Marjory Heath Wentworth
For Harriet Popham Rigney
the Archangel is expected almost
kneeling robes flowing like water
against the late afternoon
silence dominating the room's
internal order in the corner Mary
paused in prayer head down
hesitant wrapped in blue wool
she sits beneath a dove ringed by fire
such resistance in the air
not the room as the pattern
is certain long rectangled
windows holding daylight
the floor composed of diamonds
gray and brown squares
red white starred red
dress the bed draped in silk
and the square white pillow at rest
such stillness at the center
of this story fleur de lys
in bloom the world outside
the window diminished
as the room transforms into a kind
of reliquary everything
sacred swirling towards night
(Triptych of the Annunciation, Master of the Legend of St. Ursula)
Sometimes my grandmother stayed
silent for hours. Alone
at her window she watched wind
tearing at the dead dried leaves,
until they smothered the ground.
But she used to talk non-stop.
Fluent in six languages,
her favorite thing was singing
Christmas carols in German
all year long. Why wait for winter
she asked in March, I could be
dead by the 4th of July?
She wasn't gone by summer,
but her mind seemed to be
unraveling. She didn't
notice a thing, when she went
into a world where trees
caught fire and flew across
the cloudless sky of her room
filled with odorless horses
refusing to eat when trains
and steamships passed in the halls.
Someone kept slashing her clothes
with a machete. She claimed
there was a Mexican man
hiding all day in the closet
who only came out at night.
Hells Bells, that is what happens
when a woman is left on
her own, she'd say with a smile.
According to her, the fetus
in my belly wasn't a baby.
Babies come in small parts.
I should go to the hospital
to pick up one part at a time.
The head was first, of course.
It's the size of a baseball,
although when women give birth
It's usually a litter
of puppies, or if she's lucky -
one full grown black cat that comes
already named something cute.
While she was explaining this
fascinating method of
childbirth, she sat on the edge
of her bed, surrounded by
pink blankets, chewing the frayed
corner of the TV changer,
which she often mistook for
a Hershey's chocolate bar.
I sat in a chair beside
the window and listened.
One hand in hers, the other
holding my swollen belly,
watching leaves spin in the wind.
Geography Of Home
Sudden winter rain a need like night
camellias that morning startling
a thing remembered how we fill
our days of ornaments
unwrapped and scattered across
the kitchen table chocolates
in a silver box from home wind
white and furious watching
the first hour of Fanny and Alexander
Christmas Eve snow falling candlelight
feast at the end of day a family
gathered and then, the stark unraveling
ice breaking on the river
beside the house children
shocked into submission
reality broken ever since
That night the voice on the phone
once held me steady
sometimes that is enough a man
with a full heart and stories
thick snow on a lake white breath
of horses small children digging
tunnels in the fields beside the house,
afternoons with an English novel or the film,
because he misses home, but won't say
this is where he asked her
to marry him under the stars
a bottle of champagne wedged
in a snowbank as if songs were true
stories as if joy could be anything but
elusive promises made
before God sometimes
a sudden turn in one direction
or another eyes that meet
or do not across the bar
the risked kiss unbuckled belt
and so it goes a stranger
came out of his house
to speak to a woman this was
as calculated as a long voyage
shaving cream caught in his ear
this too was planned one thing
on his mind his stories as old as the sea -
the first stab to his heart
home on holiday leave that
night and the snow was falling
the girl's hair was full of snow¬† or stars
caught on their eyelashes and tears
he got down on his knees his uniform
shining buttons none of that mattered
he moved in we wore
the same size jeans we fit
like us no arguing with that
forget the world let us
be happy when we are happy
that story that stays with me
his submarine surfacing
into a swarm of monarchs
crossing the Atlantic mid-day
no clouds the wonder of it
so much sunlight with you
it was something like that
he said and then
a child conceived because
of me the memory of that
story not written anywhere.
Twice a year ships sailed from Shanghai
to Salem. Stacked in their hulls were sacks
of oranges and rice, tins of tea, saffron
in glass bottles and rows of twine bound carpets
more colorful than the Puritan imagination.
Centuries later, these carpets swirled
across the polished floors of Victorian houses
north of Boston. Summers at our grandparents
house near the sea near the sea, where we lived
whenever our parent's lives fell apart,
my brother and I pretended that the rust
colored border of the living room rug,
was the edge of a cliff we couldn't cross.
In high ceilinged rooms, where we played
quietly among the antiques, dust filled
velvet curtains draped the lead glass windows
facing Atlantic Avenue. Behind them
it was as dark and cool as a cave.
A broken grandfather clock stood
beside the front door. Light blue moons
smiled from the corners of the clock face.
Sometimes, my father's retarded sister stood
in the corner across from the clock and stared
for hours until someone noticed her.
Time was her one obsession. In this family
filled with genius, her mind seemed stuck,
like the clock she loved, and the people.
II Sullivan's Island
In our gate house near the sea,
shutters hang uneven on their hinges,
and the wood frame windows are swollen
shut. My husband tried to open one,
and the glass shattered in his hands.
Someone sanded the tongue and groove walls
until the Civil War bullet holes faded
then disappeared, like the Africans who once lived here.
We fill the rooms with antiques from the north -
my grandparent's dining room furniture,
cedar sea chests, polished silver and an oriental carpet
older than the rotting wood that holds this house
improbably together. The carpet once lay upon
my grandparent's floor like an ocean spreading
in every direction. The ships that came here
carried human beings in their hulls, not spices,
rice, or woven wool. Now the sea
roars incessantly. Along the back fence,
trumpet vines are thriving where our sons
dig trenches for a Lego fort under siege.
Palmettos rise from the grass.
Stacks of fallen fronds surround the boys,
whose fort is filled with holes - wide
enough to let in dust, snakes, and light
Come through the doorway
without anger and your multitude of masks.
Look into the mirror on the wall
at the bottom of the stairs. Discover
desire, the way it felt before you came
here; before you smelled the sea.
Remove everything but
the future, where flowers are strewn
across a bed.¬† No secrets.
Begin again. Tell me about
the courage to bloom, the way
wood shines in your house,
where you rise each day and plan
ways to fill the hours. It is like building
a boat of bruised days made from twisted hands.
Still, the scent of the garden buried in snow
reminds me of the suffering
you will not speak of, anywhere.
On the first day of chemo
unexplained gifts appear on the doormat -
lavender soap wrapped in tissue paper,
a thick bar of dark chocolate and a quartz
sparkled rock to keep you earthbound.
The Saints must be busy today.
That's okay. You watch patterns of sun-
light slide across your bedroom wall.
The dog sleeps on top of your bed
and watches you carefully.
Dried leaves in a pile woven together
by spider webs on the brick steps
have no meaning. But they hold
your attention for too long. Sleep now,
and wait for something green to appear.
Late last night, your sister phoned.
You don't ask what took her so long,
because her voice is the one that answers
in dreams. It is the flame
singing through the longest night.
Sunflowers tied with yellow velvet ribbon
greet you when you open the front door.
Peaches in a brown bag, a box of pastries
tied with a string, and bowl full of tomatoes.
The note is from a neighbor you hardly know.
New copies of PEOPLE and VOGUE stacked
beneath a bottle of bright pink nail polish
the sticky note attached - "Something to do!"
"2 DVD's that will make you LAUGH -
"Pink Panther" and "A Fish Called Wanda."
After smoking the joint that was hidden
in an envelope labeled JUST IN CASE,
you look up the word grace in the dictionary.
"Thank you for the gifts," you write,
"I feel like a Saint has visited my doorstep."
Surrounded By Flowers, Floating In Light
At breakfast we speak of cancer.
How the very thing that cures
can kill you, and sometimes does.
Everyone has a story -
The neighbor with a brain tumor
who died of leukemia
caused by chemotherapy,
or the one about the staph
the grandfather who caught
pneumonia during his last
hospital stay. All the while,
a tiny orange and blue
butterfly clings to the white
wall of the dining room, wings
beating bravely. The hidden
source of it's own resilience,
as mysterious as light.
Or air, that holds each last breath
taken, on beds where the dying
have lain for days, hovering
at the edges of their lives
until the light enters them.
Until that is all there is,
and we can only watch them
fade slowly. Late evening
after visiting hours
the hospital hums to itself.
I visit the darkened rooms,
throbbing with machinery.
On the oncology floor
the doors are shut. Behind them,
is a kind of loneliness
that can't be shared. I enter,
carrying flowers - sweet and
blooming; which is how I want
to remember her. Propped-up
with white pillows, her eyes wide
and radiant, but empty
of flame, Margaret has tossed
the bright baseball caps and scarves.
Whatever hope she'd held, now
dissolving into lost hours.
Her outline already melting
like a shadow on the sheets.
Gasping after each word
spoken above the soft swish
of monitors and pumps,
she says her young son's visits
exhaust her. She sleeps all day
to prepare herself for him.
The card we made stretches
like a chain cross two walls.
She's never taking it down,
nor the picture of yellow
flowers she painted last week,
sitting up in her wheelchair
for almost an hour, her
son on her lap with his own
paper and paints making
a little house just for him
and his mom. It is painted
blue, the color of the sky.
The sun blazing in the top
left corner fills half the paper
with thick yellow streaks that stop
just above the little house
with white trim, surrounded by
gardens, floating in light.
Nothing Can Contain You
In memory of David Hilderbrand
Not the wreath woven from fresh flowers,
nor the photograph it rings. Not the calm
smile at the center. Not the messages
inscribed by the ones who loved you most.
Not your initials, nor the dates
marked in black lettering across the white
cross, planted behind the guard rail
at the edge of a Georgia highway -
the one perpetually filling with sunlight.
But birds....there should be birds.
Small and many. Birds that have just come
from the sea, which can't be far. There should be
one for each year. They should descend in a rush
and surprise, and smother the small trees
growing in a line beyond the roadside
memorial. They should be white. And from
a distance, it would look like a line of crosses
trembling beneath a sky full of sadness, full of song.
For Jonathan Green
It happens in stillness. Because it is night
you hear snakes drop from the oak
and other things you can not name
passing beneath or above you. Trees
so thick the stars are mute.
Close your eyes. The immensity
of such unquantifiable light
fills the emptiness that once was
memory. After the hunger
and solitude, dreams and the dead
speaking as if they are with you,
it happens when the oak begins to burn
from within. And you welcome the flames.
YOUR ONLY SHINY THING
THE LIZARD IN THE WASHING MACHINES
MORE LIGHT THAN WE CAN HOLD