Prayer to Survive the Glacier

In the little alpine chapel in Fiesch,
for more than three hundred years,
the villagers prayed for the ice to stop.
They were farmers mostly. Catholic.
Placid and philosophical at work,
fixtures, like wax or oak,
or pulpits polished by grace —
and sure,
as German hands.

Glacier is ice, they sang. Ice is water, water is life.

But it was death, too, they knew,
swallowing pastures,
dropping immense sheets like buttresses
into the lake above,
flooding the valley.

Friends died, the baker and the blacksmith.

They buried the dead, rebuilt, sang hymns,
looked up at the spectral spirit
come down to earth, yawning and stretching,
pregnant, rudely aping
the Visitation of Mary,
for whom they had named
the little chapel in the pines.

And it worked.

Their anxious voices rose up,
hundreds huddled in procession,
children grew old, falling asleep
with the words of the liturgy
in their heads.

The ice shrank, ten meters or more a year.

So they changed the prayer.
Now they pray for the glacier to survive.
And Mary,
when the little chapel was dark
and the crowd had dispersed,
sat amazed, sighing and amazed,
at how little they knew
about power.

Open Push Air Out

I keep meaning to put my pants on
but I don’t.
I keep meaning to put my pants on
but I forget.
I’m trying to drink more milk like you said.
I’m trying to drink more milk
but it soured.
You say I’m still stinky and I get it.
You say I’m still stinky
but at least I showered.
Walk me to the end of the block.
That was how our vow went, was it not?
You walk me to the end of the block
but I stop.

I keep meaning to put on makeup
but it’s gone.
I keep meaning to put on makeup
but it gets in my beard.
I’m trying to catch the bus to work but —
no, I’m trying to catch the bus to work
but it leaves across the street,
to the little butter building
by the legion hall.
You say to ask for help if I need it.
You say to ask for help, but there’s just
the scratch of spiders when I call.
There’s just the sound of water in the pot.
That is how the mouth works, is it not?
Open, push air out.

Madly, Deeply

There is only one life lesson,
and that is to grow things
with your own hands,
holding late April in her thin stalks,
wanting madly, deeply to grow,
needing madly, deeply to die,
to wither yellow.

The rest of it — the details,
the numbers and the lengths,
are like the magazines you read
in doctors’ waiting rooms,
idly taking what you find because it’s there,
idly leafing through but not subscribed,
the way we are subscribed
to the watery light of five o-clock,
the soft snow that fell overnight,
the deckle-edge daffodils already
bowing and browning,

subscribed to the stream that courses
through the deep ravine, raging and falling,
seeping, drying, gone
while we are summer sleeping,
subscribed to the heart-faced hyssop
and the houndstongue,
mouldering earth and bonemeal,
prom dances, promises, and handfasting,
in the humus, hen manure
and the worm castings,
cupping late April in her thin stalks,

saying our goodbyes
to the nursery newborns,
holding our new daughters
close to our chests like specters, weeping.

Ponderosa

We were reading stories
and the neighbors’ kids came round.
They sat, solemn, in the living room,
while Jean recited her cat book
and I served pink lemonade.
There were brownies.

Two boys leaped up, finally,
when the sitting was over
and ran along the driveway
to the ponderosa on the south.

I would have done the same once,
far too shy for small talk and small rooms:
a better fit
for a harbor of branches,
of pine straw and damp earth.
They were already hanging,
suspended like sloths,
when their mom called out:
“Guys! Be careful there!”

We don’t have kids.
No boys had ever swung
in the giant tree before,
and for me it lived
respectfully apart, an elder,
with a twin on the north side,
keeping the house between them
as a kind of indulgence.

When we turned to look
I noticed one limb
had torn from the trunk,
some way up —
a narrow elliptical scar
the color of country cream,
the scales of the arm less bright,
no longer that rich orange-gray
ponderosas get.
An old injury. Who knows how long?

Apparently you can take an injury
like that through the seasons,
through one summer after another
until it is almost hidden
by new, reluctant growth,
by weather,
by the furrows
and the plates of age.

Valedictory

They say the Fern Lake fire is still burning
up around Estes Park.
It started in October in dry brush, open flame,
and then the snows of the eastern Rockies came,
but it still burns on below, Inuk fire,
too remote for hotshot crews,
and anyway it is April now —
who fights fires in early spring?

The last front dropped fourteen inches in the garden
around the new birdbath,
but memory being what it is,
full of non sequiturs
and awkward prompts that pull thoughts
where they wouldn’t choose to go,
I can’t see the birdbath, its blue supplicant bowl
piled up like a wedding cake with snow
and not see Berkeley evenings.

There was a lime tree in the back
wasn’t there?
on Dwight Way or Parker Street,
tart-green on the tongue, bittersweet —
and spaghetti dinners, a honey-skinned guitar.

But here in the foothills,
far below Fern Lake,
almost three decades gone,
I’ll wrap the snow in my arms
where it has piled up on the birdbath,
where the snow has bent
the branches of the sour cherry,
bring it melting to the kitchen,
say
so it came,
and so we came and went.

Articulate

I speak the way I write,
but more slowly,
sorting and disposing of
five different ways
of saying something,
while my companion,
who really
only wanted a brief chat,
ages.
He grows hair in places where
there shouldn’t be any,
where before he was bald.

And meanwhile,
the tectonic plates
of the Colorado Plateau
adjust,
dinosaur bones surface,
sea turtles and bristlecone pines
complete entire life cycles.

“How should I put this?” I say,
when a city or two has fallen
into the ocean swell.
My friend is sallow now,
his skin cool, unresponsive.

“It’s coming,” I assure him.
“Too late…too late for me,” he replies.
“Is there anything
you want me to pass along?”
I finally say.
But he is quiet,
eyes staring, mouth dry.

Things That Are Obsolete (But That I Love)

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,
like opening rain;
The New York Times obituaries,
closing it back again;
the barrier islands of North Carolina;
saying Carolina —
are we allowed
such a beautiful word?
My girl, but there are limits;
the moist mariners
on Nimitz-class machines,
Allen Ginsberg and his genes:
are we aloud?
My wife, spouse
sweet talking,
tight as she can be;
patina of a depression
era gun,
blown up in
neat sweet pixels
by the setting sun.

Copyright © 2019 Lilibug Publishing.

Once Occupied

The old man who used to own the house
is driven up by his niece
in a car with Wyoming plates.
It stops at the end of the drive.

They had probably come up just to see,
and then, me out on the deck
getting water to the spruce and daylilies
along the lines he had laid
even then, in his nineties.

We heard his wife had died,
but he didn’t mention her:
it was for the niece, to show her the view
and the tile and the wisteria,
to talk about the wild plum, the tame plum,
the peaches big as his fist,
the wrinkles in the road as deep as his.

He said when the house was new
the driveway was a solid piece of rock.

I pointed out how the lilacs
hadn’t bloomed this year and he nodded,
how the cicadas were bad,
how the wasps had left their paper nest.
I had taken it down,
afraid they would reclaim it,
though they hadn’t bothered us —
just flew back and forth along the deck
(he said I put those railings in).

We sat on the porch swing smiling,
time gone and the satisfaction of it,
the rings of the wasp nest
still white as death on the wall.