That Woman

- 1943-
Look! A flash of orange along the river's edge--
"oriole!" comes to your lips like instinct, then
it's vanished--lost in the foliage,

in all your head holds, getting on with the day.  
But not gone for good. There is that woman    	
walks unseen beside you with her apron
pockets full.  Days later, or years, when you least    
seem to need it--reading Frost on the subway,    
singing over a candled cake--she'll reach

into a pocket and hand you this intact    
moment--the river, the orange streak parting 
the willow, and the "oriole!" that leapt

to your lips.  Unnoticed, steadfast, she gathers      
all this jumble, sorts it, hands it back like 
prizes from Crackerjack.  She is your mother,

who first said, "Look! a robin!" and pointed,   
and there was a robin, because her own
mother had said to her, "Look!" and pointed, 

and so on, back to the beginning: the mother, 
the child, and the world.  The damp bottom 
on one arm and pointing with the other: 
the peach tree, the small rocks in the shallows,    
the moon and the man in the moon.  So you keep on, 
seeing, forgetting, faithfully followed;   

and you yourself, unwitting, gaining weight,
have thinned to invisibility, become
that follower.  Even now, your daughter

doesn't see you at her elbow as she walks
the beach.  There! a gull dips to the Pacific,
and she points and says to the baby, "Look!"

Deer, 6:00 AM

The deer—neck not birch trunk, eyes
not leaf or shadow, comes clear
from nowhere at the eye's edge.
The woman's legs stop.  Her mind
lags, then flashes, "Deer at edge
of the woods."  The deer's eyes, black
and fragile, stare back and stop

her breathing.  The breeze drops.  Light
shines every leaf.  She enters 
that other world, her feet stone
still on the path.  The deer stands
pat and takes her in.  Antlered,
static as an animal—
not a statue, photograph,

any substitute—can be
because it wants to, it includes
her in the world it watches.
She notes its coat, thick, stiff
like straw, with a straw-like shine.
There, where the ribs are, she sees
no rise or fall of breathing.

She breathes, shyly, attempting
the etiquette of quiet.
She goes over what she knows
of antlers, those little trees
of bone, grown for a season
and shed like leaves.  The deer's head,
she thinks, is hieroglyphic,

eyes of wet ink, unblinking.
No golden links clasp the neck—
no deer of Arthur's this, sent
as a sign.  The woman finds
and fingers these few deer-thoughts
in her mind.  But she's no match
for its stasis, she hasn't

the tact.  Tableau, entrancement—
but what's the second panel
of the tapestry?  She moves,
not back, discreetly, as one
would leave a king, but forward,
to have it done.  To free (or,
less likely, fall on one knee,


petitioning).  The deer moves,
smooth as a fish, is gone.  Green
edges waver and reknit.
The light shifts.  The woman, two-
legged still, walks on.  "I saw
a deer," she will say, pouring 
coffee.  Not "I was."  "I saw."

Channel 2: Horowitz Playing Mozart

sits with a small smile, watching  
two speckled frogs or lizards run right 
and left, apart, together 

on long legs bendable as rubber. 
He doesn't bend down, looking,  
or sway to keep up with their scuffles,   

but sits immobile, his eyes
icon-sized but lidded, following 
those mottled creatures.  Bow-tied,

sweater-vested, he could be a clerk  
at a counter, there to wrap
things up for us the old-fashioned way,

with brown paper and a string.
He is old, no doubting it; his lean 
head states the skull's theme clearly.  

Strict time has taught him patience, practice
this perfect stillness, amused,
a little, like Buddha, watching two  

lithe, spotted beasts (allegro) 
in their hopscotch hurry.  Now stealthy
(lento), now frantic, they ramble

and attack and he observes, as if  
to learn their motives--hunger?
fear? territorial contention?

They could be hoarding, like ants,
against the future, or this display
might be, in fact, a mating   

dance (as we, the viewers, are hoping
in our hearts).  They are not tame,
exactly, or exactly trapped--that

man is kindly, it strikes us,  
and would release them.  He is admiring,
it seems, the precision, worked

out in all this time--the way they fit  
their niche.  Just the parts they need
they have evolved: the long and recurved

reachers, the last joints padded   
hammer heads.  He glances now and then
at Previn, the beat-keeper.

"They will go on forever,"
he might be saying, "unless your stick
can make an end of it."  There--

the cut-off falls, the last chord
lingers in the strings.  The old man flings
them--winged?--up into the air,

a referee (that bow tie)
declaring both the winner, sending
them heavenward, letting go.

The Wash

A round white troll with a black, greasy  
heart shuddered and hummed "Diogenes,  
Diogenes," while it sloshed the wash.  
It stayed in the basement, a cave-dank
place I could only like on Mondays,
helping mother.  My job was stirring
the rinse.  The troll hummed.  Its wringer stuck
out each piece of laundry like a tongue-- 

socks, aprons, Daddy's shirts, my brother's 
funny (I see London) underpants.  
The whole family came past, mashed flat 
as Bugs Bunny pancaked by a train. 
They flopped into the rinse tub and learned
to swim, relaxing, almost arms and legs  
again. I helped the transformation  
with a stick we picked up one summer 

at the lake.  Wave-peeled, worn to gray, inch 
thick, it was a first rate stirring stick.
Apprenticed on my stool, I sang a rhyme 
of Simple Simon gone afishing 
and poked the clothes around the cauldron
and around.  The wringer was risky.
Touch it with just your fingertip,
it would pull you in and spit you out

flat as a dishrag.  It grabbed Mother 
once--rolled her arm right to the elbow.
But she kept her head, flipped the lever
to reverse, and got her arm back, pretty
and round as new.  This was a story
from Before.  Still, I seemed to see it--
my mother brave as a movie star, 
the flattened arm pumping up again, 

like Popeye's.  I fished out the rinsing 
swimmers, one by one.  Mother fed them
back to the wringer and they flopped, flat,
into baskets.  Then the machine peed 
right on the floor; the foamy water 
curled around the drain and gurgled down.  
Mother, under the slanting basement 
doors, where it was darkest, reached up that 

miraculous arm and raised the lid.
Sunlight fell down the stairs, shouting 
"This way out!"  There was the day, an Easter 
egg cut-out of grass and trees and sky.  
Mother lugged the baskets up.  Too short 
to reach the clothesline, I would slide down 
the bulkhead or sit and drum my heels 
to aggravate the troll (Who's that trit-

trotting...) and watch.  Thus I learned the rules 
of hanging clothes: Shirts went upside down, 
pinned at the placket and seams.  Sheets hung 
like hammocks; socks were a toe-bitten 
row.  Underpants, indecently mixed, 
flapped chainwise, cheek to cheek.  Mother
took hold of the clothespole like a knight 
couching his lance and propped the sagging 

line up high, to catch the wind.  We all
were airborne then, sleeves puffed out round  
as sausages, bottoms billowing,
legs in arabesque.  Our heaviness
was scattered into air, our secrets
bleached back to white.  Mother stood easing 
her back and smiled, queen of the backyard
and all that flapping crowd.  For a week

now, each day, we'd put on this jubilee,    
walk inside it, wash with it, and sleep
in its sweetness.  At night, best of all,
I'd see with closed eyes the sheets aloft,
pajamas dancing, pillow cases 
shaking out white signals in the sun,  
and my mother with the basket, bent
and then rising, stretching up her arms.