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.

11 Irregular Stanzas on Trimming Toenails

The first nail flies off like a seed,
a dark germ inside,
and plants itself in the sleeping grass.
Come May, a full-grown toe,
luscious and greening,
lures grackles to the cottonwood.

The second is a fractured nursery rhyme,
a plump little piggy going to market,
disfigured by a fungus.
Even the wolf crosses the street
to avoid him.

About the third
the less said the better —
a disappointment to his family.

Disney wrote the fourth,
a scimitar from the Arabian Nights,
sharp as the thing
that sets it free.

Five, Dickensian,
a washerwoman,
proud and fat.

A lawyer raised number six.
Home schooled,
she argued a case
before the Supremes
regarding the rights of toes.

Seven was a sly serial toe murderer,
the cutest of the bunch.
Motel owners remembered him
smiling,
signing the check.

Eight ate leather,
loved one hundred and fifty dollar
running shoes.

Nein, the philosopher,
famously said, “After all,
what is a toenail?”

The tenth nail,
from the big right toe,
a cruel flagship,
shoots a sliver across the lake,
the ice just off,
the geese lazy on rails
like amusement park rides.

Remember the girl who dragged herself
from the sea (who can forget her),
where the old god’s sperm roiled the water?
They say the lunatic seers of Babylon
warned us about her sister:
you, Alea,
the second apocalypse of love.

Cleaning Birdhouse

We are always children, really.
Every animal death is the death of love —
not dependent love,
not mom or dad, however deep,
but the first one we knew ourselves
separate and complete,
that made us separate and complete,
and so in an awful unexpected way
the death of us.

The schoolyard girl, the girl with the bangs,
the unborn twin, the boy down the block,
the collie at Christmas.
No one loved for us, none loved as we did.

The day after I put it up
house wrens built their nest
in the new birdbox,
ferrying sweetgrass and sprigs of sumac
through a hole in the neat shiplap.

It was a fine bright thing:
white pine and brass catches,
one wall and the roof hinged at the top
for cleaning out.

But at the end of summer,
cleaning it out, I stopped,
grabbed the shovel from the shed,
dug a foot-deep pit on the ridge,
above the cottonwood and the creek,
and buried the old nest there.

I drove to town in my middle age
with a well, a wound in my throat,
an organ of need, twig, and skin
wanting all of it again,
the gaping breath and the whole bone,
sure that I could not be,
after all, just a part of this.

That by now I must be hardened off,
complete as flight,
not running edgeless
into the rest of the world,

and not undone by the fledgling
left dead in the nest
his perfect unwrapped
new-brown feathers
a miniature of grief.

Love Deserves the Infinitive

To love
she took your hand in the wood
and when you cried over the math
in third grade
and the class snickered awkwardly
it was she rose without thinking
and stood at your desk
in the ruled foolscap of the morning,
the milk in
and the nettles and oaks
speaking at the window.

She had not learned much:
to make the action past,
to conjugate conditional —
not even bare
love
without a particle.

There was no loved,
nor could love,
nor if the rain had come
we would have loved.
Nor once above the mibs and taws
her shadow may.
But in the sucking clover,
disguised in a neat dress,
she invited atoms,
breathed like billows,
made everything whole
because she knew it whole.