Turnings

I was young and white
In New Orleans
In the middle years
Of the last century
Before the millennium
Turned

Everywhere
Everything
Was signed
“Whites Only”
“Colored”

To turn away
From a colored person
Was expected
Casual cruelty

Colored was dangerous
Colored was dirty
Colored was other

I had to learn
To unlearn
The inbred racism

I had to learn
To share my world
To turn towards

Yesterday
I left a store
As a black woman entered
We met in the doorway
Turned our masked faces
Away from each other
And said a mutual muffled
Thank you

And so
In the twentieth year
Of a new millennium
I learn that turning towards
Can sometimes look like
Turning away

Weariness

Wednesday, family arrives
From Mississippi
What is riskier
Letting them stay
Or refusing?

How safe is the Instant Teller?
The exercise class?

Saturday, Mom’s left leg is swollen
What is riskier for 96?
Weekend walk-in
Or wait until Monday?

Can I safely shop for groceries
Or should I have them delivered?

Tuesday, the toilet clogs
Do we take it apart ourselves
Or call a plumber?

Can we meet friends for dinner
On a restaurant patio?

If I have friends over
To play bridge with Mom
How do I know they really have been
Isolating and distancing?

Children need school
Mom needs friends
I need activities

Or do we?

Be still,
And know that I am God
Was just about OK
In the Bible

But when did a virus
Become God
Demanding stillness?

I grow weary, resentful
And yet, and yet
I know

I know enough
To

Be still
Be patient
Be wise
Be wary

And know we can survive

Welcome Home

Four flowers bloom
Lifting high on slender stalks
Rooted to a burnt dragon’s egg
Soon cooled in a silver sea

Those flowers
Silken and strong
Lift laughter and gladness
Burst into silent song
No less strong
For being unsung

Return to earth
Creaking, groaning, hurting home
Under the strong blooms
Slowing the fall
From disaster to triumph

Men in masks
Worn as casually as pants
Welcome home
Our latest returning
Single combat warriors

Roots of this celestial plant
Flow wide and deep
To Kennedy and Khrushchev
Bloomed first in coldness
Harvested by military
Bloom now in over-heated earth
A tesla harvest

Garden breaths
Gentle, grateful
Watching that dragon seed
Birth space dads

And I Can’t Breathe

[I have absolutely no business writing this. I am an older (some might even say elderly) white woman born and raised in the Deep South. I have written nothing for weeks. Today, as I listened to the news, my mind started reciting this. I wrote it down as it came to me – even though I cringe at assuming the voice of my black brothers and sisters.]

You’re kneeling on my back
While I’m picking your cotton
And
I can’t breathe

You’re kneeling on my hand
While I’m trying to vote
And
I can’t breathe

You’re kneeling on my foot
While I’m trying to enlist
And
I can’t breathe

You’re kneeling on my mind
While I’m trying to learn
And
I can’t breathe

You’re kneeling on my chest
While I’m trying to earn
And
I can’t breathe

You’re kneeling on my neck
While I’m trying to plead
And
I can’t breathe

Help me, mama
Please
The white man won’t
And
I can’t breathe

Quietly

Spring begins
Softly
New leaves bud
Slowly
New greens show
Gently
No flowers yet
Just many soft shades of green
Awaken my eyes and soul
Quietly

Fall ends
Softly
Old leaves fall
Slowly
Fall colors fade
Gently
Most flowers gone
Green, gold, red, orange, gray, brown
Caress my eyes and soul
Quietly

The Inconvenient I

She will come, I
imagine
to my deathbed
once she knows I
cannot talk

She will cry, hold my
hand
and whisper
once more with feeling
I love you

And she will mean it
because
she can love the you
just not the I

So she will wait
until
the inconvenient I
dies.

America the Pitiful

(A ditty sung to the tune, of course, of America the Beautiful)

Oh, pitiful for ignorance
For endless waves of doubts
For purple anger’s truculence
And foolish people’s shouts
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And stop the dumb lest we succumb
From sea to shining sea.

Requiescat In Profugus

Curiouser and curiouser, isn’t it
How everywhere we see nature reviving
As we humans abide in restless peace

Decaying bodies rest in trucks
Outside a Brooklyn funeral home
While the air clears of smog
In cities throughout the world

Empty planes rest on tarmac
In nearly abandoned airports
While dolphins and fish swim
In cleaner Venetian canals

Basketball nets rested slack
Throughout this new March madness
While a fox, not of the human variety
Investigates Downing Street

Shopkeepers and schoolchildren rest at home
Perhaps not content, but in something like stillness
While an elk peers in the window
Of a closed shop in Banff

We humans may rest only restlessly
And, for some, resentfully
But much else in the world
Seems to rest in new-found peace.

If only we could learn the secret
If only we did not need death
To teach us how to
Requiescat in pace

Incarnation

My mouth cuddles the words of her poem
My left shoulder blade sharpens when I move just so
My fourth toe on my right foot aches still
Ten years after its Zumba dislocation
I jigged when she jogged. Her heel and my toe
Becoming
Unexpected unwelcome brief
Partners
My left knee still lives on the icy trail
In the cold winter afternoon
Fading too fast
Where ice, ski and knee challenged each other
My knee lost
My glasses fog up when I wear the mask
That mom sewed, folding elastic between cloth layers
So I breathe into my husband’s old 100% cotton t-shirt
Cigarette paper,
The dermatologist says,
Is the medical description for what the disease
Has done
Here, there, most everywhere to my skin
Rough and ugly under my hands
Until his touch refires the clay
Into warm smoothness
Always
Our physical incarnates
Our divinity

Retrospeculative in Two Parts

Part One
Whoever said hindsight is 20/20 never compared their memories to another’s. When I look back, as through a glass darkly, I see some unknowable mixture of memory and fantasy. If my alchemy is generous, I may find gold within the dregs of memory’s cup. But too often it seems I suffer a reverse alchemy.

Part Again
I pan the whitewater river
That rushes over the valleys and hills of my past
To the narrow canyon of my present
Where I stand in hip boots and helmet
The better to protect me from drowning in tears.

I pan for those memory nuggets
That I can refine with true alchemy
Into rare golden understanding.

I hold them out, so small in my wrinkled palm
Those bright shiny memories
To share the treasure with my family
Only to be told that I offer them but
Fool’s gold