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.

 

 

My Grandmother Speaks of Beauty

I could eat them with a spoon Herman would say
every time he drove the tractor over and saw
them playing on the red dirt bank: they’d climb up
and up and slide down so fast they wore their palms
raw stopping. Suppose there was a pageant among them,
he said, which one would win. I snatched the corn

he’d brought to give and sent him on. That afternoon
I found two of them stripped to their panties, kneeling
over their toys, a naked Barbie on her back pressed
underneath a bear. What are you doing, I said, keep
this door open
. My daughters’ daughters. They blinked
and didn’t say a word. Suppose there was a pageant—

dark-haired girls, all apple-cheeked, eyes green
as the lake. We put them in the fire truck
for the Apple Festival Parade: look at them wave
and toss down their candy. We should have found
a spoon while we could have done it. Now can’t a single
one of them walk past a mirror without looking in it.

 

Note: This poem, which first appeared on storySouth, is written from the imagined perspective of my grandmother Betty. May 1 was her birthday.

Kali Kali Kali

for Clayton Lockett, died April 29, 2014
for J.V. Brown, died March 7, 2014
for Iris, who was never born

 

Kali descended and asked me
to describe her in three words.
I said goddess of destruction.

She said goddess of time and
change. I said that’s five words.
She said I can’t be contained.

In a circle, there is no end and
no beginning. If we assume now
we are in a circle, there is nowhere

to begin. Let’s begin with it is morning
and I am standing on the sidewalk
at the center of a thousand colors,

a thousand textures: silk and brittle,
petal and spike, wrapping paper,
burst balloons blown over from a party

the wind ended, the tree’s shed leaves,
dog shit, flowers, a spectrum
of greens. Or, three things happened:

My grandfather died. My best friend
had an abortion. The state of Oklahoma
executed Clayton Lockett.

Or, at the coffee shop the silverware
clatters to the floor, and the toddler
who has climbed back into

the chair she just fell out of
falls out again. Or rather, the chair
topples over, not once but twice,

then a third time, and the girl cries
all three times, and her nanny puts her
in her stroller and they leave.

The manager asks me if I saw
what happened. That chair is slippery,
I say, or maybe it’s the floor.

Some things seem bound to
keep happening over and over
as the rest of us watch, astonished.

Or we can begin with before
the abortion, when they made my friend
google seven weeks pregnant

 and look at the photos,
the hands and feet paddles,
the heart a center darkness.

~

Or, let’s make a list. Wars, of course.
Count the wars: one, two, three,
four. And disease: Ebola. Enterovirus D68.

Whooping cough. What else. Airstrikes,
or not. Peace protests, or not. Coal ash.
Radiation in the drinking water. The woman

in Liberia whose whole family died,
and now her village shuns her because—
but I already said Ebola. The woman

who was held hostage for 11 years,
kept in a cage, who bore and cradled
the child of her captor. The woman

who, the woman who. Wars. The daughter
of the woman whose boyfriend beat her
to death signs up for a writing class

about grief. My daughter gets a cough
and a bee sting. I call the 24-hour Walgreen’s.
The wars are far away. The man with the sign

that says Vietnam Vet, Anything Helps
is always on the corner of 6th and Colorado.
I turn down the music when I pass

and hand him packs of trail mix, or
I’m out so I wave and don’t turn down
the music, or I don’t wave and try not to look.

I have said all this before. The pharmacist
says five-year-olds can take Benadryl.
What a miracle the 24-hour Walgreens is.

I would lie down on the floor
in thanks but I have to make breakfast.

~

Or we can begin in a dream in which
I am explaining to an audience
the concept of the karmic circle:

my actions affect your actions. It’s a snake
swallowing its tail. It’s a ring of flame,
that old symbol. Or I am saying

in a voicemail to my friend the way
the sun is filling the trees this morning
is a trick. We have to steel ourselves

against it. Dead bee in a zinnia,
the zinnia browning but still pink,
the bee a frozen model of itself.

~

But I am not talking about
any of that. I am talking about
myself and my own little griefs.
I am talking about griefs
I witnessed or witnessed someone
else witness. I’m not talking
about innocence. I am talking about
the moment my friend swallowed
the pill against the sound of
her own voice saying no.
I am talking about the times
I saw her name on my phone’s
screen and didn’t pick up because
I couldn’t take anymore pain.
I am talking about the death
of my grandfather which was
the death of a family. I am not
talking about that at all.
I am talking about a specific
murder that happened years ago
and the final, violent closing
of that circle. I am talking about
a handmade noose of sheets.
No, I am talking about my own
death and my dread of it. No,
I am talking about standing
at the abyss of it, witnessing.

~

The prisoner was led from
his cell to his death
in the name of all of us.

After the execution,
I stopped listening to
the news. It was a great excuse

since I don’t like the news.
The audience is raising its
collective hand and saying but:

he was a murderer. But I’m
not talking about innocence.
There are a thousand ways

to talk about what happened.
Let’s talk about rattling
the bars. When an inmate is led

from the cell block to the execution chamber,
the other inmates might rattle the bars.
Rattle the bars with what?

I don’t know.
Hard back books? Spoons?
Their bare hands?

Whatever will make noise.

~

On the sidewalk I talk
to Kali: Kali when she
swallowed the pill that
would end the baby’s
life, Kali when he steeled
his face against death
Kali when I bought
the flight to the funeral
Kali when they pulled
the curtains closed
Kali when she couldn’t
bury the body Kali when
we stood at the grave
and couldn’t cry: really?
All this will happen again?

~

After my grandfather died his mouth
hung open as if he was astonished
at his own absence. After the execution,

I stopped listening to the news.
Instead now, in the mornings, I walk
around the block and talk to Kali:

Kali, because of you
the sidewalk is scattered
with ribbon and petals and glass.

 

Note: Thanks to B O D Y, where this poem first appeared.

Earth Day Poem for Amelia

I was going to tell the story of how you drew a sign

that read globl warming is hapning please help

with two circular, frowning polar bears

and speech bubbles: Help!

and how I made twelve copies of the sign

and spent an evening helping

you post them around the neighborhood.

As the sun set, this won’t help

you said, tired and hungry.

These signs won’t make anyone help.

But on Facebook someone posted Child global warming sign—Thanks!

and said she’d walk to work more, find ways to help.

I was going to make the observation

that many poems about climate change happen

as apology letters to children.

We’re sorry, we write, for what is happening:

the live feed video we see at the airport shows

icecaps melting, we watch it happening.

I was going to list facts like solar power was showcased

at the 1878 World Fair but coal had happened

already, so to speak, taken hold. I was going to write that

to be female, like the earth, is to sometimes be told what is happening

to you is not happening. I was going to say speak,

daughter, keep speaking.

If

IF

The mind wants
everything that isn’t.

Its running list
of alternatives is

constant and vivid:
I would have been

a choreographer in
a bigger city if

I’d had more talent
as a dancer

or a farmer
if I’d loved

the land better.
If I hadn’t watched

the video of
polar icecaps melting

I’d be happier
about the pink

blossoms swelling daily
so early in the

season, fleshy teacups
on bare branches

I glimpse from
the car window.

My choosing of
the classic rock

satellite radio station
is a gesture

of escapism and my
braking to a stop

beside the tree
is a gesture of

reverence. It won’t
last, it won’t last

is a chant like
the Hare Krishnas’ chants

in the mall that
my grandmother warned me

not to listen to.
If we had done

this or that
we might say

in a hundred years
we could have

stopped this. What
that this will

turn out to be
we don’t know

yet. If and
yet are pixels

my mind zooms
in on or

shapes like snowflakes
that land on

my mind. My mind
wants so much:

to rest, to chant,
transcend, blossom, to

binge watch Netflix.
It wants to

say the words
that will save

the world and
knows it can’t.

It watches the
bees, mad and

hungry, nestle in
new blossoms. It wants

to not know
that seven types

of bees are
now endangered species.

It doesn’t mean
to but it feels

the wish appear:
if I never had

a daughter I
wouldn’t have to wonder

what kind of oceans
she will drown in.

The Distance Between Planets

When I read the news that no one will sit
next to Tiffany Trump during fashion week,
I feel the way I felt when I learned
my daughter’s school was selling valentines
to be delivered during the school day
to kids whose parents or friends had bought them.
Imagine waiting though math, through literacy,
through lunch, PE, for the heart-shaped card
that never arrives. These are two small
instances of sorrow. The sorrow of the mother
whose son was shot at the border
while playing chicken with his friends is larger,
if sorrow can be measured. It’s like imagining
the universe, the distance between here
and the moon becoming tiny when compared
to the distance between planets.
Think of the galaxy next door and then
think of whole clusters of galaxies.
The moon is so far away most of us
will never touch it, but we’ve all been alone
in a crowd, hoping against hope someone
will notice us, that some small heart
or star will drift down to land in our palm.

Poem to February

Awhile back I swore I was going to try harder
to love more. It’s going poorly.
I hate February because it’s the month
my daughter almost died in as a toddler.
What doctors thought was a stomach bug
was a rare strep germ abscessing
in her belly. It’s the month a dear friend
really did die in from another rare kind
of strep on her skin. I hate missing her.
I hate cattle ranchers when I read
they are feeding their cows red Skittles
instead of corn. Though some scientists claim
candy is just as nutritious, it’s hard to believe
that’s wholesome. I know I should stop eating meat,
but occasional hamburgers make me so happy!
Things are so rarely what you imagine.
I thought when I was pregnant I would live
on organic fruit and radiant joy,
but I was nauseous and miserable.
My daily McDonald’s sausage biscuit
smeared with grape jelly got me through it.
Right now if we’re not hating our neighbors
for wearing their pink pussy hats,
we’re hating them for hating us for wearing them.
Yesterday I thought I saw a man in a ragged coat
helping a man in a wheelchair cross Colfax,
but when I got closer I could hear him yelling,
angry that the wheelchair wasn’t faster.
Meanwhile the cars whizzed past without slowing.
I know the people in the cars are real people,
many of them kind, with problems of their own,
but it’s so easy to hate them when I can’t see them.
I should love them for their invisible struggles.
February, I should love you for what you’ve left me,
which is almost everything, and I’m trying to.

Red Light Green Light

When the comedian on morning radio
makes a joke about white women who think
the universe is telling them something

I think I would quit—

everything—

if I could.

The traffic’s just-before-rush-hour pattern,
cars darting lane to lane, all speed and brake,

mirrors my constant rearrangement
of the day’s dull but necessary elements.

The moment both lights at the intersection are red
is like the moment between breaths.

The van slowing for a man crossing in a wheelchair
he is powering by mouth with what looks like a straw
has a bumper sticker that says Funeral.

My desperate hope for magic
each day is selfish—isn’t it?—

but I still want it.

 

Insomnia

The world won’t
recede. Today’s

small complications,
minor irritations,

inconsequential
decisions are

magnified 1000 x
by my mind turned

stalwart nocturnal
animal with powerful

night vision. My
imagination spotlights

future funerals like
scenes on a stage.

I gaslight myself.
Any real or larger

problem is apocalyptic
in the dark. Tomorrow,

oh tomorrow,
you’ll be better,

I know, though
right now I doubt

whether, like any
of us, you’ll make it.