Poem for my Dad

Playing Make-Believe on a Saturday afternoon in my Dad’s Capitol Hill Duplex
Dark curtains at the window, floor length,
     Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
drawn shut like theater curtains against the afternoon sun.
     Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Narrow balcony outside, with thick weathered wood railing
     Remember me to the one who lives there,
and peeling red-maroon paint.
     She once was a true love of mine.
Wood floor, large living room where we dance, my sister and me,
     Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Stereo turntable in the corner, big blond speakers with off-white mesh covers.
     Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Pocket closet hidden off the living room, my dad’s shop
     Without no seams nor needlework,
soldering iron, needle nose pliers. Dad’s tools. Magic.
     Then she’ll be a true love of mine.
Long Saturday afternoons to fill,
     Tell her to find me an acre of land,
Simon and Garfunkle on the stereo, needle grooving the vinyl round and round,
     Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
their black-and-white harmony crests and falls in the speckled afternoon sunlight.
     Between the salt water and the sea strands,
My sister and I, cocoon-like, swathed in white dress-up scarves
     Then she’ll be a true love of mine.
Twirl and laugh, twirl and laugh
     Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather,
My smiling dad, on the couch, looks on,
     Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
A folk song hero himself, perhaps
     And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
Later we make spaghetti, with Lawry’s sauce made from a packet -
     Then she’ll be a true love of mine.
The meal tastes like a sparkle, like the zest of a lost Saturday afternoon.
     Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
     Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

A View from the South

The South was in her blood now.  That humid southern air swirled in her veins, and even as she studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta she had already forgotten the dim cold streets of a snowy Detroit, the long, dead blocks of vacant homes, the dirty slush in the February streets and the faded tatters of Motown Records.  She had embraced the bright sun and the shirtsleeve style of her adopted sunbelt.  Atlanta loved her.  The daily ride in the Marta embraced her and the downtown Centennial Olympic Park celebrated her.  In her studies of transportation she could read the future, and the future held no sleeting mornings or ghosted population.

We will go to the stars, she was heard to say, by way of the magic of Light Rail.


What the Tea Leaves Said

Photo credit: Theresa Barker

Photo credit: Theresa Barker

“There’s something in me that likes / to imagine the things I’m afraid of, / for example, the future.” – Chase Twitchell, “Stripped Car”

I spend a lot of time avoiding thinking about the future.  Yesterday the tea leaves told me that things were about to change for me.  I usually don’t believe in that stuff, horoscopes and tea leaves and palm readings, but the tea leaves insisted on being heard.  After that I took the bus to the Central District and had a yoga class at Misty Yoga.  There was a new instructor and I couldn’t hear her calling the poses very well, so I left the yoga studio and headed downtown.  The red meringues at the All Seasons Bakery called to me as I walked past on Second Avenue, so I went in and bought a half-dozen.  They cooed as they came out of the case and rode along in the pink box they came in.  Then it was time for the rain and so I ducked into the library and hid out for a while until it stopped.  Such a quiet sound books make when they want to be read!  Finally, the light rail took me back to Beacon Hill and when I came in the door, the tea leaves apologized and told me they were mistaken.  Things were not about to change for me, they said.  We’re sorry, but they are going to stay the same for awhile.  That’s all right, I said.  Me and the red meringues were just about to keep each other company.


Instruction to a young friend

“I shall never get you put together entirely, / Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.” – Sylvia Plath, “The Colossus”

The thing is in doing it properly.  You must be prepared with glue, scissors, and the keen eye of an artist.  You learn to see better.  The only thing to do is to take one piece at a time and, studying it, put it in the proper place next to the others.  One piece at a time is the only way to do it.  If you slip, and find yourself lost, you need backtrack to the last piece you placed, and, beginning from that point, start again.  Starting again, you take up another piece and study it like the others.  It’s the only way.  Some believe you can stand back and try to form the overall picture, try to see the way it will look when all pieces are in place.  They delude themselves.  The only way of the thing is in taking one piece at a time, one moment, one afternoon, one pink sunrise or one orange sunset, one late night phone call, one midday nap.  The order is not important; it is the going at it one piece at a time that matters.  The stillness of a winter’s night, the frothy blush of a spring’s blossomy tree.  The whisper of snow on the roof.  The jabbering of a blue jay at the tree next door.  A songbird’s hopeful trill.  The electric green of a lawn.  A spider’s ash-white web.  Humming of a solitary bumble bee.  the brush of Santa Ana’s wind.  Each piece must be examined, then fit into its place of belonging.  Only then can you complete the thing and only then will you have the result.



Something went wrong, says the empty house.  I still remember the bright birthday parties in the parlor, the warm holiday meals at the dining room table, the sock mending around the kitchen stove.  I remember the mother calling her children in from play.  I remember the husband speaking tenderly to his wife.

It was the parson’s fault, whispered the tall grass.  Out here on Saturday nights with his long black coat and his poisonous thoughts.  The eyes he could not keep to himself.  The plastery fingers on his sweat-stained felt hat.

It was too late, grumbled the tire tracks that cut through the amber grass to the front porch.  By the time we knew, it was too late.  It was already too late.

We could have saved her, the tin chimney top chirped.  We could have saved her.

But the empty windows knew better.  She was already lost, they chattered.  She was already lost before they knew of the parson’s ugly heart.

The open doorway whistled.  It’s no good, it said.  We can only sit here. Sit here and wait.

She stands in the doorway, ghosted and cold-boned.  She stands and waits.


Behind the Mask

“It must be somewhere, the original harmony, / somewhere in great nature, hidden.” – Juhan Liiv, “Music” (Translated from the Estonian by H.L. Hix & Jüri Talvet)

You put on the silver mask.  Its cool edges mold to the temples, the cheeks, the jaw.  Through the almond-shaped eyes you see the form of your beloved lying on the couch.  He is asleep.


His long lithe body is restful in sleep.  When he is awake he is all tension, all wired muscles and taut limbs.  When he is awake you fear he will leave you.  But he is asleep now.  Now is your chance.

You go to the kitchen, still wearing the silver mask, still seeing through the almond eyes.  The poison is there.  You got the poison from the old witch on the corner who reads palms and does Tarot cards.  She gave you the perfect purple pill and told you to dissolve it in a glass of wine.  You pour a glass of Merlot and you drop the pill into it.  You take the wine out to the living room and set his glass on the coffee table.

You feel the strict rigid edges of the mask bite into your skin.  You’ve waited for this moment, and now it is nearly here.  Your beloved will never belong to another.  Never.


The Fog of War

It was fog of war again.

Bree saw them coming, or rather, felt the attackers coming, through the sickly yellow fog that drifted toward them across the lake.  Her people’s village at the edge of the lake was on the most desirable spot, where the rich Salin river poured into the lake, bringing fish and water game of all kinds.  They had successfully defended the village against assault by neighboring tribes for many years.  But lately the deadly fog of war had been used against them, something procured from the new dark magician in the south, no doubt.

They had been successful against all previous attacks.  But Bree saw that coming to an end.

This time they would lose everything.

As the village seer, she reported her sight to the elders.  They refused to believe her, giving orders for the village to prepare for battle.

There was much at stake, Bree knew.  She had also seen that the elders would not believe her, but she had reported her sight anyway.

She only took a few things with her in her pony-drawn sledge when she left.  She went toward the south.  She would find out more about this new magician for herself.