The frogs we have in common are noisy tonight at Quala’s edge, Kokaking! of herons and empty chairs.
O’Hara packed some tangerines when he set out to find you,
but I arrive fruitless with only the thought
Why’d you do it? Why’d you leave us?
I wasn’t there when the wild thing got her. I knew it like you know things in dreams, without knowing how or why– but knowing, with a certainty unrivaled in the walking-around-world.
I didn’t know her, though. I didn’t know who she was, or her name, or how she came to be mauled by a wild beast in the middle of northern Missouri. Still, I somehow recognized her 80 year old self as an unknown other rolled her, in her wheelchair, into church.
Mom and I were seated a few pews back from the front. The lady entered, and terrified, I ushered Mom to the far end of the row. I scanned the entrance for a sign that the wild thing had re-found his victim and followed her inside. I readied for a threat that never came. As hard as I watched, it was only the lady, and once safely seated she smiled and nodded her relief. Mom and I made our way back to the opposite end. We were close enough now that I could see Joan just ahead, and very near the lady. We fastened eyes and the fear faded enough that we could all sit down. We settled back in our seats a little, but I kept one arm linked together with Mom’s, and the other extended, aisle-side, to ward off whatever wrong thing might come.
Mom took note of this new arrangement and said You’re still trying to protect me, aren’t you, kid? And I said Yeah, Mom. I’m trying my best, and I stayed there like that until morning, positioned between her and whatever harm might want to find her, but day broke and the sun burned through and I opened my eyes to find she was gone again anyway.
We are not the kind of people who have lumpectomies. We are the kind of people who sail through a summer with Carole King blasting, luring handsome Kansas boys from 17th street for a dance and a drink.
We are not the kind of people whose parents die. We are the kind of people whose Dad’s take us fishing, whose Mom’s take us swimming, for picnics at the creek.
We are not the kind of people
We are not the kind of
We are not the kind of people and we are
the kind of people who
are not the kind of people
we are not.
Even in Kyoto/I hear the cuckoo sing/and long for Kyoto. ~Basho
The car coasted to a stop on the gravel between the graves.
You comin’, Dad?
Nah. I’ll just wait here.
I let the car door close behind me and started down the nearest row. I’d only taken a few steps when he called me back.
Listen. You tell Mom I’m not drinkin’ again, I just don’t feel good.
I’ll tell her, Dad. But she knows that already.
I checked my watch and wondered if he was close to needing insulin. I walked past Uncle Charlie, Aunt Ruth, Cousin Casey, and the other townspeople who’d gone on before us. I stopped when I got to Dad’s folks, and, as he’d asked, tried to tell them what they knew already.
It was the lilacs, I think, carried on the summer breeze, that caught the words in my throat. I looked back toward the car, catching sight of the Thompson stone. I thought of Alice, in another season, talking about the snow on Bethel’s grave. She cried with no excuses. It was winter then, and there were no lilacs to blame.
I couldn’t see them, but they were thick in the pure village air. They grew in common at our house on the hill and by the old barn in Grandma’s back yard. I’d sat there with Sean one day, our backs against the wooden door and our heels in the rich, black dirt. I told him the Basho haiku that embodied Lucerne for me.
Well, that doesn’t make sense. He’s in Kyoto, hears a bird sing, and longs for Kyoto, even though he’s in Kyoto?
It makes perfect sense. It would be like saying, “Even in Lucerne, I smell the scent of Lilacs, and long for Lucerne”. I’m in Lucerne, longing for the perfect Lucerne I knew– the ideal or idyllic Lucerne, which can’t exist anymore, because some of us are missing.
The sun signaled time to meet Mom for lunch.
I said goodbye to George and Myrtle and walked back to the car and their waiting son.
Did you tell her what I told you to?
Yeah, Dad, I did. And she said to tell you you’re not too big for a spanking.
His laugh filled the lilac’d air around us and we were in an old Lucerne, in a different time, and a different place, where everything was fine again for just a little while.
You might think it cruel
of the Black-Lace Weaver
to eat his parent alive
when he’s barely one week old,
but I think I’d be grateful
to the boy for making
such quick haste.
Some species draw it out 50 years,
leave their parents broke
and footless and ask them,
“Can I still have your jewelry?”
the night before they die.
This morning, in the very early morning,
I ribboned through the Allegheny foothills aboard
an eastbound train, where I first saw the trees,
the closest trees to Ichter’s trees that I have ever seen.
These trees that postured upward
were hopeful, lean, and tall in the mist of a
in the midst of a hundred other trees that
were much more squat and half again as round-
happy with themselves just to root and make do.
I thought of the Ichter trees and the who
of he that drew them, wondering if the child he once was
fashioned trees like these
and pinned them on the school hall wall
next to those of his classmates-
with the little round figures of
people-potatoes with legs,
and the requisite yellow sun,
burning bright with the hope for a bigger role
in the upper left hand corner of
the crinkled Big Chief page.
It’s hard to breathe on a moving train
with trees like these around and reaching
high on a Pennsylvania hillside
toward a lacustrine sky–
especially as the train moves on and
the trees give way to the stone remains
of Someone’s former home,
crumbling its grief around the remaining foundation.
Maybe one day in a long way later
I will tell Mr. Ichter about the
willows I grew up with,
whose branches lifted me dry
across creek beds on the way to the
train tracks that cut through Lucerne,
past the chert rock roads
and the beanfields and the Red Brush
water rushing someplace else.
West Putnam Ups and Downs
Stitching, seam after seam, it took her the rest of recess to secure my circle skirt to its top and
restore the dress my mom had made for me
I hadn’t yet learned all the lessons the slippery slide had in store
I knew—through siblings or smarter classmates—that wearing shorts underneath
prepared you for playing
I knew but didn’t
that day so now I know that
good as it gets, there is the capability of tearing things in two
It takes a skillful teacher to,
on one hand,
sew–despite it not being in the job description–on this side of the door and
send away sight-seekers standing on the other.
She made it seem effortless she seamed so smoothly; mending she made all things seem possible.
I learned a lot that day
My beautiful dress broke in half
it’s back together now -you can’t even see where it hurt my feelings, mom
and from skillful schoolteachers before and since…
have hopefully helped others learn some lessons
now all I need to know is
how to sew
a broken heart