Autobiography with Fingers
for John Wieners
I dream of a fist,
pushing out to form fingers.
on my 11 pm walk:
mockingbird, skunk, possum, coyote
hold the struggle for form.
the fist emerges
in the bleak early morning.
I wash towels, make beds;
poetry asserts itself
formed me out of madness when I was young
and knew nothing but magic
watching a tree turn orange
at a boarding school in upstate New York,
reading fairy tales alone in a top floor bedroom.
At my grandmother’s house, I sat on a bench shaped rock,
rescued by stone rabbits,
by John Wieners who came to our house in Buffalo
and talked to ghosts while he drank Crème de Menthe
in our dining room.
I pray for an answer to a neighbor’s green plastic grass,
slim stars overhead,
raccoon slipping along the shadows,
possum moving up the driveway;
I woke up and my father was on his way to the hospital,
sweet deranged man
born too early for the medicines that could have saved him.
My sister sat alone in a rocking chair for years,
fierce guardian of the good
in the half-way house in Woodstock, New York.
She came to me in a dream,
thick black hair and Old Testament robes,
with a message from St. Joseph, patron saint of good death.
Today, a man sits crying at the end of a driveway,
his much-loved cat of 15 years
lies dead in a box at his feet.
I search for clarity among the cucumber leaves,
long for grammatical order.
Loss is the order that comes
These are the fingers forming.
the irregular heartbeat, the aging feet
that carry us
along with the Spotted Towhee, the Red Breasted Sapsucker,
the poet driving to a retreat in Big Bear.
we must keep our images humble
amid the tension of the heartbreaking news
that sends us to our flickering screens,
exhausted by the daily terrors.
we have only our little song
that solves no riddles,
asserts itself gently
and yes, persists.
this is the small answer
landing on the air conditioner,
pecking at the sunflower seeds,
the small answer.
The Great Blue Heron
for Harry Northup
Ask permission of the powerful stranger,
the Great Blue Heron walking in the water of the Sepulveda Basin;
ask the heron about listening
carefully lifting one long leg after another.
Emptiness descends in the morning
in spite of anonymous phone calls from random builders, or
music from a television in the next room.
I move through life like a teacup,
a brief refreshment before
the tongue that greets us.
I remember the Ticonderoga pencils of my youth
sharpened and ready on our grandfather’s desk,
the music box we played on the sly, sneaking
into the room filled with papers and books.
I wake early and consider
the darkness in the mirror.
Later I am allowed glances of
late afternoon light on camellia leaves.
I ignore the random phone calls
and ponder the word for today: lostness
that is in itself a kind of location.
I walk carefully in the moonlight along Columbia Avenue.
here at the Laundromat
across from Trader Joe’s,
communion with the Tide,
with the turquoise negligee,
two men reading quietly
while a woman pulls her quilts from washer to washer
loading the coins, clink.
I’m looking at my bunion and
considering Donald Hall’s old farm house
with its wood burning stove
where he lived until he was 89.
Yes, these washers do support the invisible world
as does the weight of sunlight
and two Chinese women, one in shorts looking stylish,
wiping the sweat off with a paper towel.