The Pact

- 1959-

All those years—paw of again, paw of let’s go
of lake-plash, of come throw, perked ear
of what’s that? of yanked back who’s that?
unsettled pacer of storms, investigator of grass,
distinguished scholar of curbside, delighted
roller in the perfume of foul, sleek 
fetcher, sock chewer, under table sleeper,
taut leaper into air & pond—then, all at once,
it became her turn & the reliable 
body began—the unimaginable undoing; 

while we—scratchers of belly & ear, callers of hey, 
come back, diligent trainers of down come,
companions of dawn, partners of rain,
& errand, stick throwers, ball wranglers, 
chair readers & nappers,
while at our feet with twitch & yelp,
she rustles through the high grass of dream—
understood it was now our turn, 
which meant—as it does with each animal sorrow
—doing the unimaginable.

Getting Close

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.

Economics

There were strollers, outgrown, circulated till a wheel fell off.

Anna’s infant RockaRoo went to Francesca then to Sophia

who gave it back to Anna when she had the twins.

Travel cribs traveled between homes and the green vest

Sophia knitted for Ming’s first was worn by all the next babies.

Onesies, drawstring gowns, snap-legged overalls,

snowsuits, sweatpants, jeans, t-shirts, jumpers,

all sorted, washed, boxed then sent on

till they were sorted, washed, boxed and sent again.

Pj’s worn to that silkiest perfection, then worn 

wholly through, reluctantly tossed. A blue dress

with applique lilacs was the favorite of each girl

and who knew where the velvet blazer came from,

but it did the job for more than one holiday concert.

Even this year, a photograph of Francesca’s youngest in
      Prague,

handsome in that hand-me-down wool pea coat. Sophia hit
      reply all:

Our last? No! Well, fits yours better than it ever did mine.

The Psychic

He said I must pay special attention in cars. He wasn’t, he assured me, saying that I’d be in an accident but that for two weeks some particular caution was in order, &, he said, all I really needed to do was throw the white light of Alma around any car I entered & then I’d be fine. & when I asked about Alma, he said, Oh, come on, you know Alma well. You two were together first in Egypt & then at Stonehenge, & I nodded though I’ve never been— in this life at least—to Stonehenge; then I said, Shouldn’t I always throw the white light of Alma around a car? & when he said, Well, it wouldn’t hurt, I said, What about around planes, houses? What if I throw the white light of Alma around anyone who might need protection from the reckless speed of driving or the reckless swerve & skid of the world? & the psychic opened his hands & shrugged up his shoulders. So despite your doubt or mine as to why I’d gone there, to a psychic, in—I kid you not—a town of psychics—in the first place, right now, as you read this, let me throw the white light of Alma around you & everyone you pass close to today, beloved or stranger, the grocer, the bus driver, the boy on his longboard, the lady you stand silent beside in the elevator, & also I am throwing it around anyone they care about anywhere in the spin of the world, because, we can agree that these days, everywhere, particular caution is in order &, even if unverifiable, the light of my dear sister Alma, couldn’t hurt.

Related Poems

We have no choice in the bodies that hold us

Thing of dirt and water and oxygen marked by thinking
and reacting and a couch
one may or may not be permitted
to sleep on. He may not permit me
to touch him or to take the bone
from his mouth, but he does, and that’s a choice
based on many factors, not the least of which
is his own desire to let me
do these things. How I could ever
think or feel myself more
deserving of a single thing than
this being, whom I call by a name the same way
my parents chose a name for me. The same way my genes
went expressing themselves to make my face exactly
my face. This isn’t special. Or this is special. But it’s one
answer, the same, for us both.

Closer

 

In the end there was 
    a certain grace

splayed on the table
   unrecognizable

our beloved (pup)
   barely

five sedated on
   a manual respirator

unresponsive
  Phenobarbital

overdose in wait
  human hair

not fur its smell
   and luster

in spite of a final
   breath-less episode

just minutes before
   we arrived for our

nightly visit the ex and I
   he from across country

in case of the worst
  sweet pup

earlier in the day
   recognizing his hide

and seek whistle
   paw shake of recognition

cone headed oxygen
  tubes stapled to her nose

the ex fearing our last
   link too expiring

yes, a certain grace
   to release this spirit

from the metal
   vet emergency room cages

to sniff her hair
   in the last shallow

horror of breath 
   a stopped baby-like

heart all muscle
   and miles of hiking

reduced to toneless
  aspiration pneumonia

complication of—
  the ominous seriousness
 
released spirit etherized
   in the lingering smell

of the keepsake collar
   and blanket on the bed

at my feet where
  nightly she tried

to creep up
   pawing me still

The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz

As if there could be a world
Of absolute innocence
In which we forget ourselves

The owners throw sticks
And half-bald tennis balls
Toward the surf
And the happy dogs leap after them
As if catapulted—

Black dogs, tan dogs,
Tubes of glorious muscle—

Pursuing pleasure
More than obedience
They race, skid to a halt in the wet sand,
Sometimes they'll plunge straight into
The foaming breakers

Like diving birds, letting the green turbulence
Toss them, until they snap and sink

Teeth into floating wood
Then bound back to their owners
Shining wet, with passionate speed
For nothing,
For absolutely nothing but joy.