Not Once

- 1942-

Not once—not when I toppled, rigid, a
5'7" pine felled,
stiff as a board, a five and a half foot
plank, 16 x 32,
and not while I wallowed on the rug among
his oxygen tubes and my cane and his 8
wheelchair wheels, and not when I sat by his
hospice bed, chirping I’m fine!,
and not the next day, when the brilliant violet
and black slash-slathered in my easy-life skin,
or days later when the purple turned yellow and the
blue green—never once when I
said No pain, Nothing broken,
did I feel lucky, did I measure the force of the
blow, the floor speeding up like a heavy-weight’s
smash to my cheek and eyebrow, not until
today, did I begin to feel
grateful for my good fortune—no concussion, no
fracture—as if I expected to be able to be
struck by the earth, a wrecking ball,
and not feel it—
as when someone on the other side of the world,
or the city, is struck in my name, I do not feel it.


                (for Lucille)

Our voices race to the towers, and up beyond
the atmosphere, to the satellite,
slowly turning, then back down
to another tower, and cell. Quincy, 
Toi, Honoree, Sarah, Dorianne, 
Galway. When Athena Elizalex calls, 
I tell her I'm missing Lucille's dresses,
and her shoes, and Elizabeth says "And she would say,
"Damn! I do look good!'"  After we
hang up, her phone calls me again
from inside her jacket, in the grocery store
with her elder son, eleven, I cannot                        
hear the words, just part of the matter
of the dialogue, it's about sugar, I am
in her pocket like a spirit. Then I dream it — 
looking at an illuminated city 
from a hill, at night, and suddenly
the lights go out — like all the stars
gone out.  "Well, if there is great sex
in heaven," we used to say, "or even just
sex, or one kiss, what's wrong
with that?!"  Then I'm dreaming a map of the globe, with
bright pinpoints all over it —
in the States, the Caribbean, Latin America,
in Europe, and in Africa —
everywhere a poem of hers is being
read.  Small comfort.  Not small
to the girl who curled against the wall around the core
of her soul, keeping it alive, with long
labor, then unfolded into the hard truths, the
lucid beauty, of her song.            

                                                       15 Feb '10

Related Poems

A Short Tablature of Loss

A funeral home before the funeral.
                       The ghosts it despises.

           Evaporated holy water.
Messiah of satin roses.

                                  The prayer before it becomes a prayer:
in the throat, the machine for lamenting.


                       Musk of kindling after fire.
           Char, as in: these hands are reaching,
but all they can grasp is air.

                                  The road the hearse used to carry the body
to the wormhole.

                       A sling carrying a body with broken clocks.


My mother in her mainframe, captive
                      to pumps, pipes, irrigation tubes.

The spotlessness of her gown,
                                  immaculate hem of nurses’ smocks.

                      Wasping of night hours invading morning,
                                  spreading tick-tock like spilled salt.

           The way they pulled the needles off, as if freeing
a smoker’s lung from its escutcheon.


                                  My grandmother in her wheelchair
           at Good Samaritan Nursing Home, rubbing
                                  a rosary into dust, and flecks of gold leaf


on her lap, and the way she would stare

                      at a space in the wall as if God was speaking
                                  in that language.

Hurricane calm. Before the posts prayed.

           Coven of whistling thorns.

After the relocation of water: blessing and blessed.


           Coming home to that shack on Calle Tulipan.

                                  How the lawn had yellowed as phlegm.


                      How the blocks under the house had worried themselves loose.

           My father, who'd lost his leg in Korea, sprinting
along the fields to save our grapefruit from frost

                      and in his speed two spinnerets playing pat-a-cake.


The mark of the poor: tentativeness.


           A body crimpled into cassocks. The sunflower field
where it was abandoned, and the moon in its resignation.

                                  The dream of all hunters: to justify an absence
                      that requires sacrifice of innocent things.

Pulling petals from a dayflower to form a fence.

                                  Smoothing a rock to make a false eye.

           As if creating the missing of things
                                  could cure the loss of some others.

The Rule of Opulence

Bamboo shoots on my grandmother's side path
grow denser every year they’re harvested for nuisance.
Breezes peel blush and white petals from her magnolia,
lacing unruly roots in the spring grass. For nine decades
she has seen every season stretch out of shape, this past
Connecticut winter slow to relinquish cold. As a girl
she herded slow turkeys on her Aunt Nettie’s farm, fifty acres
in a Maryland county that didn’t plumb until midcentury,
plucking chickens and pheasants from pre-dawn
into the late night, scratching dough
for neighbors, relatives stopping by for biscuits, and the view
from my window changes. It's Mother's Day
and I’d always disbelieved permanence—newness a habit,
change an addiction—but the difficulty of staying put
lies not in the discipline of upkeep, as when my uncle
hurricane-felled birches blocking the down-sloped driveway,
not in the inconvenience of well water
slowing showers and night flushes, not in yellowjackets
colonizing the basement, nuzzling into a hole
so small only a faint buzz announces their invasion
when violin solos on vinyl end, but in the opulence of acres
surrounding a tough house, twice repaired from fires, a kitchen
drawer that hasn’t opened properly in thirty years marked
nothing more permanent than the cracked flagstone
path to the door, the uneven earth shifting invisibly beneath it.

Aubade with Horses (Fort Worth Impromptu II)

There’s no right word for the color of the ashes,
you said at the New Orleans hospice—
every week a new urn carried out
& poured into the nameless garden.
Maybe it’s true. And maybe,
just there through the fog,
this morning’s mare & her foal,
                                                 dapple-gray & steaming,
come close enough.
Or the grime-dulled silver of the quarter you were given once
to dig a horse’s grave—
a piano’s worth of hand-thrown earth,
when you were young, first of many.
A quail flailing skyward might come close,
or the color of an unanswered prayer, or the first mouthful of gob,
sucked & spat out from the rattlesnake bite
before the blood hits.
And if the horses are the ashes, this sundog’s
                                                                       the transfiguration,
southeast of the sun, toward Nacogdoches,
dragonfly glimmer that Sherwin-Williams might call
Skin at the Soprano’s Throat, if she’s under the bright lights,
if her last aria is on our forgetting
& how the language fails us, as it so often does.
O cloud of flesh, O dream
of rain out of cloudless skies,
                                              we begin to be erased
when we lose the graves,
when we lose the tongues. 
Someday we’ll know how to mend the horse’s bones
without driving her mad.
Someday we’ll come to the green pastures,
where we’ll be poured out, & the lost vowels
                                                                     will fall back to our tongues like snow.