I Wish I Were a Morning Poem

That’s all, really. I wish I were a morning poem. Perhaps I am a morning poem.

“I Wish I Were Mexico,” by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

When my father came back from the dead he came back as a smell. He came back as a bus passing comes back as a cloud, fumy and genie-like granting three wishes. He came back as a seaside town. He came back as the great parlor of fragrance thrown open by coconut. Meanwhile the bus was winding past Taxco, the child hanging out the window on a mountain road wanting to throw up. And when the bus turned and held itself mid-air the child died and someone else got on with her life. That’s the one my father returns to because it’s so simple. You breathe. And the bloom of gin comes back like a tree.

Because, being a morning poem, I just am, as poems are. I move deeper than motherhood, beyond the public library circulation desk (new job). I forget to wrestle with whether or not we should put our child on drugs to ease his anxiety and stimulate his ability to comprehend and retain what he’s trying (so hard, he’s trying) to learn. I stop questioning the psychiatrist’s assertion that “I don’t see the autism diagnosis, at all.” I stop judging what I perceive as my husband’s failures. I hear the barge horn blast downriver, the train clacking loudly and quickly across the golf course that moves every day closer to wild. There’s Lucy, by the window, keeping track of me. She is a morning poem too.



These days I find myself quiet, nearly mute. New house, new life, same me, but changing. It’s a strange mix of change and continuity. While the beauty is different, it is no less striking. “Pastoral” by William Carlos Williams is the best way I know to say it. These photographs help, from my daily walk with Lucy Lou.

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.
No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.




“Pastoral” by William Carlos Williams from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams.
© New Directions, 1991.



Spring Fever

I like the weather. I like to check the weather. I like to study the radar and the hourly forecasts. I like to be out in the weather.

Today being the first day of spring, I was pleased to see we might make it up to 50 degrees F. On their way to school, both boys mentioned they might actually get to play outside today, though G still gets a little confused about how the sun works. J too, for that matter. Maybe it’s because the winters are so grey, but when the sun finally makes an appearance, they immediately assume they will be flooded with warmth. They roll down the windows in the car.

Me: It’s only 30 degrees! I’m freezing.
Them (in certain denial): We’re not cold! We need fresh air!

Thank the Lord for window locks is all I have to say.

Back to the weather. As I set out to walk I was a little surprised to see snow flurries descend from what had turned into another gloomy grey sky in the time since I had dropped the boys off at school. So, naturally, I checked the radar. What looked like a decent patch of bright blue (snow) was heading our way. I checked the hourly forecast. 0% chance of precipitation, I read. But where the sunny/cloudy/rainy/snowy icon usually declared the current conditions, I was greeted with a bright blue question mark. I have never seen such a thing. Have even the forecasters given up forecasting?

Two hours later we have a good thick inch, maybe two, on the ground. And it’s still coming down.

spring snow

But it’s not just weather, is it? Spring is a kind of fever. My self inside bounces off the walls of my body, ready to spring, run, howl, make . . . Something.

Mark Twain:

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!

It’s what makes a boy take off off his shirt and ride through a cold wind in only a puffy vest, because he is Sebulba, and it is what must be done.

sebulba rides

Or, climb a tree as such.

sebulba climbs

If you are another variety of boy, you might find a rotten piece of thick trunk fallen off the neighbor’s tree and take your mallet to it, again and again,

hammer to wood 1

and again.

hammer to wood 2

If you are me, it means a poem written (in part) while walking until my hips ache. To work my soul and body in tandem. So that I can match up with myself better, and sleep so well at night.

Late winter, Early Spring
      Pain is never permanent.  –St. Teresa of Avila

Snowmelt jetsam: uncleared summer
gardens border winter
salted sidewalks—how is the dog to know
what’s concrete or earth? Disintegrating
piles defy cleanup. Forgotten Christmas
lights blink on or hang busted, not
bright. You look for it. You look for it
and when you are not looking the crocus
finally shoots. The hangdog clouds
bring snow or rain, exasperating as a child
on the borderland of reason. Should you
sing or cry? The pull between sinking
and rising is a hard stretch.
Yes brightness but why gloom?

Walk until your hips are numb with walking.
The black fluttering in the highest
branches might be birds, might be the last of
what still must fall.



A life like compost

When the poet Gary Snyder was asked if he’d ever serve as Secretary of the Interior or some other political post, he said this:

I’ve never thought seriously about that question. Probably not, although I am foolish enough to think that if I did do it, I’d do it fairly well, because I’m pretty single-minded. But you don’t want to be victimized by your lesser talents. One of my lesser talents is that I am a good administrator, so I really have to resist being drawn into straightening things out. The work I see for myself remains on the mythopoetic level of understanding the interface of society, ecology, and language, and I think it is valuable to keep doing that.

Gary Snyder

Me too. “I really have to resist being drawn into straightening things out.” I think probably at least 60% of my life is administrative. Being a mother is naturally administrative. Add in my penchant for order and heck, I’m screwed. And while the work I see for myself (if I am even somewhat sure I know what the work is I see for myself) does not remain “on the mythopoetic level of understanding the interface of society, ecology, and language,” I know that writing is my work. I stare at this screen and I know it.

Now, to throttle the cycle! Let the legos lie! Ignore the dog hair-dustballs scuttling across the room! Let the toothpaste spit harden in the basin of the sink…Okay, sorry. Can’t do that.

Compost. Let’s think about it in terms of compost. The mind, the piling up and turning over. What comes of a dirty, hot and holy mess.

On Top

All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
Sift down even.
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.

Gary Snyder

For the Departed

This is Kansas.

variations on a tree 2

But so is this.

molly and g listening

And this.

bluebird bloodmobile


weed flag

And this.

papa sue and me

G and I just returned from our 2000 mile trek there and back. My grandfather, Papa George (that’s him above), died a week ago Wednesday. Saturday after came the funeral. Where I read this, upon finishing its writing the night before at Grandma Lita’s house in Indiana whilst G did naked flips off the side of her chair.

Papa Fills the Room

Papa knows how to fill up a room.
My mother tells me
how he put the-fear-of-god
in her, but I only know how
important I was when

he’d order me a Shirley
Temple in the clubhouse
after golf. Cherry intoxicating
fizz, the room warm
with drink and friendly faces.

He was the gleam
in his parents’ eyes, their
only one and only.
Even the faded monochrome
on my mantle—Papa in the middle
with his arms slung around Big Grandpa
and Grandma—comes alive
with him in it. Wholly
untroubled, he looks out at
the world laughing. He can fill
a room, Papa can, with his brand
of mischief and goodwill.

Jenny, remember
how I used to give you tastes of beer?
I didn’t, being hardly

two. He’d chuckle as he
sunk into his overstuffed
chair, his rack of pipes there
on the wall just
within (and maddeningly
out of) reach. Pipes
that always smelled of smoke
but I didn’t know how because
we never saw
him smoke one once.

It pleased him, that
he’d somehow slipped one past
my parents giving me
the beer, pleased him
more that I smacked my lips,
wanting more.

With delight, with desire was how.
With food and drink. With hunger for
the living. With teasing laughter.
His mama’s face agape
with mock horror as he let loose a string
of Serbian obscenities GEORGE!
She shook her head, giggled
like a young girl.

As he laughed the room got bigger
and I never felt small. There was always enough
room even when Papa filled the room.

The Marines played taps, with full honors. Watching the two Marines unfold the flag then fold it up again, I was fascinated, having never seen it. One Marine was older, the other looked to be just out of high school. I could tell he was nervous; I wondered if it was his first time. I imagined my grandpa telling him a joke to get him to relax a little, but then I was glad he was nervous. He wanted to do this right. And even if his motivation was just not-to-mess-up, that intention had honor in it. I palpably felt their intention to honor my grandfather, and I finally understood a little better the military code so elusive to me and mine (contentious objection runs deep in this Mennonite blood): Honor, Courage, Commitment.

So I cried, and I was glad. And I knew him a little better. Baptized an Orthodox Christian in the Serbian church, I felt a connection to him, but the Marine code of honor, courage and commitment better defines the way he lived.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which he has committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servant George who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

And okay. A few more pictures from Kansas.

g and isaiah

g with cello

g in the loft

g kissing mary

All Saints

While I might tack on a few pictures of the hooligans doing Halloween this year, the All Saints this post refers to are more along the lines of the Day of the Dead variety. Those gone before and those still here but approaching the ether that divides the dead from the living. Or, as death is portrayed in the Orthodox Church, that movement from life to life.

All Saints

It’s one day past the Day of the Dead, and this has been
a bad year, six funerals already and not done yet.
But on this blue day of perfect weather, I can’t muster
sadness, for the trees are radiant, the air thick as Karo
warmed in a pan. I have my friend’s last book spread
on the table and a cup of coffee in a white china mug.
All the leaves are ringing, like the tiny bells of God.
My mother, too, is ready to leave. All she wants now
is sugar: penuche fudge, tapioca pudding, pumpkin roll.
She wants to sit in the sun, pull it around her shoulders
like an Orlon sweater, and listen to the birds
in the far-off trees. I want this sweetness to linger
on her tongue, because the days are growing shorter
now, and night comes on, so quickly.

“All Saints” by Barbara Crooker, from Gold. © Cascade Books, 2013.

Each Sunday, our priest has this funny habit of mentioning how many funerals the church has held over the course of the year. We’re approaching forty. No wonder he’s a little preoccupied. Between our Fr. Nicholas and the running obsession with graveyards and spirits around here, I’ve been pondering a good bit about death—its imminence and the ways we rage against it, tethering ourselves with the materials of this world.

My grandfather—Papa George—is in ailing health. For several years now his body’s decline has been a hindrance to his mobility and a downright annoyance to his mental faculties. Getting old has not been a pleasant experience.  Unlike the “All Saints” mother, he is not ready to leave. Instead of sweets, he wants barbecue ribs, Quarter Pounders with cheese, steak and egg burritos, sausages.

I love the image of air thick as Karo warmed in a pan, the sun wrapped ’round like a sweater, pumpkin rolls and penuche fudge (had to look that one up—brown sugar, butter, milk and vanilla). Sugar seems a fitting gateway food to the other side. But Papa has no desire for sweet rapture. His animal instincts are fully intact. He ain’t goin’ nowhere, especially not toward that ether between this and the other side.

Of course there is great beauty and necessity in letting come-what-may. But what about the fighters? What do you tell them? Can’t that stubbornness be a road too? A way?

John and I have a recurring conversation concerning spirit/totem animals. Native American folklore is rich with such tales. It is believed that a person and her “life-long” spirit totem animals “share a spiritual, energetic connection in which the animals serves as an ally, guide, teacher, protector, and a source of power throughout the person’s life.” John’s animals are (of course) all very poetic and spiritually rich: the hawk (messenger), the heron (self-reflection, self-reliance), the turtle (Earth Mother, fertility). You know what I keep returning to? The Mule.  This afternoon I looked up the attribute the mule is said to impart: allowance. Yeah. Not even sure what that means.

Except. I have this sneaky suspicion that mules are horribly underrated. This is where Papa and I have something in common, that stubborn tethering to the things of this world. As for allowance, well, the word is rich. Most obviously, it means “to allow.” There’s a leniency and grace about it. A kind of benevolent tolerance. But it also conveys a particular amount, a sense of what will be permitted.

Papa was a boxer in the Marines. He played football for the University of Colorado. He’s not going to just fade away. But I’d like, somehow , to convey to him that making allowance might leave him a little less miserable. Permitting oneself to grow old might sound pointless, but if the mind and the body aren’t in accord, we end up fighting ourselves, and what’s the good in that?

I love my Papa’s will to live. His lust for life is contagious, much like his love of family. Which reminds me—those hooligans. G’s Darth Maul is pretty obvious. J woke up with an itch to be Charles Dickens’ Pointing Spirit (the ghost of Christmas future in A Christmas Carol). As his Texas Aunt Beth put it, it looks like he went marker-crazy on his face, but he was sufficiently spooky. I was just relieved he bypassed the creepy-trashy zombie suit.
pointing spirit crophalloween maul

An [Itchy] Affection

I love trees in a not-quite irrational sort of way.

I love them in the summer, their shade a welcome respite from heat. The way the light is green when you stand beneath them.

I love them in the fall as they turn and fall, though their doing so stirs the melancholy in my, a preparation for the long winter coming.

I love them (maybe best?) in winter, their skeletal-ness. (Linda Pastan: “leaves drop away / revealing the structure / of the trees. / Good bones, / as my father would say / drawing the hair from my face…”

And I love them in spring, when they bud overnight, mysteriously, magically.

Know what I don’t love? Pollen. Tree pollen is super high here now, and it takes most of the small amount of self-control I have not to scratch my eyes out, drainage gurgling down my throat (“Like when you swallow and you can feel it,” said Jonah in the car on the way to school).

But my affection is strong, nonetheless. And here is a poem by Paul Zimmer saying how that goes for me.


I love the accomplishments of trees,
How they try to restrain great storms
And pacify the very worms that eat them.
Even their deaths seem to be considered.
I fear for trees, loving them so much.
I am nervous about each scar on bark,
Each leaf that browns. I want to
Lie in their crotches and sigh,
Whisper of sun and rains to come.

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.

When I die I want to slant up
Through those trunks so slowly
I will see each rib of bark, each whorl;
Up through the canopy, the subtle veins
And lobes touching me with final affection;
Then to hover above and look down
One last time on the rich upliftings,
The circle that loves the sun and moon,
To see at last what held the darkness up.

“A Final Affection” by Paul Zimmer, from Crossing to Sunlight. © University of Georgia Press, 2007. (Not reprinted by permission. Sorry Paul. Sorry University of Georgia Press.)