City Trees

Sad sentinels
Alone and lonely
The encampment long gone
That once their ancestors guarded

Where now the bears, the wolves
Antelope, elk, moose
And the people
Who hunted them
Lived on their bounty
All gone

The mountains remain
High on the horizon
Beyond these new hills
These strange straight crowded
New hills

Rank upon rank
Of these new hills
And the once new people
Who made them

Felling the forest
Killing the old people
Burying their land in concrete and steel
Until only these few remain

These sentinels of memory
Hanging on
Never thriving but
Never dying
These city trees

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Survival

I have navigated the rapids
The tumbling, thrumbling
frothing foaming
raging rapids of reproach:
paddling hard
bladed oar twisting, dipping
first right then left
(You are to blame, I am to blame)

I have twirled
in endless eddies of self-doubt
(I am no good)
Leaning far forward to escape

I have scraped myself raw
on rough rocks of regrets
(I could have, should have done better)

I have bumped thumped
into black boulders of despair
(Nothing again will ever be good)

I have bloodied myself
on half-submerged sharp-edged rage ledges
(You, you, damn you, hurt me)

More than once I capsized
panicked, trapped in my kayak
blinded, I sucked in hard water
until, digging deep
I remembered the hip swing
the precise paddle thrust
I used to roll upright

I have survived my waterfall of grief
when breathless
out of control
I plummeted
through cascades of tears
submerged in mourning
twisting, turning head over if onlys
I breathed the bitter waters of my despair
crashed onto ragged rocks of regrets

Battered, bruised, confused
I had no choice but to retrieve
my fragile tough kayak skin
climb back in and go on

Now I drift through quiet waters
content to let the gentle current
carry me through tree-lined lowlands
soft green shrubs deep brown alluvial soil

My shoulders still ache
My scabs peel sometimes, and bleed
When the sun is hot, I burn
My paddle lies across my lap, ready
The weather could turn stormy
Open waters, strong surf could lie ahead
But for now I drowse and drift
Content to have survived.

Auguries of Aging

Time and again
it begins
the same…

First I remember
or half remember
a line from a poem
or part of a line –
or is it several lines –
probably jumbled

“To see the world in a grain of sand
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand”
Is that right?
Whose poem?
Yeats comes to mind
but I know that is not right.
Coleridge? No – Butler? Absurd
Is Butler even a poet?
Where did that name come from?

Then I remember the title:
Auguries of Innocence
Ah, yes, of course,
not Yeats – Blake

Never can I easily remember
William (I think) Blake

Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:
I have loved it long
read it often
memorized – and forgotten –
parts of it

A favorite poem:
One of the first
that made me feel
deeper depths
stirring, beckoning
in an unexplored ocean

I had waded in Poe’s easy rhymes
splashed in cummings’ enticing verses
trickled Invictus through my soul
dabbled in Shakespearean sonnets
watched Columbus sail with no chart
witnessed my Captain’s ship come to port

But not until Auguries
had dared I
dive
kicking for a bottom
deeper than I
suspected

And yet, even so,
I forget
time and again
the lines
the poet
the magic
the grace

And so
I have
time and again
the bittersweet pleasure of
rediscovering
re-finding
that treasure chest
those scattered jewels
among those grains of sand

A Writer’s Parody

Sumer is icumen in
Write boldly, cuckoo
Poems grow and stories bloom
And our words spring forth anew
Write, cuckoo!

The poet bleats after her verse
The novelist lows after her plot
The memoirist prances; the readers fart
Merrily write, cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo
You write well, cuckoo
Never be quiet now, ever!

Write, cuckoo, now; write, cuckoo!
Write, cuckoo; write, cuckoo, now!

Hiking in My 70s

I took two small bottles of water and an extra shirt. I took sunglasses and a sun hat. I wore long pants and sturdy shoes. But I forgot my daypack – even the small string one that I take to yoga class. Neither my pants, nor my shirts (the sleeveless one I wore and the long-sleeved one I carried) have pockets.

So I decide to just carry my phone, for its camera and my safety, up the trail. And one small bottle of water, not both. And the small pack of Kleenex. Oh, I might need the Wet Ones, you never can tell, and the small foil packet with the lens cleaning tissue for my new glasses. What about the drops for my dry itchy eyes, the antihistamine pill, the small nail care kit I got for free from an organization I had donated to – that could come in handy. But I have no pockets, no daypack. And anyway would my purse be safe in the van even locked? I guess my purse is coming with me up the trail. I’ll extend the strap and wear it as a cross chest bag. That won’t be so bad.

Eight-tenths of a mile, that’s all. And just about everyone I know, young and old, has walked it. Today is perfect. Sunny and breezy with enough tree cover to keep me from burning since I also forgot the sunscreen. And enough wind to keep the bugs off since I forgot the bug spray. I will be fine, this will be fun. I remember 30 years ago, laughing and paying no attention as we caroused up the trail with our children flitting around us like those dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly. All we want to do today is slowly stroll up and back down, careful of aging bones and dicey cardio fitness.

The trail is broad and inviting until it isn’t. Log-defined steps, dry washouts, uneven rocks and always uphill. Soon, too soon, I feel old, I feel unfit, I feel anxious, I feel weak, I feel unwell, I feel my heart beating unevenly. Should I go on? Could I have a heart attack? Is this physical stress or just anxiety? How could I let myself get this unfit? Where now my trail walking skills, my climbing experience, my years backpacking? I was the one who ate hills. I count my breaths, matching them to my steps. Inhale for four steps, exhale for four steps. Until my steps are so slow that my breaths are two by two steps. I pause to study a pebble.

Ahead of me, Woody has found a bench. From bench to bench we go on, sitting as long as walking. Across or around those deliberately placed cross-path logs, over rocks, up steps of wood and gravel. From bench to welcome bench and then, when the trail becomes too narrow, too rocky, too steep for benches, from one sitting rock to another. Watching, helloing joggers with dogs, young couples with babies in backpacks, overweight walkers, sleekly dressed hikers, families, a toddler with an older brother and parents. Like rain to a parched plant come the words of a passing woman, “This is an eight-tenths mile trail and I have a one-tenth mile body.”

We reach the end. Well, not THE end but our end. On the final rocky switchbacks, we say enough. We declare victory and withdraw. It’s an American tradition after all. But withdrawal simply means facing the challenge of the equally long downhill trek back. I remind myself that the way back always seems shorter. And so I am surprised when it doesn’t.

I hear traffic. I glimpse a strip of road through the trees. I see the beginning of the parking lot. I remember running with the children to the treats in the van. Woody and I continue our slow careful walk to the tepid water in the van.

We talk of the effort itself being the achievement. We vow to return again next year, as this year, in the week of his birthday, and compare what we can do then to what we have done now. I resolve to spend more time on the stationary bike at the gym.

We drive to a winery and have Chardonnay, cheese and crackers. Sitting, sitting gratefully still, at a table overlooking vineyards and horizon hills.

“I don’t know much about growing grapes,” says my horticulturist husband.

“Here’s what I know,” I respond, “grapes don’t grow in ugly places.”

We finish our wine and snacks, drive home and take naps.

Shadowfacts

Awakening life
ravenous and bold
devours dawn’s long shadows

Amber lit noon
too busy to pause
hurries forward shadowless

Afternoon light
evening’s shy seamstress
quilts lengthening shadows.