-shaped
bulbs of weight and purpose, buried in a bucket
of sawdust in the waning days of summer,
dormant in the darkest dark, stashed between glider
and deck umbrellas in the barn,
carried inside on the winter solstice—
a shock to the system, but they’ve been waiting for this.
They settle in a shallow dish of pebbles and water
on a table by the window, and I wait
for the first green to break through.
Stalks then leaves shoot up,
are pulled up by the sun,
by the need for green in these bleak short days,
then buds then six petals each, white
saucers beneath dainty teacup creamy coronas
with green-eyed centers, red-ribboned rims—
perhaps the colors of the three kings’ robes.
Filling the room with the fragrance of winter sliding
into spring, they nod to the southsky sun
and lean toward the cold clear creek beyond
the still-dead lawn.
Draped across the mirror top,
last year’s pretties are tissue thin,
long stalks and leafspears as brittle as grief,
remembering their other life,
remembering the dark.
[published in Theodate]