a trick of context
now makes my pale and mottled skin
look like mushrooms in caves,
or creatures without pigment
because without sun.
Don’t call it self-hatred.
This moment of self in negative,
makes the world of brown shades
various and shining and for once
to my eyes
A flight to the periphery
affords me the freedom
to morph into a being
made of seeing
I cannot say of this land, “We tilled it.
My mothers gathered,
my fathers hunted.”
This is America:
the land was stolen, sold,
worked by slaves.
But set that aside,
I was conceived in Europe,
born in one state,
raised in another,
had my children here.
The first time I thought to plant,
I used a spoon,
and could not dig deep enough
for a handful of Holland bulbs.
Next try was painfully slow,
but led to daisies, strawberries, tomatoes.
I’m talking about an apartment,
then another apartment,
then a house, and another house,
and another decade of trying
before any but accidental beauty
Indiana is alkaline, clay,
the topsoil shorn away
where new houses
Want to plant?
Take my brother-in-law’s advice:
poke holes in the soil,
the peat will break it down,
and tomorrow it’s noticeably softer.
Then do it again.
Don’t rely on
the strength of your arms:
lean in with the legs,
rock the spade …
but still the time comes
when the trowel is all–
then fingers, then nails.
I could, once,
dig faster and farther
than stronger men,
just from knowing what to do.
But the longest I’ve been
on one patch of ground
is twenty years.
And once I heard a lady
at the garden center
mock “instant gratification” gardeners,
who just buy a plant, full grown,
and plunk it in the ground.
So who am I
to try to tap into
some earth-mother, bogus
My father came from farmers.
Some took enough pride
for consternation when their younger kin
couldn’t say how many mules
were in a team;
but the women, mostly,
wanted the hell out.
No overalls allowed,
and their boys would come home,
if the women could help it,
with clean hands,
And who can blame them?
So many girls
have lived in shit-filled dead ends,
eyes hard set
on a way out–
my Dad cried leaving his small town–
his aunt cried moving in.
I have sisters in Arizona–
white in Arizona–
Irish and German in Arizona,
Spanish Catholic brown–
layers and layers–
and who knows what the woman
who sells Kachinas
really thinks of them, or
of white or Latino
Maybe “sad” is her story,
or “never really thought about it.”
If the land isn’t yours,
your stories had better be.
And if the soil
is alkaline, clay,
better poke holes
where you can,
let something in
that breaks it down,
Badger, what must we do?
— We dig.
Badger, what are we digging for?
— We just dig.
Badger, what have we found?
— Odds and ends.
Badger, what have we found?
— A little idol.
Badger, what have we found?
— An old coin.
Badger, what is turning dark?
— A bowl of water.
Badger, why is it like ink?
— It hears your heart.
Badger, what does it say back?
Badger, why must I be hard?
— To stay pure like a diamond.
Badger, why must I be pure like a diamond?
Badger, what can I say when someone finds me hard?
— Say, “here are bounds you didn’t know were there.
Here are bounds I didn’t know were there.
Here is holy ground–”
And then go back.
Badger, when do I return?
A sudden sound. Awake.
how odd a choice these are; I would have thought
the simple, abstract, classic was her style–
Jackie Kennedy, but more subdued
in color. Did she have, in fact, a pin
that was a simple circle, formed of three
twisted strands? I thought I saw that once.
Instead, these two are shaped like leaves– one gold,
worn with the navy suit, the other silver,
which went with the sweater set in teal.
flawless face and figure, and the air
is thick with hairspray.
She had modeled
as a girl. They cut her hair, and when
she went home, her mother shocked with loss
as if the hair itself had been her child,
cried, “Now you have nothing!” Maybe that’s
the reason that our battleground was hair,
the thorny crown of bobby pins made hot
in the infernal depths of the balloon,
green and plastic, puffed with desert winds,
the harsh ordeal of sixties hair dryers.
The plastic ruffles itched around the ears.She told me once that when she was fourteen,
she’d read a sonnet to her tape recorder–
then mimed her breathy innocence and simpered,
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways …”
It pleased her when I said I thought she should
have acted comedy.I’d found her stern
for many years, before a truce was reached,
a place where power ceased to be for us
the central thing, the poison in the well.
In the way of gardens, she once said
what she loved was foliage, and trees.
I hear her say it; and I have a glimpse,
a silhouette on the periphery,
as if we both looked straight ahead, and not once
at each other. Always, memory sets
the scene like this; until the truce, we always
looked away, or her face bore down
on mine, in anger. But then stories,
told and retold, take a simple shape.
Some feeling dominates, rescripts the scene
until the details fit. And maybe I
am more alive to gift than to the giver,
when it comes to times before the truce–
the gift was space, a safety, certain lines
that never would be crossed, and certain things
you knew you could expect. Just that alone
takes work that lucky children don’t suspect.
In any case, where gardens are concerned,
everyone had known that she liked roses,
but just then, when she mentioned trees, a vision
opened up–of mulch and shadowy paths,
bark and leaf, and hiddenness, and quiet,
and her with pensive movements, wandering.
My sister sorted pictures for her wake,
and found one of a young, young girl, in shorts
and wind-whipped ponytail, shy smile, alive
to something she could see off-camera.
So unposed. It was the only one
of all the pictures that surprised me, since
long before the truce, I’d memorized
all the stories– boyfriends, roommates, shows,
the Lovely Legs contest– I knew the legend.
I could name her grade school nemesis,
and tell about the girls who cut her dead
her first day in high school– to their loss:
“cause I became a star, and they were nuthin’!”
And stars, in fact, last longer in our view
than in their own (it’s all about light years).
We have the after-image; that’s the thing
we study and write books about, and use
to orient ourselves. And they are true,
as far as they go; these things were; she was.
But what I love today is just what’s odd,
what I don’t know, or what I found out late,
and never could incorporate.
The thing you love and cannot have
you may through envy, one mad day
break, and find you cannot mend–
and there’s an end,
You’ll find this peace a bluff,
for though you kill and kill again,
you’ll find you cannot kill it dead enough.
Then when some famished someone craves
a thing you find you cannot give,
the specter of your love and crime
will puzzle you with who’s to blame,
and who and how
Day is good while day is here,
but let me love the streams that bear
me past all sorrow, past all care–
till whatever’s left of fear
exhales, and lets fall from its hand
the last of “I”, so loosely wound,
and all that once was tightly bound
by membranes, now spills out like sand
ready for the wind or wave
that brings it to new land.
An unlooked for, a still remembered grace,
this trust– I’m five, I love my dolls, but this
new breathing thing– you’ve shown me how to place
the spoon where waiting lips can pause, then kiss,
then claim a mouthful. Peaches ooze back out–
you’ve shown me how to gently scrape the chin
catch the golden goo as from a spout,
let her swallow, spoon the rest back in.
We find a rhythm. Baby sister leans
to catch the prize, and can be counted on
to let spill half, while older sister gleans
wet harvest fall– we work until it’s gone.
Her eyes are grave and pensive, pondering one
new taste, among the myriad to come.
Now you and I will pass a last few days.
Your left eye fixed on me, with focused light;
the right has died. And yet I think the sight
of me has meaning still; I hold the gaze.
Meals, unwelcome now. You do not eat.
Your mouth no longer seeks the spoon I place–
but ice cream is a still remembered grace,
and just once more, you’ll savor something sweet.
We find a rhythm. You’ve shown me what to do–
how to scoop whatever goodness slips,
evades the grasp of old or infant lips–
how to nourish babies, mother you.
The spoon retrieves what’s lost; there is no waste
of what remains for you to love or taste.
Stone bash bash bash
the furies are behind
blackness and a trowel
Now! they howl,
Dig! dig! dig!
Demons on the roiling clouds,
or babes in shrouds?
Dig for babies,
She must dig for babies,
Scrape and scrape dry dirt–
Throw them in! they howl, they howl–
Pills and dollar bills
she’s brought to save the babies
tumble in the hole-
dry dirt cover,
They want all succor buried,
no more warmth no sun no flower
Battling Sexist Pricks
O fork-ed penis!
waving, poking, prodding, provoking–
Sword-wielding bitch, I face the crew,
fury driven to hack and hew,
but penis slain sprouts penis new
till my whole world becomes
all about you ….
I can slam the door. I will.
I’ll polish up my shield.
If ever I engage again,
I’ll let my mirror say
“This is how you look to me“–
And I’ll have won the day.
Some of us don’t know how to need a little.
Some of us can’t negotiate the middle–
Give us a crust and we’ll take a loaf,
the whole damn bakery ….
So we learn to grind our own flour,
bake our own bread,
set our own table.
We make exactly what we need,
no waste, and no apparent greed–
self-fed on the most digestible bread,
we give thanks for our fare,
and even find morsels to spare.
This is not possible.
Green things advance, crumbling stone.
Tendrils don’t peel themselves off granite,
to hang aimless in the bland summer air.
Oh my heart’s idol,
since the not-possible is,
let the green retreat be slow–
a caress turned back,
retracing the beautiful sunlit
lines of your body
and the deeply shaded concavities
of your mind