Tuesday Afternoon

My corner eye thought they were birds,

but leaves, just detached from limb,

flickered and flipped a brief migration,

landed at wind’s discretion.

Soon dappled light will be replaced

by straight shadows clacking in birches,

those be-jangled enthusiasts of fall

and its golden, breezy air.

Then they were leaves,

but no, peep-piping birds fluttered,

re-leafing trees, dropping tenderly

onto bare branches, nestling softly

into needled pines.

Sun is softer now, air sharp,

a languid, restless token.

My paddle board caught the wind, too,

a leaf on the water,

detached from shore,

rippling down the cold lake.

I turned to go back.

What leaf would ever do that?

Drive

i.

You will get the call

That changes most things, not everything

But most.

You take it at the coffee shop, Blue Owl,

Where your favorite table is not taken,

Your laptop open to work,

the news article you are writing about mouse research.

Your Mom’s number, good, you needed a break.

You take it

Stepping outside to the empty parking lot

A quiet place between two concrete buildings

The sun shining on a west facing wall

Leaning against it in between two yellow lines

And you will hear that something is not right.

They are doing tests,

Lab work needed in Portland

Pancreas and liver showed up on the MRI, lights,

Could be something else.

Your Mom does not say it on the phone,

But from this day on they are the hardest,

The most precious days.

The days you are furthest away and closest to home.

Painful distance, painful diagnosis.

Six months to a year, but your dad is strong

And on the young side,

So aggressive treatments could be worth it.

Treatments like holding back a flood

With just a few sandbags, piled up

As the rain pours down, chemicals pour through.

There is no holding it back.

The Power Ranger is powerless as it stands,

In the om position

On the table beside him during chemo.

ii.

I fly home after the call and

My eyes rest easy on the folds

Of hills that reach down to the river.

I think, “They are like the folds of my own brain.”

The river circuitry running through it

A pathway of blue.

“The folds of my brain, they must be similarly drawn

Down to the water that runs through them.”

I drive east after flying west to meet my mom,

Preparing for an experience I’m not prepared to have.

Thinking of my dad, who never complained,

Always worked hard.

Spoke a little too fast without listening,

but his heart was always good.

He always had a way forward in mind.

I wonder what way forward he will find this time.

That’s really the only way that Dad goes, forward.

Finding a way.

I don’t know what new folds

In my brain I’ll come upon as I go down this winding river.

I can’t see around the bend.

Should I stop now and wait?

Should I keep going?

Should I build a fire here?

Should I portage?

What’s around the corner?

Is it that water fall?

Is it a dam?

Is it rapids?

I’ve had a calm journey until now.

I’m not prepared.

I want a life jacket to save me.

I’m not ready to take off my Dad’s.

In Between

Acronym stands alone and credible.

ASAP

ZIP

SARS

TASER

RADAR

in utter importance it discards the in-between.

free of further verbalization, independent of long vowels and

clunky consonants

that impede the progress of CAPITAL LETTERS.

acronym uses more ink for one loud fact

than all indispensable, indivisible in-betweens put together.

acronym assumes abbreviation is understood,

that ideas need nothing but skeletons.

large letters, quick, efficient, cool, savvy

have left neighborhood letters behind,

small ones that slow CAPITALS down,

inconsequentials that love to be to be pronounced,

that bring assonance and alliteration when spoken openly—given voice.

in-betweens shrivel and die in dark shadows between UPPER CASES—

big letters, suave and slick, with-it and quick,

forget how the word sounds, how the world sounds,

in the smallness at their feet.

acronym leaves behind

the curved bottom of y, the strong back of h,

the inclusiveness of o, the quiet invitation of b

to sit in a comfortable chair

and stay for t

Notice:

I want to shout enough!

ENOUGH!

About the places that we board and we take and we squander.

The women crying out! Listen to them

The vulnerable, the small, the poor,

We steal their right to be.

To speak is to exist, to take up space, to complete the whole.

Enough!

I want to have a tantrum like a toddler

Scream the hurt and pain that lingers.

Why do those in power get the voice?

Why do those with money get the choice?

The woman who sat with her coffee and her paper

The men with their boots and opinions

The women playing mahjong and bridge

They gather, they talk, they interview, they bring

Their family and sisters and brothers

And developers? They say it’s not enough.

Not enough money.

They say you are not enough!

The love of money is evil, he said, and he was right.

We love it so much we give those who have it the right

To decide

Where buses go, good produce, green parks.

The best streets, the most trees,

The beings we save and the beings we let die.

Enough!

These words aren’t enough!

Why do we act from scarcity?

Why don’t you act scared of me?

I am the woman, the athlete, the mother

I speak for the little, the forgotten,

the soil, the air, the mammals warm and dying,

the children, the teenagers, the elderly.

They are our enough!

Give them food and shelter,

Give them beauty and plenty,

Hell, give them money, yes a minimum standard for everyone

to ease the burden, to lift the weight

So they can fly, their imagination, their ingenuity, their creativity

Their capacity

To love!

To experience this world in all its beauty!

Beauty is enough!

Why do we take land from native people and

native flowers and trees and birds and bears?

There is enough!

Stop reaching, stop taking, stop fighting,

BE STILL

Enough!

Why aren’t the voices speaking for love

Amplified like the fear that we hear in the news

In the news, it is not enough, but here, right here

It is enough.

WE ARE ENOUGH

to turn the tide

To stop the hate and the violence and the unjust, the persecution and damning blindness.

ENOUGH I say to administrations that abuse and use and persecute and squander

The beauty that is the immigrant and the refugee,

And the dream that most Americans have woken from.

Enough! Enough guns for they fail

To make us safe, they replace

The words we need to speak

To hear where we hurt, where we are ignored and forgotten.

Walk into the garden, look at the pain the world is in

put your guns down, dig your hands in, sweat!

It is enough!

What words do I need?

Life is too short

Life is too precious

Life is found in forgotten streets,

in quiet meadows,

in trees growing through sidewalks,

in the apartments shoved out

and all the people who made their home

there stepped on, told to go.

Enough, I say,

ENOUGH!

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Is this Enough?

Your voice belongs here, too. Please,

an invitation to

Tell us your enough

You’re

ENOUGH

Practice Gym

Dear Teenage Sarah,

Your Dad will not always be there.

You feel his presence as big and annoying and he doesn’t understand you, as a young woman, and neither do you, as a young woman.

You both focus on another place, with hoops and keys, made of blocks and bruises, hardwood floors and ten foot nets.

In that practice gym you talk to each other in spurts and slaps and barks:

block, go, stop, pivot, hard, jump, pass, drive, push, rebound, shoot, huddle, ashamed, no, yes, and you and he write your story in wins and losses without looking each other in the eyes for too long.

It will be okay. It was good enough.

After games you will celebrate or sit to be yelled at on the cold January car ride home, plied with questions you can’t answer, you try, and get back home to eat dinner and go to your room on the first floor and to college for five years, and he will go upstairs to his room, the creak in the second step.

He will not always be able to walk up those steps.

He will never ask you about your boyfriends.

He will never want you to see him naked when he can no longer turn over in bed.

He will take his last breath in your room after playing an unexpected game impossible to win, but he stayed in the game, never wanting to sit on the sideline, to stop and ask what else there is to love as the game clock winds down, while you try in vain to reach him, you will hug him and hold his hand and give his restless hand a rubik’s cube and tell him that you love him, but he will not answer you, your 1,000 point trophy ball sitting on top of the bookshelf.

He will leave having loved you the best he could with a language he knew and believed in. With faith.

Your room backfills with leftovers from life, the wave tip of a watercolor ocean, great grandparent portraits, old glass bottles, records, file drawers, wedding photos, everyday flotsam eddying,

and you will sleep there again, your future husband, your two daughters, your Dad, dying from pancreatic cancer.

Tell him that you love him.

Love

Sarah

Coffee

Thank you God for coffee

That gets me through the day

That keeps me nice and regular

(Maybe that I shouldn’t say)

‘Cause if it weren’t for coffee

I don’t know what I’d do

I’d probly chew tobacco

‘Course there’s marijuana too.

Nah, I wouldn’t chew tobacco,

But coffee stains my teeth

I think I’d use the hash

Cause I’d have better breathe.

Who am I to say

What’s right or good or bad?

When pushing comes to shoving

It’s whatever people have

Around them when they need it,

A mental shift in mood.

Mine’s black and strong with cream

It’s psychoactive too.

In other places it’s totally fine

To drag on this or that.

Culture is such a blinder

I’d rather just forget

About stigma (gasp), taboo

Who needs them anyway?

Thank you God for coffee

That gets me through the day.

The World Tilts

there is more than one way to mark darkest of night,
Newgrange in Ireland flooded with light,
stone shed in sand lit by starlight and strangers
holding oxen and mule and a child-filled manger.
in Ohio the serpent mound coils away,
Mayans on Tikal still keeping the days,
in Montana a stick thrust deep in the snow,
the Koliada bonfire will grow and will grow.
the birth of the sun and the Son are the same,
crossing from darkness to light in one name
before all the things that imprison our eyes,
all the paper and plastic and things money buys,
was silence and stillness, a coldness and bleak
the slow march of winter on frost bitten feet
Before the slow grip of new electronics,
were birds tweeting carols, celestial phonics.
owls in the twilight, frogs in brumation
soft fur of hare, the bear’s hibernation.
let’s not forget what this slow time is for,
a Light in the darkness, a knock at the door.
welcome! welcome! invite invitation
to come in, to rush in!
A Holy perturbation

Crazy

I thought I might take my ukulele outside
and sing to the compost pile after it was made.
Maybe crazy,
but so was Mozart
and Patch Adams
and the man who plays his guitar
on the median of
East Michigan Avenue and Howard Street.
I think I know
that playing Bach’s Cello Suite #1 to cattle
just before slaughter
feels a little crazy
but is the sanest thing to do under the circumstances.
When I was young,
crazy was awkward
and we may never get past
the way we think we look to others.
But at 40 I finally know that to sing to compost piles
wear a wig while composing music
or a clown nose while treating patients
and bring Bach to beef cattle
and play a guitar on the median
makes beautiful sense.

 

Eight Notes from the Bell Tower*

1.
She is in the tower,
the camponologist,
calling out to heaven from her stony perch,
pulling thick rope until the tower shakes, resonating
the air with beautiful clamor.

2.
A new voice was pulled that day, and it washed the sky
from dusk to starlight, pastel morning to deep night,
striking thick tones.
She bathed the blank sky until
the air was crisp, the stars shone, and all was so,
so still.

3.
The bell tower stands
like an empty shell.
Tiny window-gems rise
in a golden line.
Empty thuds of feet climb
the inner ring
to the top where sallys hang
like the ends of candy canes.

4.
Down and up
back and forth
pull and
pause

in perfect union, all eight, and she
the first to call in the year,
to whisper the command
into tremulous, thundering beauty!

5.
“Look to!”

curves of steel, ageless, without wrinkles,
arch in graceful curves
others hold their breath
tension all around

“Treble’s Going!”

now ring in time, in birth, in death, in union
sing clear and strong
for years to fall in place.
all around she rings them in,
a lassoer of skies.

“She’s Gone.”

6.
The campanile
watches
the village sleep
and rise.
The bells
wait
and ring
accordingly.

7.
Cambridge Surprise?
Not a dessert of clotted cream eaten with small spoons,
but a clear chorus of bells, rung by human hands.

Grandsire?
Not a grand sire, ruling from his palace,
but a faithful ring, struck true and constant.

Double Bob Minor?
Not a slow duo of melancholy notes,
but the clean, swift weave of a two ton bell dancing among the other seven.

8.
Birds hold, people stop,
airs quiver, stars twinkle.
The awesome resonance of bells,
bells she rang – the first – the camponologist.

*St. Mary’s church in Adderbury, England, (see below) houses 8 bells, the largest of which is 2 tons. It takes a minimum of one year to learn the most basic combinations. The leader of the bell ringers is a “camponologist,” a position that takes many years to earn. This poem celebrates the first woman in Adderbury to do so.

adderburybelltower

Insubordination

The ravens’ wings flashed

In a high sun

Purple blue iridescences

Like a mob of teenagers

Good natured

Unruly 
Riding the sky

Like bicycles
Climbing and coasting

Taste testing freedom
Carefree-ing exhilaration
Squeezing dare

into every fibrous feather

Resonating flares

Into every hollow bone

Riding invisible drafts higher

And higher
Bold and fierce
Plumes of feathers

Cawing, climbing,

Defying

Alive