“Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein:
then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice.”
After the sun went down and the fireflies came out,
we kicked off our one good pair of rationed shoes
and went barefoot. Carrying rakes and baskets we sang
in the joyful fields Pastor spoke about in his sermons,
moved like ghost dancers in the corn.
First came great grandfather, wounded twice
in Vicksburg, who returned then to his soddie,
served in the Nebraska legislature. At the picnic table
he read the family Bible by kerosene lantern.
While we worked, grandfather sat in the Adirondack,
played his violin, “Tenting Tonight.”
He knew the names of the constellations,
and Homer and Thucydides, his prayers for the parents
of the Athenian dead, a speech too hard to bear.
Father dug potatoes and I scrambled
to throw them in the bucket;
on vacation, the garden his vacation.
He didn’t have to go to this war, but
above the Victrola we hung a picture of him
wearing a tall expedition hat from the First War.
He said every soldier got a blanket to belt across his chest.
The widows too joined in, one pulling a baby carriage.
Not the old widows who went calling
with a handkerchief up in their sleeves,
stockings rolled around their ankles, but
young women who carried promise through tears.
A woman who rented the upstairs apartment came
to help hoe around the tomatoes. While her husband
was on bivouac, she pasted Shirley Temple scrapbooks.
Sometimes I climbed the pine tree to peer into their apartment.
I wanted a glimpse of married life.
I wanted to grow up.
What I Loved About the Depression
Our teacher asked what our fathers did.
When friends said, “WPA,”
I asked my dad, "What's the WPA?"
To explain, he took me to our post office. A man on a step ladder
painted tunnels of wheat on the wall and farmers with fat legs.
The man climbed down, handed me a paint brush.
“The wheat needs a little more ochre,” he said.
I had never heard ochre.
The most beautiful word,
and I fell in love with the smell of paint,
the art on our travels, the handsome bridges in North Carolina,
and the murals of Coit Tower in San Francisco.
Cowboys and orange pickers painted on walls
meant escape from poverty, dad said.
It meant soup for the first grade.
I paid a quarter for soup and a nickel to see Roy Rogers
at the Saturday picture show.
A friend gave us a loaf of bread she cooked
with bacon grease. My mother’s bread was the best.
We shared it with men who came looking for work.
She baked bread in coffee cans. The loaves came up like mushrooms
cooling on the windowsill.
That's what I loved about the depression. We helped each other.
Decades later, I heard my father’s secrets:
“He bought me my first suit of clothes.”
“He took me off the street.”
“He sent a truckload of coal.”
What I loved most about the depression were the Indian Head pennies
my father gave us to put on the railroad tracks, and the half-dollars
he shelled out to offer to beggars on Pierce Street.
My Cat, the Shah of Iran
Along with the celadon vases for my mantle
and the dolphin sculpture,
my lover left me his cat, the Shah.
Raised from that feral kitten,
le chat orange, he prospered into the imperious
Shah of Iran.
No one else claimed him but his jeweled eyes spark
my heart, his watermarked hide presses me with velvet;
his throaty purr buzzes me
as a potentates might.
He reclines on my chest,
stills my irregular heart beat
listens as I weave that tale, like Scheherazade,
that will grant us one more day.
I bit the dust in Matanzas
like the Spanish fleet
the indigenous Cubans destroyed.
I bit the dust in Matanzas
where all mornings unfold alike.
The nurse dabs me awake with cold
water from the mountain stream.
She leaves the liter bottle stamped
with the troll to last all day.
All Cubans drink the same fairy-tale water.
All afternoons sleep.
Abuela tunes up, “Ay Dios mio ayúdame”.
Second day I have entered her litany.
She chants, “Ella es Norteamericana y habla español.”
By the time she winds down
the nurse brings us rice and a drumstick.
I begin to crave the sour yogurt.
Late afternoon the TV clicks on.
Children march in the streets.
Evening at last. Another drumstick.
The nurses retire
and I creep out to the heavenly unlocked balcony.
Life goes on.
The fiesta convertibles like the one I rode in
and stray dogs pass each other in the street.