Knife Heft

The knife is old
The blade rusts
If not dried just after washing
The wooden handle has a satisfying heft
(Lovely word, heft, has a heft itself)
The blade is long
About 6 inches
Thin and tapered
Woody has had it many years
Used it over fire pits
And over kitchen counters
Sliced fish for smoking
Venison for jerky
Suckling pig
And garden vegetables
He hones it often
Keeps it sharp
I like the heft of memories in my hand
As I wash and dry it.

Aftermath

After math came lunch
Recess then the rosary
Classrooms full of boomers
Before we knew we had boomed
Before we bloomed

Wooden desks in precise rows
Uniforms neatly identical
Two feet on the floor
Bodies and faces forward
Both hands on the desktop
With the rosary

One nun walked the halls
To ensure order
While the others ate

We stationed a lookout at the door

When the monitor was down the hall
We rosary raced
HailMaryfullofgracetheLordiswiththee

As the monitor drew near
The lookout returned to her seat
And we slowed to a drawl
Blessed…art…thou…among…women

There was no reason to do that
No reward
Only the possibility of punishment
If caught

No reason except we needed it
That small measure of control
That small rebellion
After math, after lunch, after recess

What Damn Dance Is This?

We waltzed through the first tune
Partnering as we chose
Swinging easily past the uncomfortable:
Abraham offering his wife to the king
All those slain in the name of the god
Who shall not be named
Those soft spots on babies’ heads
Crushed against the captors’ hard rock

For our second tune
We practice faithfully
Like contestants on a dance show
With four dance masters
One step two step, twist and twirl
Bend backwards, don’t lose the beat

Then the beat picks up
The steps are faster
More complex
As we partner with Paul
Practicing perfection

Now we know the steps
Now we feel the rhythm
Now we hear the music
Now we near the crown

Then those horsemen
Ride rudely in
Scattering dancers
Parting partners

Bringing blood and beasts
Plagues and pestilence
Until our silent screams
Drown out the music

Have you ever tried to conga
Keeping six feet apart?

Have you ever tried to sing
Through a mask?

Have you ever kept the rhythm
When the beat stopped?

Do you know the lyrics
Can you hum the tune
That lets you keep your faith
As you shuffle in place?

If Jesus is the Lord of this dance
What macabre melody is left
For our disco with Death?

Rain Dream

Dark rain penetrates my garden
Burrows deep to find waiting seeds
But no god thinks to beg my pardon
For carelessly creating weeds

I dream myself as hardened rain
Drenching deep to dampen roots
I dream myself free of this pain
Drinking earth’s sleeping fruits

I tumble wet from my birthing cloud
That smothering rejecting dome
I tumble down to rake and plough
Lightning shot from my heavenly home

I am liquid light in a black world
Laughing in my careless squalling
I am sweet rain, cloud hurled
Nothing need known but falling

Truth Or Consequence

My mother
Forced from her Mississippi home
Says I found her on the road
In Tennessee

My sister likes to say
Her home destroyed
Her furniture and memories
Are somewhere in the Gulf

My nephew only laughs
About the hours he spent
On the roof of his flooded home
Awaiting rescue

My godchild blusters and complains
About his Guardsman days
On duty at the SuperDome

My brother-in-law collects pictures
Of the piles of furniture, mattresses
Strapped up fridges, flooring
That decorated grayed lawns

I remember the Rolling Stones concert
I never went to
When I talked my way onto a flight
To go help my family

We bore people
All the time
I see their faces shutter
When one of us says
Katrina

But there is so little left
You see
And all of that is muddied
Drowned for days in brackish water

We know it’s tiresome
Unpretty
Ancient history
But it’s all we could save.

Resurrection Conundrums

I would so love one more afternoon
Working in leather with Daddy George
My maternal grandfather
Dead now more years than he lived

But what if every hour with Daddy George
Was bought by an hour with my father
Dead now for 20 years
Mourned more than missed

Would it be worth the risk
Of more time with dad
Although I would love
To see again his wry smile
To hear again his whistle
(When he wasn’t drinking)

Could I pick and choose
What version, what age
Of each person to resurrect?

My grandfather
Not incapacitated by stroke
But the ramrod straight Colonel
Saluting the lowering flag
At Carswell Field
After gently placing my hand on my heart
That Texas summer sunset time

My father
Not incapacitated by alcohol and mania
But leaning on the sandy bayou bank
Laughing as I sprinkled sand
On his prematurely bald head
That too hot Louisiana time

Our stillborn granddaughters
Not tiny unfulfilled promises
But lisping leaping toddlers
Or laughing learning children
Or even sometimes sullen teens
As long as we had them for more time

If God asks me
How to resurrect those I miss
Who will tell God
How to resurrect me?

Second Coming

In January
I might have thought of Jesus
Or of a new generation
In the Star Wars saga

In February
I might have thought of Armageddon
Or of another trip
To Morocco

In March
I might have thought of Revelation
Or of how to resurrect
My work with accreditation

Today, Tridium Saturday
I think of Jesus alive
Then dead, entombed, silent

And I think it already happened
For God
The Second Coming
On that first Easter

(Think on it:
Emmanuel born, growing to manhood
Teaching, showing
Suffering, dying
Entombed, his life stilled
Then arisen, born again
Among us again
With new revealed glory)

This Tridium Saturday
I foresee quarantine ending
And life restarting

(And I wonder
If we too will arise
With new revealed glory)

This Tridium Saturday
I envision the virus controlled
And then resurging

(And I worry
About this rough beast
Sloughing to be reborn)

This Tridium Saturday
I wonder with a new urgency
When? What?

Succulents

Spice died on February 27, just before our normal started to die.

We took her to the vet in the morning. I sat on the floor, on the blanket they had spread in the small exam room, the one at the end of the corridor right next to the toilet-and-sink room. Spice sat next to me, on alert. She, with her half nose and leaking bladder, wouldn’t lie down though sitting hurt her. We were at the vet, so she expected poking and probing, she expected shots. My dogs are country dogs at heart. Country dogs who live in the large back yard of our city house. They see the vet once a year, every year for twelve years. So Spice, tired and ailing, knew what to expect. So she thought. So she sat, alert and wary.

Eventually the vet came in and gave her a sedative. Then she laid down with her head in my lap, as she absolutely never did at home. Her sister and life companion, Sugar, is as big as Spice – 60 pounds of Heinz 57 rescue. But Sugar is a lap dog at heart. When I am sitting in a chair on our porch or deck, Sugar will be there, sitting next to me, head in my lap. Spice will circle in for the occasional behind the ear or belly rub but she always holds her head high and is soon on her way. We have to be careful about the gates to the yard because Spice is an escape artist. She loves nothing better than to sneak out a gate and run and run and run around our neighborhood. She always comes back, eventually.

Was…would…held…had to be…loved…ran…came back: it all needs to be past tense now.

Sometimes now the gates are unlatched. Sugar does go out occasionally, looks around the front yard, up and down the street – is she still searching for Spice? – then simply sighs and comes back to her bed on the porch.

About 10 or 15 minutes after giving Spice the sedative, the vet came back into the room, with an assistant. They shaved a spot on one of Spice’s hind legs, and gave her an injection. Just seconds later Spice gave two slow sighs and was gone. I wondered why, if we were determined to keep the death penalty (which is, in essence, as inhuman in purpose as the cross) why it could not at least be done this simply, this quietly. If a dog deserves this, doesn’t a human, no matter what?

I said yes, I wanted a paw print and Spice’s ashes. The vet used the blanket to wrap Spice. I fled to the small necessaries room next door, washed my hands and face, leaned against the sink looking in the mirror, wondering why I felt gutted when really my dogs lived pretty much independently of me.

Later that afternoon, I was rear ended by a young driver who was on her cellphone. No one was hurt, there wasn’t even any significant damage to either car. It was a bump really, nothing more. But I was breathless and scared and couldn’t stop crying.

Two days later I left for France and then, soon after, the world started to fall apart in the blazing heat of a corona. Sunspots gone crazy. If I had rescued three dogs instead of two, perhaps the third would have been named Sunspot. Sugar, Spice and Sunspot. Nice and hot. But there were only two puppies wandering that town dump in North Carolina twelve years ago. Just Sugar, looking like a yellow lab, and Spice, with her incredible cinnamon coat that got inches and inches thick every winter, like a Chow.

Spice died and I went to France to join a friend whose brother had died. I had to come back a week early when too many people started dying in too short a time all over the world. Death had become contagious.

Sugar was waiting for me when I returned. She was no longer crying, moaning sort of, occasionally throughout the day, as she did in the two days after Spice died, before I left. But when the gate is left open, Sugar now goes into the front yard to look up and down the street; she never sees Spice, so she comes back into the familiar safety of the enclosed yard.

She does, however, unknowingly, sometimes walk over Spice on her way to the front yard. By the time I came back from France my husband had picked up the plaster paw print and an elaborately carved small wooden box containing Spice’s ashes. I recoiled when he tried to hand it to me. The thought of any remnant of free-ranging Spice in that ridiculous box repulsed me.

While I was in France, Woody, my landscaping husband, started making a pathway from the side gate to the front yard. He had planned to finish it before I got back, but death not only sent me away but also brought me back early.

On one side of the new path he created a sloping garden for succulents because I love succulents. That part of the property faces south, protected between two houses, never getting very cold in winter and often very hot in summer. So Woody dug sand into the rich Virginia soil to make a good bed for succulents. I asked him to dig Spice’s ashes into that new garden that was outside our fenced yard but still on our property, close.

So sometimes, when Sugar runs out the gate to check for Spice in front of the house, she may run over Spice. And as I dig to plant my thick-leaved succulents, as I dig, I dig through Spice. As a sentence it is weird, even as a thought it sounds unappealing. But when I am kneeling beside the garden, troweling a hole for a new small plant, when I take off my garden gloves and press the plant into the hole, snuggling the gritty dirt close around it, when I sit back on my heels and admire the new plant and imagine how it will spread, well then it doesn’t feel anything but good and right. Even though there still is too much death happening too fast.

Plagues and Pleasures

(Poems should stand on their own, but I want to share the prompt for this one. Rebecca reminded us that last evening began the Jewish Seder: “As part of the Seder ritual, we commemorate the ten plagues of the Egyptians by reciting them: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, slaying of the firstborn. With each plague named, you dip your pinky finger into your glass of wine, and remove a drop of wine, dabbing it onto our plate.” The Biblical reverence for the plagues is Exodus, chapters 7-12.)

Drop by blood red drop
We empty the cups of our lives
Of plagues and pleasures

Drop by blood red drop
We decorate our portion of time
With patterns of plagues and pleasures

Harden not my heart, O God: blood

+++++ The deafening chatter of the family
+++++ The comforting murmur of the home

Harden not my heart, O God: frogs

+++++ The unexpected jerk of yet another demand
+++++ The exciting jump to something new

Harden not my heart, O God: gnats

+++++ The buzzing itching irritation of the mundane
+++++ The beautiful enveloping constancy of the necessary

Harden not my heart, O God: flies

+++++ The petty distractions that can’t be ignored
+++++ The small diversions that relieve boredom

Harden not my heart, O God: death of livestock

+++++ The dreaded death of those we love
+++++ The welcome end of suffering for those we love

Harden not my heart, O God: boils

+++++ The daily frustration of failing bodies
+++++ The always wonder of physical life

Harden not my heart, O God: hail

+++++ The depleting demands of friendships
+++++ The refreshing allurement of friends

Harden not my heart, O God: locusts

+++++ The trivial eaters of our time and energy
+++++ The valuable enrichment of blank hours

Harden not my heart, O God: darkness

+++++ The shattering terror of the unknown
+++++ The gathering comfort of rest and renewal

Harden not my heart, O God: slaying of the firstborn

+++++ The bitter mourning for love lost
+++++ The sweet grief of love remembered

Let not thy plagues embitter me, O God
Let not thy pleasures weaken me

+++++ For I am pharaoh and prophet
+++++ Egypt and Israel
+++++ Wanderer and resider
+++++ Infidel and believer

Soften my heart, O God
Strengthen my will
Sustain my soul
That I might accept my cup and my portion
My plagues and my pleasures

What I Did During The Pandemic

In the beginning, I went to France.
Joined a friend who was mourning
her brother’s death
in our favorite quiet
get-ourselves-back-together-again
place:
Le Luberon
(Knowing well our privilege)

We spent quiet beautiful days
rain or shine
wandering thru les villages perchés
of the hill country
Café lunches with friends
old and new
(Taking for granted our movements,
our moments together)

But in the soft not-quite-spring evenings
back chez nous petit chalet
behind la grande maison de votre ami
Each evening
drinking just purchased vin ordinaire
from some small local vignoble or other
We read the news
and the increasingly frantic texts
from friends and family
(Wondering if we were wise)

Until we left our private mourning time
early
to return
Return to…
(Ah, there’s the rub)
to return to the expected quarantine
and the unexpected rest of it

We left our private woe
only to join in the mass mourning
for every vestige of normal life suddenly lost
and for lives lost, more every day,
piling up
corpse upon corpse
(Like the centuries old stone walls in France
leaned upon by Ceasar’s marching legions.)

I look out the window
and watch my husband outside
build a low stone wall around our side garden
While upstairs
my mother makes more masks
And downstairs
I spend too much time
on the internet
(As if l were still a working epidemiologist)

What did I do during the pandemic?
I remembered France
I remembered America
I remembered New York
I remembered New Orleans
I remembered life
Not as now
(As then, as when)