The sweater of the man
was knit by the wife of his brother.
He sees ivory
needles in her white hands,
the camel cashmere trail of yarn
scaling her thigh, pooling
her lap, pulled knot by knot to climb
and wind in soft cables.
When dreams leave and sun comes,
the cables push her scent into his skin
and she holds him in ivory light.
She wakes with this vision, goes
to the window under the star
that will share luminescence
with him in the West.
In view from a desolate window
comes the red bud’s rotting leaves,
malnourished now. One of 12 seedlings
slim as strings I could’ve knotted
end to end and used as floss
for embroidery of a landscape surely
less dismal than this. A dozen years gone,
the tree sees me behind this glass
tarnished with rime, hoarfrost, frowns.
Arms branching a leaf or two on each
to spin like vaudeville plates on sticks.
At the base of the red bud—shattered leaves,
remains of what couldn’t hold. At the base
of the wall, under the sill, shards:
veined wings, dead things, debris.
Some days are diamond. Some days are
stone. John Denver and Placido D.
and the wren whose feathers ruff
up where he bobs with his back to the wind,
pretending not to care how slim the twig,
how little the green, how sparse the rotting leaves
or that I will miss him, in my bones
through all the stones of my days,
through all the diamonds of being.
They are called pescadores, these men who fish
from the point below, a five-gallon white bucket
at their feet, carefully folded nets slung
over forearms. They release them like discus throwers
and the weighted hems fly out from their pleats
into wide lariat loops the ocean accepts. Again
and again I watch with seagull patience, pen idle
in my hand, journal asleep in my lap, as the circles
cast sink out of sight. Then hand over hand
the rope is pulled in, weights gathered and touch,
glimmers of wet sun. The pescadores want more
than dull glimmers. They want shining fish
to spill silver across the dark rock, the dance
of scales on aged lava. And I, watching them,
understand. We want what evades:
the filled bucket, perfect words and filled bellies.
Moments we can recapture,
licking the run of success from our palms.
This shore is the side of the bowl
I scrape with a finger to taste each day’s batter.
Now Styrofoam coasts the swells, broken
from some pontoon, rectangular,
one chunk of a manmade iceberg
with no base. October’s sun
makes a sugared glaze
of the receding waves as I find footing
among smoothed stones, stir them
with my great toe until they topple, find
balance again. Families
gather in this bowl. Granite and jasper, quartz
and anonymous ancestors, settle
without prejudice, each color
a complement to the next and the next,
and to the holey lava
whistled by wind. Here is the shoe
of a baby, leather salt-cracked,
laces gone, sole still attached.
The small foot must be calloused now,
having grown tough and brown
with life after tripping barefoot
toward a beckoning hand,
perhaps with a chocolate chip cookie,
toward mom, dad, brother or sister known
and away from the mother of all, this
churned bowl of grief and goodness baked
by an afternoon’s grace.
Al’s Long Arms
A shirt off the rack was too short.
Western snaps on the cuffs failed to meet
above his wrists and, for a while, he rolled
them back a few folds, exposing
thick forearms with their shrapnel-strike scars
where shell fragments skated his skin.
Wheat-colored and gold, this shirt
of pearl-inlaid snaps on flap pockets
occupied a hanger with its weight
(not much, as he’d ripped out the sleeves
that first summer), for three months after
Al’s death. Frayed edges around the armholes,
metallic gold threads too stubborn to let go,
tickled my shoulder whenever I entered
I’m far from there in place and years. Yet,
around five a.m. when October’s sky is pricked
with starlight, the moon a cold shade of butter
and settling into the northwest horizon,
his shirt appears, trails frayed remains
across my bare back, tricks me from sleep.
Sheets wafted by a night’s stirring,
the shirt’s not materially here.
Such long arms, mumbled when waking
and remembered when walking,
shoes sucked inside receding tide’s
mud and marsh. Another widow might
understand, not all holes heal.
[After Jorge Evans ‘Overtime’ as read in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry]
Sometimes I can hear Oklahoma in the marine layer.
Wrapped in a drift of horizon too thick to approach.
Sometimes a vapor of saddle harness couples
with tractor grease and corn shucks torn,
brown eggs in old straw and slanted blue cellar doors.
And I turn toward what I can’t see and see it. See it
in the fleece of asphalt ocean, white-capped fields.
And a clapping of floured hands calling chickens
calling chickens, clapclapclap. Handfuls of calling.
An old woman’s aproned dreams. Sometimes.