WISDOM

I

The best thing she ever said was,
You can't make someone love you. It rolled
off her tongue like pure honey. But you can
sure make 'em hate you
. I mulled that over,
wondering why she always spoke
in proverbs and prophecy. I was ten,
back when she caught me willing to sabotage myself
for a friend. She said, Sacrifice for the sheep,
not the wolf
. That went over my head. Now,

twenty and tethered to no one, I visit her
whenever the pull homeward overtakes
the push of vertigo. She was a grandmother,
the neighborhood crone, a mother
when we didn't have a mother; someone
you wished didn't see everything you did
but you were secretly relieved she was keeping track.
We raise ourselves from brokenness
and then expect to be whole.


II

Her bright-blue sun hat catches my eye
as I step through the low, wooden gate---
the same chipping white paint, the same
tinny ding of the silver gate bell--- and I am floating,
not quite in my body, like catching a ride
ten years ago on my own clumsy shoulders.

I sit on my favorite stump and watch
the way her hands guide dahlias into perfect,
cool beds. Then, Better you should feel
the rain on your face than the mud
on your shoes
.

I know she is trying to teach me
how to see the deluge coming
before it sucks me into the ground

and cements me there. What I can't tell her
is that my feet are leaden still; that they betray me
at crucial times; that my shoes have always
been muddy; that she was the one
bright light; that my path is cluttered
with yesterday's debris, stinking. She's hunched over

the soil, swallowed up by her hat,
her knotted fingers putting bulbs into the dirt
just before the storms come.





              TROUBLE IN SHANGRI LA



"Somewhere in the night
Someone feels the pain
The ones who walk away
Try to love again..."
          --Stevie Nicks, Trouble in Shangri-La


It's when something is absent
that we notice it, crave it,
drown ourselves in the mirage

of it, convince ourselves that it
exists.       I realize that even
a hand-beaded French train and promises

don't guarantee anything, but love lived here
for a long time. I held it in my hands,
I felt it against me, like a mahogany six-string

strumming, strumming.       Sometimes
paralysis is the body's attempt
to firmly affix us to the ground, to save us

from injury when the shock finally
                                           hits.
When ready,

in which direction
does one point their compass
after living a certain way for so long?

The possibilities are endless
is both expansive
and terrifying.






              MARCO POLO



You live your life
the way you carve your apple peel,
every noon, like clockwork,
into one long
              thin
              perfect strip:
deliberately, painstakingly.

As kids, hostages
in our parents' war games
of pursuit and retreat, surrender
and attack- always some opposing forces
canceling each other out- we were their victories,
a shiny filigree of hard-won medals, on a good day.
Every other day we were bartered burdens,
vexations, little mirrors they could barely look into.
Shell-shocked witnesses.

The rumbling would surge up from underneath
the white shag carpet, crystal trembling
in the cupboard, threatening to break. His first insult
hurled at her head with that infuriating smirk; ice
clinking in highball glasses, drowning the falling sky.
The jaw behind her lipsticked mouth, set.

What else could we do
but escape to the pool, our pool; dive in
to that muting, time-stopping water, our deafening water.
We'd give each other a side glance and we were off---
sprinting barefoot across the prickly lawn,
just ahead of the inferno boiling up behind us.
We'd start the deep inhale two strides before leaping,
arms and legs punching air, crashing into the deep end.







You could almost hear the sizzle as we broke
water. We'd stay under, eyes closed,
arms outstretched, seeking and being sought.
Eventually, we'd find each other; it's hard
to swim away quickly when you're giggling.
When it was time, we would emerge as robotic
as synchronized swimmers.

I saw you yell into the water--- silent screamer,
secret imploder--- you wished you could hold your breath
forever. That's when I learned to read lips.
I wanted to carry you away and set you down in a garden.

Control is a good thing, you say now,
arranging your stark white tulips just so. Always sure
not to spill a drop,
or drive too fast,
or use the wrong fork at dinner.




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