July 30, 2014

Notes to My Mother

by Linda Pastan

Your letters to me
are forwarded to my dreams
where you appear in snatches
of the past, wearing
appropriate clothes--
a thirties' shirtwaist or the long
seal coat you wintered in.
And since your gravestone
is shaped like the front
of our old mailbox,
I'll try to leave my messages
of flowers there.

"Feeling fine, having a good time."
I had to stamp those words
on postcards home from camp,
though I was so homesick there
I'd read the nametapes on my socks
and handkerchiefs--scraps of my real self
you had sewn on by hand.
And so I write it now, though
I'm still homesick eight years after
you left me in my life for good:
feeling fine, having a good time.

The roles of wife and mother
matched you with yourself

as perfectly as your shoes matched
your handbags. Therefore, for years

I couldn't understand my own failures
at order and optimism.

How many autumns I've tried to pick my life up
like a dropped stitch and just get on with it,
tried to pretend the falling temperatures,
the emptying trees were not a synopsis:
so many losses behind me, so many
still ahead. The world is diminished leaf
by single leaf, person by person
and with excruciating slowness.
Sometimes I wish some wandering
comet would hit, as the newspaper
this morning warns or promises--some stray
pinball ricocheting through space.
Then we'd go up together in a lovely blast
of fireworks like the kind I watched
from our July 4th window light up
the sky with percussive neon ribbons.
And the dog, in his last month, hid
under the couch; and your great-grandchildren
couldn't decide whether to be frightened
or ecstatic, their laughter had that edge
of shrillness to it. They don't know
that danger is the shadow thrown
by every bright object; that even family love
can show this dull metallic underside,
as the leaves do which move in sudden gusts
of September wind all in the same direction,
like a school of panicked minnows
sensing a predator ahead.

Though I learned to love
the woman you became
after the stroke,

I never quite forgave her
for hiding my real mother--you,

in the drifted snows beyond
that unscalable
widow's peak.

the stream
of life goes on,
and I try to
go with it,
paddler in a leaky

You taught me always
to write thank you notes, though
I never thanked you properly,
not even when you were dying. But
I thought our inarticulateness
in the face of love was as elemental
as the silence of stones
in the same streambed. I thought
you wanted it that way.

As I grow older, I try
to draw the world in close
as if it were a shawl you had crocheted for me
from small indulgences--morning coffee
from the same cracked cup,
a stroll downhill past empty mailboxes
where only weather may be different
or the seasonal colors of the birds.
And I try to think of loss as a salt sea
I'll learn to swim in later;
getting closer to you
with every overarm stroke.

Things I refuse to think about
also come back in dreams:
the way my fingers have started
to fail, as yours did, knuckle
by swollen knuckle. Last night
I dreamed of handcuffs,
Or how even repented sins
are ours for good: they drift
down the exotic rivers
of medicinal sleep
mewling like kittens.

So in the last moments of wakefulness
I re-create that lost world
whose textures are like braille
beneath my fingertips: the enamel
of the forties' stove where you taught me
to cook; the floral wallpaper you chose
whose roses had no thorns;
the strictness of starch against skin.
And here sleep comes
with all its complicated gifts
and treacheries to gather me
in its arms.

July 28, 2014

Harlan County

by Kate Buckley
Stepping over the stones of my mother,
chicken bones, straw,
the cellar in which the man was found,
that man my grandfather
the day the sharecroppers left town,
their son shot dead —
the thing whiskey’ll do to a man.
The woman who waited under the house at night,
counting ghosts and bobcats through lattice of leaves,
walking bare-boned lanes,
toes buried beneath blackened leaves —
no cause for worry
if you’ve walked every acre, planted every row.
Nothing can get you if you pay it no mind.
I tell you these things
so you’ll not mistake my actions for fear,
not think I do not know what makes a life,
what makes people do the things they do.
I know my fears — I’ve named them,
counted them out one by one
like tarot cards, voodoo dolls:
that you will leave me,
or I will leave you.

July 27, 2014

The Departure of Job

by Anna Kamienska

Get up Job
get up earlier than
a water-carrier with his clattering buckets
earlier than the nightwatchman going to bed
get up before merchants raise themselves
and spread the motley bustle of the day
get up when in silence we can hear in a stable
only the clatter of horses

Get up to be alone in the silence of His presence
Look about the earth
All still breathes with sleep
You are already old
but God loves Job
just as he is

It's good you got up so early
because people might say you went mad
Your chin trembles with joy
and you spread your arms wide like a lover
in order to embrace earth and sky

it was worth so much suffering
to know God's love in old age
you silly old codger
you laugh and cry
fall down in the grass
get up wet with dew

you suffered
so your heart could grow
and could contain everything

Lucky Job
I see you chatting with clouds
and with the light of dawn
I see you departing to embrace
the huge rising sun
with the shout Lord Lord

July 26, 2014

Job and a Woman

by Anna Kamienska

I took you in when you were sick and poor
look I still have your shirt of rough cloth
a peasant's shirt with stains of blood and pus
that won't come out

I came to you young and healthy
you didn't ask then about my dowry
You often screamed in sleep
quarreled with God
At other times you tossed in sleeplessness
as in fire
I cooled you with kisses

Clearly life is not a precious enough gift
You're always the first the lonely the suffering
the not understood
the great in anger and in misfortune
like a wind
I am only a body
that warms up this fierce old age of yours

sometimes I think
That God bound us for good reason
Body and wind are a well-matched couple
like one person
So don't push me away Job
when there's a change of fate
don't be like the others
I do not want anything from you
only to be with you
it's very difficult Job
to be the body of a wind

Don't be so haughty in your restraint
you who used to lie in dirt
get to know how other tears burn
not only your own

But Job left
whispering Lord Lord

July 23, 2014

The Silence of Job

by Anna Kamienska

you whose mouth was
eloquent as ripples of rain
when you were arguing with God
about your morsel of life
why were you silent
when you got back everything
life health riches
almost a second happiness
Why don't you protest now
You became as meek as the sea-grass
silent as a stone on sand
You seem to scowl when you look
mutter when you talk

You had a mouth full of arguments
like a harlot hurling insults
when you clamored for your due
Your loud No resounded to the heavens
your Yes is like the peep of a night bird
Explain why misery injury and suffering
are fluent as teachers
while an everyday calm
searches for words
stammering like a schoolboy
Perhaps you wrapped yourself in silence
as a cloak against the world
against the storm of events of friendships of loves
from which only troubles come
Perhaps you pretend to be humble out of conceit
perhaps you think
        I have borne the inhuman
        I am chosen in happiness and in pain
Be careful Job
which of these silences
is your silence
Perhaps it troubles God
more than your protests
Do you think you've eluded human fate
because once you wriggled out
You again have a lot
a lot to lose
You're as safe as everyone else
as a fly trapped in a fist

Tell us
you who escaped death
glanced into its abyss
almost turned into earth
who choked on God
tell us
does something exist there
does your calm mean despair or hope
is your eye clouded by awareness of truth
or of uncertainty
half-closed by irony or arrogance
What are you whispering
Are those merely senile words
out of which meaning has drained
You call dull senile sleep silence
you who got to know the silence of ocean depths
during a time of storm

But Job said nothing
he only whispered Lord Lord