Releasing the Birds

Cathie Sandstrom
Next to her embroidered lawn handkerchiefs
my mother's empty gloves lay
paired in the nest of her drawer: 

short white Easter ones that stopped at the wrist; 
netted crocheted gloves for summer; an ecru pair
four inches past her watchband, the backs detailed
with three rows of stitching raised like fine bones;
three-quarter length pigskin to wear under coats; 
black lace for cocktails, white for weddings;

sexy gloves with gathers up the length so they'd
look like they were slouching; the knitted 
Bavarians, Loden green, stiff as boiled wool.

My first prom dress—strapless, floor-length—I wore
her formal opera gloves.  Pearl buttons on the delicate
underside of my wrists, then the white went up and up.

I kept six pairs, my sister took the rest.  Saying
someone should use them, she gave them away
at work, set them out for the taking.   

Tonight, I lay the table with my mother's china. 
At each place, a pair of gloves palms up, wrists
touching in a gesture of receiving and giving.

I held back the gloves she'd bought in Italy: black
leather, elbow length, the right glove torn at thumb
and palm as if she'd reached for something too late

or held onto something too long.

More by Cathie Sandstrom


          from Swedish, the path moonlight lays over water

The ghost child fastens
his mouth to yours,
breathes your breath
from you so you cannot
cry out.
               He drew you creek side,
where you hung terrified,
gripping the deep-shaded
undercut bank above wild
rushing water, until finally
I heard you, came running.

What the drowned boy wants forever:
his mother, in time.
What he found:
a playmate his age.

eyes the color of seafoam,
the shining helmet of your
bowl-cut hair bright as
mångata over dark sea.

Tell me, lost ones: When
the moon melts, what
will we do with all that gold?

Everything Moving Toward Elegy in This Season of Lost Light

with a line from Ciaran Berry

Time to call out
the skirling ghosts, to count like beads
on an abacus, your disappointments.

This day began with my order
Do Not Resuscitate
accepted crisply over the phone.

Now I also move toward elegy,
ask your forgiveness for trying
to interrupt your dying.

Here at your bedside I will build
a longboat. Lay as keel, your birth.
Sculpt the ribs, fit the strakes

from what came later. Caulk with
images—the child you were, the boy.
Then lay the man you are 

on folded sails; loose the mooring
and release you to your fathers.
Polaris bright above to steer you home.

On a Succession of Mornings

The wheelbarrow. 
Stakes and string. The rake.
Stacks of paving stones. 
The foldable workbench. The saw. 
The man grizzled and gaunt. Plaid
shirt faded above work pants, 
his scuffed brown boots.

The earth bared, rake-leveled
and pounded flat. Him kneeling, 
setting the cut pavers into a pattern
he starts with a central Moravian star,
a design best seen from above.

What I know: that Nature will not wait.
Green will push up between the stones.
The pavers, laid like pastilles on the tongue, 
will disappear edges first as if melting, 
to be swallowed invisible. That the man
will not live to see this.  That he works 
slowly but steadily, concentrates 
on keeping the pattern true.