Buffalo Creek Campground

If I want to see the spirit of God in everything,
I have to see it in this man who is screaming
at his wife at 6 AM while sunlight edges
down the shrubby hills toward our tents.
Get up and fuck are the only real words
I can make out through their camper walls
though I can hear her muffled replies
now and then, I can’t see, I think, and some fucks
of her own. I don’t know why she can’t see—
contacts? Are her glasses broken?—and
my stomach freezes in fear, for her
and for myself for no clear reason except
proximity to violence. And for no clear reason,
when the man walks over hours later
under the now high sun, his shadow invisible,
to ask if his kid can play with our kids,
I say yes. And when he shows up at sunset
with steaks to thank us, we are civil, even friendly,
though our smiles are mostly fake
and the dusk is skittish with breeze.
He grills the meat, which none of us eat.
I talk to his wife. Her face is plump, unbruised.
When to our intense relief they all go home,
it’s dark. It’s easy for me to love in the abstract
but in the night woods while the campfire blazes
my shadow stretches taller than the pines
and it trembles like anyone else’s.

Untitled (By the end)

By the end, we won’t remember what

happened when. We’ll remember hardly

any of it. The only thing that makes it

 

bearable is all the blossoming. The trees

turn white, then green. What unfolds

for me unfolds secondhandedly.

 

While they’re injecting the midazolam,

I am watching little girls in black

leotards play tag. Or it takes longer

 

than I think and we are already driving

home for dinner. But let’s go back

to before that. There was a murder.

 

It was violent. It was not an accident.

A young woman died and a young man

went to prison. Elsewhere, unrelated,

 

I want to be a poet. I fall in love with

someone. He becomes a lawyer.

We become a mother and a father.

 

We move to Denver. My husband meets

the young man in prison. He’s no longer

young. He becomes a kind of friend.

 

Of course this takes years. I learn

things like in supermax, the inmates

are required by law to have access

 

to one hour of sunlight per day.

The light though a skylight counts.

The men can’t touch their families

 

or each other. The day before their

executions, their mothers cannot hug

their sons good-bye. No one cares about this.

 

Why should they? Their victims’ parents

didn’t get to hug their children before—

yes. That is correct. So what’s wrong

 

with me? My husband sends his client books.

Should I say his name? He likes

vampire books. Mysteries. Thrillers.

 

When my husband calls him with the news

that the last appeal has been denied,

Clayton says Have a good weekend

 

when they hang up the phone. My husband

flies to Oklahoma City. I wait.

Amelia’s dance class is in a church.

 

I sit in the sanctuary and imagine

I am holding Clayton’s hand.

I am ridiculous. But my hand feels

 

warm for a minute. My husband calls

and he is weeping. Or he is furious.

He’s not dead yet, he says.

 

They kicked us out. They closed

the curtain and they made us leave.

It’s the end of April; everything’s in bloom.

 

It snows, then the sun comes back.

By summer, we should feel better.

By autumn, we might forget.

 

Our garden grows. We harvest. I walk

through the alley carrying vegetables.

When I get home and dump out the cucumbers,

 

I’m filled suddenly with joy. I pirouette

around the kitchen and imagine Clayton

is dancing with me, his spirit, anyway.

 

I think he is. I wish for it. I imagine

his victim’s mother wishing deeply

for my death, and I don’t blame her for it.

 

Note: This poem first appeared at Colorado Independent.

Why I Love My Mother

 

earth and ocean warm water warm

towel her hands rubbing sunscreen on

my shoulders warm towels we washed

and folded every day of life earth

 

earth kneeling to grasp the green

beans canning them steam and sweat a thousand

thrift shop dresses steam in our faces

laughing laughing mountain—

 

starshower grandmother earth

and ocean volcano fear and

fury hurricane tulip sidewalk

skipping—break her back—

 

 

hold her hand walk on

her spine lay down pine

and maple cloud and

dolphin darkness sunrise—

 

moon and moon and moon—

Regret

By the seaside my daughter, age seven, sat down beside me
and nestled her body into mine and was still.

Her shoulder fit nicely in my armpit.
We sat together in the sun, looking out at the water,

which was clear and sparkling, as water sometimes is.

I had plotted and planned all morning to go somewhere
I wanted to go, and after awhile, not long,

I got up to go there.

If I had stayed, the moment would have ended
another way, I know: she would have asked

for a snack or wriggled away to swim. But that it was me

who broke the spell—

ocean, sand, our skin
reunited under the soft

pink and white blanket
printed with blue morning glories

we’d bought as a souvenir—

I wanted this poem to end with anything else but

oh, daughter, flower, I am sorry

was the only way it could.

Skyscraper

Why I love
clouds is
why I love
cities: what
fills part of
the sky makes
the rest of it
bigger. This
morning in
Denver the judges
and lawyers
gather to settle
the cases and
nurses smooth
the foreheads of
various patients
and teachers kneel
with the children
while the tornado
siren sounds.
The courthouse
stairs are spiral
and marble. On
the sidewalk
raindrops make
dark circles.
One hundred
women open
one hundred
umbrellas. The
wind unlooses
handfuls of
green and singular
leaves. Why I
love cities is
why I love weather.
So much now
is happening and
I want everything.

Letter to a Poppy

Little ars poetica, little obvious symbol, stupidly
and just yesterday I took your blooming as a promise
that for weeks I could walk by and be happy
at the sight of you, tiny flag blazing among the green
and brown of mulch and weed, the color of fire,
alive. But the May thunderstorm surprised us with
its doggedness and fury, its two-inch-thick blanket
of hail the size of eyeballs. There’s nothing new
about the message your death transmits. You’re
a scatter of silk in the grass and I can’t take the I out.
What can I imagine that you haven’t already showed me?
I say your name aloud, a crow lands where you lie.

Long Black Veil

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
Someone was killed, ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran, looked a lot like me

 The judge said son, what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die
I spoke not a word, thou it meant my life
For I’d been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

 Oh, the scaffold is high and eternity’s near
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But late at night, when the north wind blows
In a long black veil, she cries ov’re my bones

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

 

 Handmade lace, dotted with pearls,
embroidered with vines and flowers,
maybe with fawns peeking
from a curtain of willows,
noses lifted, ears cocked.
Or something older,
passed down from a mother
or grandmother. Or something
cheaper—perhaps they were poor.
It doesn’t matter—she found the veil,
and she made it black—

the girl from the song, I mean. Ashes,
dry, breathable, firescraps
pressing the soft places below
her kneecaps. Ink from an inkwell,
ebony, consistency of milk or blood,
vinegar-scented. A bowl
of blackberries, holding them
one at a time between her thumb
and forefinger, pressing, juice
staining the veil, also her fingers,
her wrist.

~

I imagine she lived in the woods,
the mountains. Although I want
the mountains, they’re not mine.
I didn’t grow up in them, just
under. My great-grandmother
tried to teach me to crochet, but
I wouldn’t learn. She knew a storm
before its thunder by the way
leaves turned in the wind.
I remember that. Once I asked her
about my great-grandfather,
who died before I was born.
Whatever she was doing, she stopped —
she was rarely still—I didn’t mean
to marry him
, she said. I laughed.
An accident, like missing
a step on the stairs. A bet
with her sister to see who could get a ring first.
Thinking she could break it later,
she accepted a proposal. But her beau arrived
in a borrowed car. She got in.
He didn’t tell her
where they were going.

~

I didn’t wear a veil, having read
that the lifting of one by the groom
signified the bride (as body)
passing from father to husband.
For others, veil as (mere) accessory,
something pretty to complement
the ballerina skirt and beaded bodice.
Or veil as modesty, preserving the bride’s
beauty for the groom alone. Norse brides
were kidnapped: a blanket thrown
over the head of a captured woman
secured and subdued her. Or veil as privacy.
A (welcome) place to watch.

~

Pearls, pearls,
in a haul
of three tons,
only three

or four pearls.
From the James
River, mussels?
Or the ocean,

oysters? Shapes:

round, button,
pear, circle,
drop;

sizes;

collar,
choker,
princess,
opera,
rope.

~

My mother’s first marriage
was much like her grandmother’s.
Seventeen, a high school senior,
her boyfriend dropped to one knee.
She laughed and said her father
wouldn’t let her. For the honeymoon,
they drove to Disney World.
She called collect to tell her parents
they were safe, but her father
wouldn’t accept the charges.
He didn’t need to speak to her
to know that she was there.

~

Did she run to him? See him there
where he stood on the scaffold?

Maybe her husband
found her, took her hand,

maybe her eyes met his.
Maybe she cried out

as the rope pulled tight. Maybe
she looked back at his body

swinging, ripe peach
on a summer branch.

And after, did she live in the forest?
How then to keep the veil black?
Mud wouldn’t be enough. The charcoal gills
of mushrooms, pulped roots of irises,
crushed hickory nut hulls.
Feathers the crows lost, tucked in
by their shafts to the lace.
Did she sleep on the ground?
Under elms? And once did
a shadowy moth land beside her
in the dusk? Its wings, if plucked
and smeared, a fine dark dust.

 

Note: Click here to hear the song Long Black Veil. This poem first appeared in Tar River Poetry.

 

 

Having Lunch With the First Grade

I daydream while they play I Spy:
purple grapes, orange orange, pink
strawberry milk. My habit
of attachment persists: I want this
to last and last. What was it Whitman said?
Full of life now, compact, visible.
The teacher claps twice to make
the children listen, the children
clap three times in response.
A silence arrives–a bird stands
still for a second–and I think,
perhaps incongruently, perhaps not,
the only thing we have to do is love.

The Famous Athlete Says

                for L

to become a winner
you must lose so
many times you forget
that winning is possible

and win so much
you see that winning
means nothing. The famous
artist says I kept

going. That was all.
We don’t know what
the artist or athlete
who was not famous

said but we see
evidence of their bliss
in the number of
notebooks and racquets used

each year. The artist
said when I saw
the world did not
care what I did,

that was when the
story came together. The
athlete says the pleasure
of the game must

be enough, it must
be everything. So writing
a novel, playing tennis,

these are the same:
you stand in a
square of your own
creation. You become yourself.

Mayday Sonnet as Distorted Mirror

The melting snow proves everything
that unfolds in time comes to an end.
Suppose a certain number of years
ago your grandmother was born.
The sky swirled with pink seeds
she’d grow up to call helicopters.
It’s too windy: the souls of the dead
must be unsettled. The souls of those of us
walking around in the wind are unsure
whether we’re dreaming past wars
or making new ones. Mayday as a call of distress
comes from the French: m’aidez.
Help me
. The weeping cherry is either dead
from the cold snap or hasn’t bloomed yet.

*

The cold snap killed the weeping cherry
or it hasn’t bloomed yet. Help me in
French is m’aidez, Mayday,
a call of distress. This new month makes
weather for dreaming past wars in,
walking around in the wind in, unsure,
unsettled. The souls of those of us living
think it’s too windy; the souls of the dead
grow visible, hover like helicopters.
The sky swirls with pink seeds.
Long ago your grandmother was born.
Suppose a certain number of years
unfolds in time and comes to an end
The melting snow proves everything.