Destroying the Orchard – Poem

Destroying the Orchard

Our parents took us there one winter
to visit a distant relative one last time
before she died – smatters of fleshy fruit
still sagging the branches, rawboned
boughs snarled as arteries. I don’t remember
who she was, or why she mattered,
but I recall the rigid rows of trees,
proper as stones in cemeteries,
each swallow of air a blossoming thorn
in the lungs as if each breath
were a dying one, the suck of soil
against our shoesoles like the garden’s
last gasp. Then one of us reached
to where a ruined fruit had fallen,
its heavy coat split and the bitter marrow
bared, then flung it skywards, a little sun
spinning above the skinny elbows of the trees.
When it returned, a joyous burst
curving back to earth, it awoke an urgency
within us for ascendance. Together
we bowed over and again, and vaulted up
our sticky gifts, arms stretched high
in adolescent genuflection, the strange sap
dappling our eyelids and our hair,
and we reveled in the generous violence
of our work, and we kept at it for hours,
gloriously destroying every rotten, wasted thing.

Grace – Poem

Grace

An old man, wheelchair-bound, is eating
in a back corner of the cafeteria, bits of food
strewn around him on the floor. A sturdy nurse
in a shapeless uniform thumbs his chin
with the sharp edge of a blue cloth napkin.

The man’s hands tremble, but he insists.
She does not argue, or take the silverware away,
but hovers near him as he tries to reach his mouth,
to slip in the spoon like a coin from a cautious mourner,
the mess on the floor ignored, left for an unnamed janitor

who will clean up later, without complaint, the sweep
of the steely broom a censer swinging from a chain, each stroke
a blessing for the world, the old man in his immutable chair,
the quiet nurse who wheels him away, gliding slightly
on her sensible shoes.

The Walking Dead – Poem

For the weekly We Write Poems prompt.

The Walking Dead

Once you slurred me the story
of your overdose – your heart
stopped on the cutting table
before the doctors brought you back
to life. You never got over it,
prone to random fits of rage as if
they’d failed to reconnect your soul,
as if your heart resented
the resurrection, begrudging its beating
as much as you dreaded getting out of bed
each day, rising only to the stiff hope
of another drink to recreate the escape.
How I wished you’d go ahead and take
your reservation in some dowdy afterlife
bar like you’d been trying so hard
to do for all those years, so you
could reminisce in a ghost-webbed booth
and knock ‘em back for all eternity, dirty
shot glass clacking against the decay
of your teeth, chipped and gray
as old bathroom tiles.

Self Portrait – New Poem

This is in response to Joseph Harker’s prompt at We Write Poems. The prompt was to try and capture a moment in a poem, and I thought immediately of my self-portraiture, as it is literally a captured moment on (digital) film. The poem went waaay out there, but I think it still speaks to the prompt.

Self Portrait

I am convicted
in what I do
and pleading
for conceit I want

to tell you
about it. It’s easier
to show. You don’t know
I am blind
to the mirror. I like
what I see. So begins

this poem. When faced
with story, editing
is necessary. Entire lines
to be removed. To know what
leaves out. To choose.

What is necessary but
the beautiful. Reflect
what is separate yet.

Single dimension. Denomination.
Domination of one
over other. Why can’t I be
an image always?

I lay them out like a count
of damaged furniture after the flood.
Wrung to dry, like laundry
on a wire –

intimates exposed. Indelicates out
where they should. A teacher

once told me a poem should end
with a moment of surprise
followed by of course.

I want to end
like that. A row of expressions
in a line of story. Every one
an exclamation.

A Healing Art – Poem

A Healing Art

A girlfriend found one in her breast
while still in college. One day
a woman read her palm and tarot cards,
pressed a hand against her chest,
another to her back, applied white light
and made it disappear. One night

my fingers touch my skin to prove
I am still here, and here, and here –
to forgive a body less than loved or trusted.
I find I cannot keep my hand away, slip my fingers
between lace and blouse, seeking proof
of what I own. I want to take hands

and press them close, say:
here is truth of what I’ve been.
I want to feel white light, the warm remedy
of touch against the poison of my skin.
Instead the surgeon snips me open,

allows the wound to spill like sugar
from a packet, instead the surgeon tells me
that my scars will heal, rubs his hands together
like a cartoon villain on the verge of stealing,
says: I want to warm my hands before
I touch you
, and smiles, assuming humor,

pressing palm against my chest.
I want to hold him there, the weight
compressing tape and flesh, say:
I’ve given you nothing. Say:
I only let you take
what I no longer wanted.

For the We Write Poems weekly prompt.

But Who Will Take Care of You When You’re Old and Dying – Poem

BUT WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU WHEN YOU’RE OLD AND DYING?

When I am dead my friends
can send me off, tell
small stories to a sparse
congregation, notify
the local papers, select
the right burial dress.
Better yet, I’ll take care of it
myself, script steps in advance
so no one has to worry.
What I learned from you
was to rely on no one,
so when you ask
who will care for me
when I’m unable, I wonder how
having children excuses you
from such worries. I’d like the one
who gets that job to be a stranger,
and get paid for the burden; I intend
to be a lot of trouble when I’m old.
I want nothing I love to suffer
my undoing; I leave all my unborn
children formless and free
in the airy nothingness
to which I’ll return
when my work here is done.

For years this was the refrain in my family growing up. If you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you’re old? When I was in my 20’s I lived with a woman in her 60’s who made the outrageous statement that she had no desire to burden her children with her care in her older years, and that she’d already made arrangements for when and where she was to be moved when she could no longer care for herself. This was a shocking statement to someone who’d been told her whole life that it was not only her duty to tend to the elderly in the family no matter what (even if they never gave a crap about you or cared for you at all), but it was also her duty to have children to provide all the elderly in the family with more caretakers. It really changed my outlook on the whole concept. I’m not saying one should not take care of one’s older family members when they’re sick, but the idea that parents are just going to expect their children to tend to them without even trying to provide for and take care of themselves first before demanding it no longer feels completely appropriate to me. Besides which, it’s a pretty selfish reason to have kids.

What the City Does to You In Summer – Poem

What the City Does to You In Summer

This is what the city does
to you in summer: You are sitting
in the drive-thru line at the bank,
windows pressed against the car-

exhausted heat, when you see
a man, suited navy blue and crawling
in the street. He is screaming.
You cannot hear what he

is saying, and you are trapped
in a line that does not move
according to your need, so all
you can do is watch him grovel

in the road, and you wonder
if you’d help him even if you could,
thinking of the man last week
who asked for money outside your office;

you gave him five and he followed you
inside, demanding more, grabbing
your arm, rattling you like a tip jar
until security chased him away.

Kindness dies in this kind of heat,
and everything is ugliness.

Later, you won’t remember
the woman who got out of her seat
at the corner bus stop and dropped
down with him to the gutter,

fishing out a red-tipped cane
of white. You won’t remember
that the man was blind
and never crazy; all you’ll recall

is the screaming and the creeping
along the dirty curb, and imagine
the story ends with something
terrible, every time.

Why My Sister is Afraid of the Dark – Poem

Why My Sister is Afraid of the Dark

When her husband is out of town I stay with her,
crawl into place in their bed like a substitute teacher
in a room of unfamiliar children, a body to press weight
against the mattress, a sound of breathing, a tug of sheets.

At two-thirty her son wakes, his cries laden with the innocence
of children. She gets up as if never asleep, she is sleeping
the sleep of the mother, forever at the edge of waking.
She leaves the bedroom door open, the bathroom light on,

afraid of darkness, wanting to control it, too much happens
in the dark that shouldn’t happen, too many things go wrong
at night for children, they stop breathing, they have bad dreams,
someone slips through a door that shouldn’t open. The night

is not for sleep. The night is for waiting,
for guarding against what is awakened.