Poetry

Poetry

The farm wife repeats a lullaby

When Ruth cries out, terrified
by what stalks the root cellar
or chases her toward a cliff,
we sing our favorite chorus:

Vegetables grow in my garden,
God sends the rain,
Vegetables grow in my garden,
God sends the sun.

With each verse, we substitute
something new: carrots, potatoes,
rutabagas, coconuts. Like sheep
that leap a fence, we never stop

to reconsider: sunflowers,
snapdragons, poinsettia, burr
thistle. Rabbits wriggle in
and soon the gate swings open

for rhinoceros and pythons . . .
till we make room for everything
under the sun, under the rain,
in the garden

where Ruth can fall asleep.

The Feast of All Souls

       November 2

The dead visited this morning: sisters,
parents, aunts and uncles, old professors
and friends—faces so vivid they again
appeared in my room through memory’s lens.

Did families stage a yard sale later
in the Catholic cemetery on Common,
a table set up in the center, orange water
cooler in view? But I am mistaken.

It’s All Souls Day when people assemble
to clean the crumbling graves and to honor
their dead, whose remnant bones sometimes tumble
from ancient crypts, although their souls have soared

like skeins of starlings, whose sudden flight
in sunlight dyes wings a shimmer of white.

Adapting in Ethiopia

They warned us, like innocents, not to name
our goat, to exercise good sense, refuse
to see him as a pet or even, oops,
as him. Just do whatever all it takes to tame
the thing toward that appointed time when goat
and fate should meet, when the dull drawn blade
would withdraw blood from funny, fuzzy throat.

For days or weeks, we avoided eyes, made
it a point to see the animal as meat.
Through open window, so relieved, I heard
you say to our neighbor, “No, you do it.”

And kindly, our neighbor did—spared you,
and me too. But I will never forgive
myself the rare deliciousness of the stew.

Blind faith

Even after years living with the blind,
guide dogs continue gazing into the dead fish
of their owner’s eyes. The dogs are not stupid.
They simply see what eyes can’t see
behind the bloodless husk of facts.
And soon enough, their guileless trust
awakens something in the blind:
not sight, exactly, but the cognizance
that they are seen—which is another kind
of seeing—call it faith, blind faith.

Drought

The laurel sweeps its lower limbs
all the way down the rock
and into the creek that wasn’t there
till last week’s rainstorm.

If leaves could speak—
and they do, in their everlasting fragrance—
they would welcome the sound of water
traveling over sandstone.

The leaves would say,
We missed you—for almost a year,
you were gone. Please stay this time.
And the water would say, Maybe. See ya.