10-Line Tuesday

March 14, 2017

how to write about stillness

Not the kind, exactly, of aftermath, though the felled trees
along the riverbank offer instruction of a necessary surrender.
Not the empty seats of a restaurant in the off-season, or the echo-less
vacancy of the town square after the circus of the Saturday market,
though their silence hints, importantly, of the narrative that was. The clouds, thick
on this Tuesday morning, appear unmoving, but that’s not it either; the forecast
tells otherwise. So what can be said about this brittle skin of vigilance, the hazy tint
washing over these edgeless hours of waiting? My father’s garden grows while, in a distant
hospital bed, his hands rest on antiseptic sheets. Each morning, something extraordinary
is taking place, unseen, at the roots of all our lives. Maybe that’s something of a beginning.

March 7, 2017

unseasonable
for my father

On a windowsill in rain-soaked France, a bright clutch of petals,
stalwart and stubborn against the glass. The dare they make of my own heart: "Believe."
A neighbor vase could easily have wagged its metaphors, to remind of what's
gone missing. The sting of absence. A life gone phantom. But this is the older instinct,
the call pulse-bearing, and the echo ripe and full of promises that can't - and won't -
be broken, even when they are. I wonder, dimly, how long the blooms will last,
but that is never the point. They have returned in such glorious rebellion, my gaze
turns from its own emptiness, as I hope it always remembers to, even
as the inevitable shedding comes and the final, denuded stalk remains,
carrying the memory of each unseasonable blossom in its bones.

February 28, 2017

a rain filled with shoes

You can buy donuts in Brittany, a 12-pack of miniatures that hold
enough reminiscent sweetness you feel less far from home
than you really are. They call them beignets here, and the word
stretches at the back of your tongue, where you'd left it in 10th-grade French class.
Those years you spent learning how Marie would ask Pierre to the movies,
or what to say when looking for a swimming pool in July - the textbook didn't tell you
it would be like this, the somber echo of your steps on wet February cobblestones
in a sodden town cemetery potted with plastic flowers. Is there a phrase you could have learned
for the hope you keep carrying, indignantly, as the sky opens up with its million question marks?
Une pluie remplie de chaussures. A rain filled with shoes, or something like that.

February 21, 2017

packing for France

The forecast says spring will meet you on the other end
of the flight, but already hints of it have appeared at your own address -
the mop you hurry along the kitchen floor, lemon oil sheening the bureau.
Travel stirs awake certain instincts you never would have said
you possessed, but as you layer clothes inside a suitcase, you notice how glad you are
the dust is gone, and with it the stagnant film of your neglect. The bills
get paid, thank-you notes are sent, a forgotten half-banana makes it,
at last, to the compost bin as you narrow your possessions to a space
nothing will get lost in or ignored, and you pray for a good tailwind to get you there
early, so you will catch the sun as it rises, clean and whole, underneath you.

February 14, 2017

front porch in winter

Months ago, we leaned back with our cocktails into the long coattails
of evening. Hours were spent in a floating pool of conversation, our limbs
at languorous angles. Now, we rush past this interstitial real estate,
hurrying to put distance between us and the weather outside, then make
a beeline for whatever will think will keep us warm. "Close the door!" we bark
at the boys in their absent-minded exits, as a draft tunnels in. The season
keeps intruding - the rattle of radiators, a cluttered trail of tissues,
the ragged seam of headlines splitting our attentions. And yet, there is
always a room trouble won't touch, the cushions perennially soft,
and the windows so clear the horizon feels just inches away.

February 7, 2017

in no particular order *

Something is calling to be made today, I’m sure of it.
How much information and emotional intensity can we handle at any given time?
There are many ways to respond, and also many ways to act.
I'm holding down the fort.
Happy to do the maintenance and updates.
How much these lists have come to mean in such a short time.
Can you help with next steps?
I can only imagine the wattage our group might generate.
The power of expression. The necessity of voice.
Something is calling to be made today, I’m sure of it.
.
* These lines are taken from emails I sent out the week before this week's poem.

January 31, 2017

the hunt

Even running, she feels the teeth in her neck: a fury
of hunger. Were there time or language, she would reason
with this unhinged beast, lead him to the meadow where the others
are dozing in the shade, and where there is so much to eat, the clan
has lingered here for days, taking slow, patient turns through the grass.
But in his certainty for blood, the arrow of his gaze flies past all vegetation,
abundant as it is, and heads straight toward her, and in no time at all
she knows what’s coming if she stays where she is. And in that instant,
a single demand emerges: Stay away from my children. And that is when the choices
narrow and coalesce, and her feet go flying. Anywhere but here, she breathes. Anywhere but here.

January 24, 2017

cut and paste

I wonder sometimes if I am writing the same poem over and over.
If I’ve lived in the rooms of the lines so long, I’ve left crease marks on the furniture.
Images, words have gone soft, sinking further away from their edges.
The hazy pattern of raindrops on the windows, the dim ache in the heart.
This isn’t the time to shuffle the tiles, hope a fresh arrangement will spell something else.
Today’s prayer needs its own incantation, separate from the old chorus.
I don’t know how to begin, exactly; my hands, like clockwork, reach for scissors and thread.
I stitch poems to the backs of those that came before.
Underneath, the table bears the marks and scraps of industry.
What has been discarded in the name of art is also art.

January 17, 2017

once more, with feeling

Dish to cupboard. Towel to rack. Vacuum to floor. How many
times the body bends to its tasks, groaning at the endless rotation of repetitions.
I cannot love it, no matter what the Buddhists advise. If there is joy
in the industry of this infinite busywork, I cannot see it. These scripts,
long memorized, have lost the novelty of their early drafts. Worse,
each performance now plays without a theater; the encores go without applause.
And yet, we players keep returning to the stage, opening and closing drawers,
wiping counters, shaking out the bathroom rug, and the curtains never once
come down. We shuffle through the steps, strangely loyal to our aging roles
as we lift the glasses to their shelves and gently stack the bowls.

January 10, 2017

ordinary sweetness
for B.

Somewhere in Minnesota, a dying woman is asking - inconceivably -
for caramel popcorn. The doctors could pull out all the stops if she let them, but this
is how she'd prefer to enter the next great mystery, and who could blame her?
I am picturing a sticky cluster at the edge of her pale fingers,
the smooth, quiet passage through her lips, and a long pause when molasses
finds her tongue. No matter what I do, I won't be able
to hold that moment still. Eventually, an old instinct will bear down;
glaze and kernel will disappear. A child will bear the loss she knew was coming. And yet,
when she least expects it, a memory will meet her in the aisles, a gift of ordinary sweetness,
and all of the darkness in the world will not keep her from seeing that light.

January 3, 2017

overhead: wild grapes

There was a poem about the post-holiday sidewalks I started to write,
the litter of Christmas trees denuded of ornament and fanfare. Garbage men
in their bright yellow vests appeared in the lines, too, as did the new, determined
recruits at the local gym, and the sweaty promises we make in the name of better health.
It would have been reasonable, then, to address the fresh checklists of fix this, change that,
how the turn of a year pushes the doing out of us. And yet, it wouldn’t stop raining today,
and all I could do was remember that cold, clear late afternoon in the fields beyond
my mother’s house, looking up at thin, bare branches stretching skyward and shaking,
slightly, in the breeze. How my own hands lifted and opened, and my body shivered
in sudden, unexpected certainty: There was still time. There would always be time.

December 27, 2016

today

When she boarded the plane at Heathrow, the famous actress couldn't
have known that hours later, approaching Los Angeles, her heart
would stop beating and a stranger, however briefly, would keep her alive.
We were coming home from Central Park, happy and a little tired
from the walk, grateful for the unseasonable warmth of the afternoon,
our good luck with parking. Now, I can't quite believe she's gone;
there are some people you think will live forever, outlast the cruelties
and calamities of the thin-skinned, mortal body. I want, today, a story like that,
despite the terribly stacked odds. I want the princess waking at last, her sleep-spell
broken, the welcome sound of bluebirds at her shoulder, a fairytale on the verge of beginning.

December 20, 2016

cracks

I am trying to imagine how the 15-year-old girl got her legs
to climb that fence on the overpass. How she stood above
the New Jersey Turnpike's busy lanes, then aimed her body
south. So, too, am I twisting my mind around the wrist
of the young man pointing a pistol into the back of the diplomat
visiting his country, then pulling an irrevocable trigger. Or the ankle
of the driver in the seat of impending carnage, pressing the gas pedal down
to the crucial notch. Despair is not what I thought it was, a lovesick, festering ache.
No, this runs deeper in the cracks, where hope has fallen so silent
the sound of sirens feels almost like music.

December 13, 2016

the pile

There is a sweater - Pacific blue, frayed beyond repair - I cannot seem to part with.
A long coat, once the green of late-winter pine, has gone grey from disuse,
though the closet still bears its bulky real estate. The world, too, feels loosened
of its seams, on the verge of - or already - unraveling, a tumble of unsortable laundry.
And yet we're standing by the pile, pointing fingers at the mess,
refusing to let go of our favorites no matter how long they've withstood our neglect.
Spring cleaning is months away, but it is already too late, and I'm wondering
who will make the first move, unfold from their stiffness at the podium, and bend
to the task. Who will give up the space on their shelves with the floor so bursting
with the wounded.

December 6, 2016

dreaming of Carl Lewis

Are you here, too, a part of your legs still 12, still tensing
at the thoroughfare of hurdles 25 yards out and yet already lifting,
soaring over the rail, your laces tight as promises? Are your lungs
taking their full fill as they did back then, staring down the barrel
of that track? I remember that summer, glued as I was
to the unfolding narrative of a superstar I was so sure
was looking straight at me when he took his place at the starting block
and the crowd grew silent. I was hardly gifted in his language, not
by a long shot, but there he was, beckoning with each muscle, telling me,
in no uncertain terms, I was running the race of my life.

November 29, 2016

weapons

I have been reading the posts of the 5:00 a.m. running club,
though I have not, myself, risen from sleep to make the start time.
Elsewhere, letters are being sent, phone calls made, petitions
signed and delivered, and I find myself empty of the vigor and volume
I think I'd need to join the fray. Last week, I spent several hours raiding
my mother's closet, so immersed in the racks I almost forgot to eat breakfast.
Yesterday, I stood at the corner of Forest & Chestnut tilting my face
toward a early winter sun, wondering what name I would give this particular
yellow. It's not that I don't have the heart for battle. I'm just still deciding
on my weapons.
 

November 22, 2016

liver and gin

Our visits came long after her glory days in the kitchen.
Instead, quiet afternoons of Scrabble and warm milk and dusty
caramel squares, the wilted smell of old perfume rising from her stiff
living room couch. Years after she died, my grandfather sent a stack
of index cards of recipes, the handwriting shockingly illegible and mostly
in German, a collision of dishes from the country she left and the one
that took her in. I imagined the wet slap of liver on the counter, the pot
on a roiling boil, a staunch conviction and residue fear competing in the gut,
her own boys growing up too fast. Which is why I wasn't so surprised
about the gin.

November 15, 2016

I'll bring the soup and biscuits

Rain today, finally. As if the sky had had enough of holding
itself together, November unseasonable in all ways. My friends
are planning for the apocalypse...or at least, enough catastrophe
to escape our current zip codes. A playlist is being assembled. A corner
in a house is mounting with art supplies. Liz has been knitting us
wrist guards to keep the cold out. "I'll bring the soup and biscuits," I say,
only half-jokingly, looking around for what I would scramble to gather
if the call comes. The dog has her head tucked in the crack of the couch cushions,
sleeping out the storm. Soon enough, she'll wag over to the back door and demand
to be let out, where the world - teeming with potential - is waiting to greet her.

November 8, 2016

simplifying the menu

The island restaurant has lured vacationers for decades
with its vivid kitsch, a culture clash of Hollywood royalty
and Christmas. As we wait for our table, I glance at the menu
displayed, Bible-like, under the awning. The descriptions of each dish
reflect this deliberate confusion, drawing the eye away from
the price, diminished to a thin font at the bottom. But when the plates arrive,
the contents are unmasked for what they are - meat, potatoes, vegetables
roughly chopped and sauteed over a brief flame with a toss of olive oil. We bend
our forks to their task, and I don't think I'm wrong when I say the pomp and theater
leave us hungrier than we came, though when the waitress returns, no one wants dessert.

November 1, 2016

one week to go

The TV cameras are rolling at a frenzied clip, lawyers on each side
standing by with wet-tipped pens. We watch, delirious and dumbfounded,
as the country sways and buckles, our bearings loosened by the wear and tear
of competing narratives. And now, one week to go, with the poll numbers still
vibrating, we shift our gaze to the sky and scan for signs of reprieve.
How do you hold your breath and pray at the same time? How do you lay down
your armor and steer your heart away from the trouble? Each day offers itself
like a clean, stretched canvas, yet look how quickly we busy ourselves with the edge,
already shrinking from the finish. But this deadline's an illusion.
Forget what time it says on the dial. We are not the frame. We are the paint.