THE LIST OF US

In my father’s wallet
we found
one small sheet
torn from a notebook
folded and re-folded
sliced through in the crease
and in my father’s careful hand
were all his children’s names
and birthdates
and our spouses’ names
and their birthdates
and the grandchildren
a
nd their spouses
and in shakier letters
the great-grandchildren.
The conspiracy of years
s
chemes against us
but my father
refused to forget
and carried with him
the names and numbers of his immortality.

WILDLIFE

We spend too much on birdseed.
Before we lived here,
before our big house became master of these woods,
the great-grandparents of our current tree neighbors
found something to eat
or went south for the winter.
But now these freeloaders,
these young whippersnappers of the modern generation,
wait by our four feeders.
They prefer the sunflower,
though the suet receives a fair share of attention.
And on top of that,
they have invited all their woodland buddies to the feast,
the turkeys, the deer, the skunks, a fox or two,
but especially the squirrels.
We buy and fill and buy again,
aware that expectations are high
in an upscale community.

THE CYCLIST

I see him
for a second
he races past
silent
or so it seems behind my window
streamlined
narrow frame
bars bent low
he folds over the bike
as if coaxing in its ear
more speed
unsmiling resolute
I see in the flash of his back
satisfaction

From handlebars like wings
streamers snatch the breeze
no gears no brakes
no helmet
no shoes
but a basket and
a bell by my thumb
I kick up my legs
lean back
fly down the hill

That cyclist needs a baseball card
clipped to a spoke
with a clothespin
to add some noise and joy to
satisfaction

HISTORY LESSON

The trouble with history
with dead people in general
is that you can’t go back
to some impressive mistake
and ask what
in God’s name
were you thinking

Just the facts ma’am
is not my motto
my uncertainty tolerance
has clocked in at none
I need to know the why of things
though I’m resourceful enough
to invent the missing motive

For example I’ve concluded
on that Sunday in June
on that hill in Montana
handsome popular and just old enough
Colonel Custer
figured by Monday
he’d be a shoo-in for President

SANCTUARY

For better resale value
and egotism
we built the house far bigger than we needed.
Childless by chance
I favored the notion
that a family might live here after us
and fill the place with noise and chaos.
But after so many years
I now believe these rooms would resent
the intrusion on their quiet.
One guest room has never seen a guest.
No one has slept there
except perhaps our shyest cat
long since deceased
as she escaped the wrath of her quarrelsome sister
or worse
the horror of the punishment
known as Company.
I peek into that room.
I still see the faint outline
the trace on the carpet
of the contents of her stomach
the hostess gift she frequently left
to remember her by.
So yes, she slept here.

SWIFT

Two years ago
in April
the swifts made a nest in our chimney.
I heard the babies chirping
small echoes through the den.
My husband supposed my fancy
Had once again
overtaken my good sense
until that is
the babies got bigger and their peeps
became shrieks.

We called the exterminator.
Not bats, he said.
It’s swifts.
Too bad.

Swifts it turns out
are protected.
Their habitat is gone
and once they decide to live with you
You have to share.
Wait till autumn and when they move off
put a screen on the chimney.

In the meantime
we shared.
We’d watch at sunset
as they’d make big circles around the roof
catching mosquitoes
to feed their little screamers.
Get those buggers, we’d yell
encouraging.

In August
one bird flew down the chimney
sweeping our heads
interrupting  dinner.
Stewart the cat
quick to the challenge
caught the swift mid-air and ran upstairs
to extend the game.
We managed a rescue
when Stewart released the bird
for the joy of recapture.
Wrapped in a fresh-laundered shirt
the creature throbbed in panic.
We opened the window
popped out the screen
and shook the bird loose.
She flew off
swift as her name.

We poured some wine
and resumed our dinner
and toasted the swift and the cat
and our luck
with houseguests.

LACE

At the window
watching thick rain
ruin my plans
I touch the curtain.
Lace.
Machine-made of course
at that price
but pretty nonetheless.
I consider lace.
Who invented such a thing?
Who thought –
If I twist the thread and knot it so
and leave some space
and twist again
the knots cease as flaws
and emerge
transformed
as beauty?
Who thought of that?
The genius
who made loveliness
of ruin?

INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Unlike the Welsh drunkard –
and I admit it’s envy that causes me to disparage
his success  –

Unlike the Welsh poet –
although I sometimes wonder if more drink
would improve my poetry  –

Let the reader have another glass of wine.

Unlike him –
I do wish to go gentle.

Not quite yet of course
perhaps in thirty-nine years –
which is all the poor bastard got
and may be enough time for me to write one decent line –

No raging for me.

I will slip quietly –  not unaware –
even comatose I would like a curl to my hair
and a touch of mascara.
I will skip the rouge however
as a paleness to the cheek befits a quiet death.

I’m no fighter.

There will be no pleading, no fury
no cry of battle –
no cry at all, except perhaps one pretty tear
as I hear my loved ones
growing distant
whisper

“She was never any trouble.”

GLAMOUR

I believed at seven
that given the chance
I could be Shirley Temple.
I could dance and sing
and cry at will
and I most certainly could
pull off curls
if my mother would only
show some effort.

By nine
I’d outgrown the ruffles
but Hayley Mills and I
had much in common.
I could squint and bite my lip
and spout that classy English.
On top of that
her hair was hideous.

In sixty-five I pierced my ears
Inspired and heartened
though briefly
by Mia Farrow
delicate and equally
flat-chested.

In just one year
as classmates cried
for poor Zhivago
I wept in defeat
abandoned my Hollywood dream
before sixteen
Julie Christie smiled
incandescent
and I knew my limits.

STARSTRUCK

It was that British actor –
the intensity of the eyes
deranged some might say
offset with kindness in the curve of the mouth
that combination of benevolence
and psychosis
that appeals as a rule
to cautious women.

I saw him on the page of a magazine
the previous bored business traveler
had abandoned on the train
leaping laughing
hair like Jesus
and I’ve always had a thing for hippie hair
in my fantasy life.

He had played a villain
in recent release
with passionless quiet menace
designed in its restraint to terrify.

But that day near Bridgeport
he offered spontaneous and genuine delight
or perhaps he acted it.
I cannot tell deceit in car salesmen
or cheating lovers
let alone
oft-nominated Shakespearean liars.

No matter.
I rationalized the book
i
nto my sober briefcase
(For my next commute)
from there to desk drawer.
(too heavy to carry)

I referenced him frequently
a
s I calculated the present value
of future contracts
scores of scores critical on that day
or for a week at most
then filed and forgotten
as opposed to the issue
which fell open unaided
to page fifty-four.