February 12, 1983

Dozing giant
stooped shoulders pile high
with white bedclothes
too heavy
almost, to breathe.

Too clean to be
they say
who know you wide awake
with dirty fingernails and body odor
stomping gray slush
down boots
and sewers.

But today
no alarm is loud enough.
A cold blade traces the length of your neck
breaking through
to the stubble on your chin.

you sleep
while a few desperate rats steal
from your pocket 
on foot for bread,
wondering if the Rapture has come
and they’ve been left



I came with scissors in my hand
and knocked upon your door.
When no one came I turned to go
but could not pass those roses in your yard.
Do come over for some tea.
I’ve lemon, fresh,
and nutbread in the oven.
We’ll sit and visit at my table
And feast upon your roses.


The Quail Clan

At dawn you bring your family out
To tiptoe in the dew
Before the mighty wake to rule
This empire fresh and new.

Like awkward schoolgirls now you move
As one across the grass
Your round, gray bellies jutting out
Plumes dipping as you pass.

You cluck and turn your velvet neck
Until it’s very clear
Your order is to “take the fence”
Of course, the one that’s near.

Then one by one you make the flight
A giant hop it seems
And claim the narrow edge of wood
A throne room for a queen.

Then back and forth you dip and step
Before the cool is gone
Framed in sunlight, round and proud
Fair ruler of the dawn.


A Sonnet to Autumn: Indian Corn

Like tousled towheads clumped beside the door,
The idle loafers at the fair lie in
A crate or wicker basket asking more
Than if they were an edible in a bin.
Rows of brilliant porcelain teeth, a red
Like wine, rust, gold and waxen yellow mixed
At intervals with gray, decay instead,
So dark it seems a toothless smile fixed.
Their flaxen shocks seem sooted at the roots
As moistureless as dimestore crepe paper
That falls and twists and back again it shoots
Around the pebbles in a mindless caper.
For Beauty, harvest rich from stiff stalks torn,
Unfading jewels of Autumn, Indian Corn.



Father of four professors
He died today.
I see him
Tall and thin at the head of the table
Bowing his white head
Slowly and deliberately giving thanks
Eating sardines from the tin, with crackers
Teasing us with Norwegian as he asks for the butter.
I see him chopping wood in the snow
Bending over an engine
Folding his tools in the cloth on the fender
Washing his hands with Boraxo.
I see him sitting at the piano
Hear him touch rough fingers to the keys
In a hymn.
I cannot go the two thousand miles
To say goodbye.
I smell grease and a winter wind
And mourn the passing of a great man.



From a lecture hall on the thirteenth floor,
I watch
a great whale move
beneath the turquoise surface of the sea,
dark, fluid gray
Slip of clouds
between sun and sea.
Leviathan or

When I’m an old woman I shall 
wear hiking boots
with a long skirt, 
and a flannel shirt that’s too big for me
but smells like my husband.
I shall spend my royalty checks on
books, gourmet coffee beans,
and good toasting bread, 
and never worry about running out of 
butter and cheese.
I shall sit out on the porch
when I’m tired
and refresh myself with a bite of chocolate
and fresh coffee,
and put my feet up on the railing
to read.
I will go out in my pajamas,
barefoot in the morning dew,
and pick raspberries for my breakfast 
to eat with cream and sugar.
I shall make Christmas cookies with my grandchildren,
letting them use too much flour 
as they roll them out
and make a mess.
And we will dance together as they bake,
singing and whirling to
“Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,”
not caring who is watching or 
if our hips are jiggling.
I will tell them stories in the same upstairs bedroom 
where my grandmother slept and braided her hair,
about when their parents were little 
and we rode bikes and stopped to eat chocolate bars, 
and baked Christmas cookies, dancing 
and whirling to “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”
as they baked.
And I’ll let them fix my hair and
eye makeup, 
and wear it that way 
all day,
and never be too busy
to make popcorn 
or take a walk
or read another story
or carry supper out to the porch
or listen to the wind in the pines,
or remember . . .

Of Childhood: A Sonnet

An odor unmistakable is freed
When black dirt’s scooped in wells and mixed with worms
By hand, then shaped to bake in pies of weeds,
On sills beneath the cheese bag’s dripping form.  
The bittersweet of monkey bars, blisters
And bee stings soothed in creeks beyond the yard,
Remain as unforgettable as whiskers
That scratch, a catcher’s mitt with ball thrown hard,
The taste of apples warm from sun-soaked tree
With salt, or weeds with ends so sweet and white,
Or nickel cones with curls on top for free,
Fresh bubble gum, the all-day pomegranate.
But there’s not a memory senses can impart
Like supper out the window after dark.