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?

Holey trinity: Mother, daughters, and the holy nose

I.

I was always bargaining with God in the back seat of the car on the way to church about picking my nose.

This is the last time, I promise, then I’ll never pick my nose again. I really want to go to heaven, so this is the last booger, I swear.

Then it would itch.

Or it was an especially dusty day.

Or I could feel it in there, waiting. God would understand.

My Dad always picked his nose in our pick-up truck on the way to school. I pretended not to see, staring out the window, peripheral vision betraying me.

There were all kinds of hairs in there, I knew. I’d seen those, too. He was 6’6″ tall, so it was difficult not to look anywhere but up his large-nostriled nose.

If I hadn’t picked my nose so much as a kid, then maybe my left nostril would be the same size as my right one.

Now I’ll never know, because I’m not a kid anymore.

Now I have my own kids, and I’m sure they’ve seen me pick my nose a few times. God knows. Okay, many times.

My daughter picks her nose while she reads books. Completely absorbed, absent-minded picking. I’m not sure where they end up. I try not to stare that long.

Upon being introduced to Michigan State University’s mascot at age 4, she promptly picked her nose. Sparty got down on one knee, nose to nose, and brought his felted finger to his fuzzy, oversized nostril in mutual understanding.

II.

Most mammals can’t pick their noses, it’s not physically possible. Imagine a cat trying to do that. Or an elephant.

Or a whale.

It’s impossible to pick your nose while snorkeling and listening to millions of tiny underwater clicks–fish mandibles munching minerals–while feeling the strangest, strongest desire to never exhale carbon dioxide ever again in order to preserve this beautiful, intricate, aquatic dance of astonishing color, light, and texture.

Coral icons, layer upon layer of life, plated with sun-gold.

Is it only hominids who dig for gold? For there is something extremely human about nose picking. The pointer finger neatly fits (but not the thumb). It is completely self-directed. An exercise in free will. Public or private? Long or short? Deep or shallow?

I’ve outgrown my original deal with God. As my daughters and I grow older, there is more reason to believe God delights in creating life, not bargaining with it.

My daughters’ noses were cleared after their first, startling, beautiful breath fresh from my womb.

God took a deep, loving belly breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth–and dust swirled into life. The same dust forged in exploding stars, the same dust we pick from our noses.

Now I know (tapping the side of my nose) that the nose was created not just for fingers, but for aromas–detectors of danger and decay, gateways to otherworldly pleasures and pains, solidifiers of memory, pathways for life’s breath–inhale and exhale.

III.

Inhale

my Mom’s perfume and favorite, faded pink and purple plaid shirt.

Exhale

my shoulders drop.

Inhale

the top of my daughters’ tiny heads, smooth baby scent tinged in tiny, translucent hair.

Exhale

I close my eyes

Inhale

my husband’s aftershave, a can he used for more than five years because he loves adventure, not things, people, not self-grooming.

Exhale

I am still

Inhale

motorcycle exhaust and 5-year-old me between my Dad’s arms, leaning into every turn without fear, hair flying, elation, alfalfa, and dust filling my nose.

Exhale

I miss him

Inhale

asphalt after rain, nettles in spring, pine needled trees on Mt. Adams, strawberries in warm June sun, cookies in the oven.

Exhale

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

poem based on Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World”

I dream a world beyond

the walls that keep us in,

the locks, the gates, the bars

all fall away and then

we gaze upon each other,

each life a glorysound,

like birds aloft, aflutter,

our songs, once lost, are found.

A world beyond the grip

of violence, fear, and greed,

where all can breathe the air,

breaths deep and whole and free.

I dream a world alive

with creatures great and small

who have good food to eat,

clean water, beauty, all.

This world we dream to being,

dream light into the dark!

Then gather up the words,

ignite them with love’s spark!

Jacques and Sylvia

I’m sure they had their bad days
Mornings the coffee was no good, the ship off course.
Days people didn’t even care that they dove
down, down, into places hardly any other human has seen.
Quietly flying through the sea.

Mysterious and utterly enchanting.

Only to surface to gravity pressing on them, waves slapping at them.
Heaving equipment onto the deck, peeling wet suits off their bodies and trying
to describe heartbreaking beauty to land lubbers.
Falling in love so deeply they couldn’t stop.

Wailing love letters from the ocean like sirens.

And like sailors who can’t be bothered to stop,
we close our ears and refuse to listen.
Sylvia! Name like a silver fish!
And Jacques! An ocean of secrets!

Human, like you and me, in love with the sea.

In love with maternal whales, grumpy groupers, ruthless sharks,
eels, corals, currents and caves.
They dove into the dark and were enlightened.
Sylvia, Jacques, speak to us!
Cry out from the depths of our own sea souls
until we let the water carry us back to ourselves.

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