Only So Much
I bend to the open notebook; distracted, turn my head.
Tiny brown ants are climbing up a stalk of goldenrod.
It isn’t clear what goal they hope to reach.
I pick up a sharpened pencil, start to sketch.
A passing cloud; the sky goes dull. I shut
the notebook and open it from the back, to write.
There is only so much we can notice all at once.
Now this morning’s dream makes an appearance:
packed lecture hall where students overflow
to aisles and floor. What do they want to know?
I have the sense they’re gathered here to learn
some kind of surgery. The brain donation
card, wallet-size, arrived in this morning’s mail.
I close the notebook. The patient ants still crawl.
A sudden breeze: the grasses toss their tops.
Wild strawberry runners are clambering over this rock,
where, if I sat here long enough, eventually
the tough, lithe tendrils would also crisscross me.
I could climb down from my temporary tower,
go to the house and fill a glass with water,
get out my watercolors, dip my brush,
memorialize this moment with a wash
of color; sketch the runners, trace a border,
as if imitation equaled order.
Or I could take a walk down to the brook
or stretch out in the hammock with a book
or let my thoughts’ red runners trace a line
to the null magnet of my husband’s brain,
the hospital where he’s “undergoing observation,”
the arid wide plateau of the condition –
a battleground to which I will return.
But there is room for only so much attention.
In The Golden Road;
originally appeared in The New Yorker
The Golden Road
On a September road I met my son
walking the other way. I had the hill
to climb; he was returning from a run.
No surprises; he
Knew I was nearby,
as I knew he was. But precisely where
our paths might meet was a benign surprise.
The road was rutted, plastered with gold leaf.
Did our eyes, as we neared each other, meet?
More of a full-body recognition:
this tall young stranger
around a bend, who paused on seeing me
(however I appeared) and then passed on.
Autumnal radiance thickened
by complications, memory, history –
nothing startling, in my mother’s phrase.
The gold road curves.
The living pass the dead.
Old and young acknowledge one another;
then each takes their separate path ahead.
Oh Muse, peel off your dove-grey cardigan.
September, fallen leaves, and cool noon sun:
I rounded a gold curve and saw my son.
In The Golden Road;
originally appeared in The New Republic
Green and Gold
Amidst the glossy dark-green foliage
Of trees around the hotel pool,
I spy a low-hanging golden fruit.
So many trees whose names I do not know
And for the first time do not care to learn.
The overwhelming now in its countless inflections
cancels vocabulary: eyes lips skin
instead of words. Still in the pool,
floating on my back as the sun gets low,
I look at the mango, if that is what it is
(I think it is some wholly other fruit),
and suddenly smell garlic sautéed in butter.
Chefs in the kitchen under the trees
are getting the hors d’oeuvres ready.
Yesterday in a dim, airless gallery,
following your lead,
I hunted down an iconography
written in a grisly alphabet
yet full of life, the haunting gaze direct,
transcending Death. Death had in winning lost.
Art trumped death and life trumped art. Last night
(our third together – sleep
a whole new texture in a bed with you),
I gave you space and found myself at the border
of a far province in a king-sized bed,
a dimly lit hinterland where paintings ruled,
a region wholly devoted to the work
of the same painter, mysteriously killed,
stoned to death (“lapidated” was one word),
assassinated – why? A mystery
to be solved by iconography?
Death had won but also death had lost.
Garlic and butter. Glossy dark green leaves.
Voices across the pool. A hanging fruit.
An azure splash. And as the sun goes down,
you sit by the window in our room,
drawing pictures of this this this time.
What to call it? Colors in your hands
trump words. Like the fruit,
like the solution to the mystery,
something I am at a loss to name.
The rose-scented lotion daily lower in its bottle.
Perhaps because we are not attempting to pack it,
time slows to a standstill.
The room fills up with silence.
Afternoon nap? Not yet afternoon.
Sun neither out nor in.
March takes a breath.
No chasing now, no fleeing.
No mad pursuit, no struggle to escape.
What were we after? What was after us?
However still you stand, it blunders past
only for so long before it finds you.
However fast you run, you can outrun it
only for so long. But this afternoon
(now truly afternoon) it too has slowed.
The bottle of rose-scented lotion
is neither full nor empty.