NEW YORK February 12, 1983 Dozing giant stooped shoulders pile high with white bedclothes too heavy almost, to breathe. Too clean to be you 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. Still 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 behind. & Apology 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. & Patriarch Mechanic 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. & Whale-Watch From a lecture hall on the thirteenth floor, I watch a great whale move beneath the turquoise surface of the sea, dark, fluid gray distorting. Slip of clouds between sun and sea. Leviathan or Shadow insight? &
Warning 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 . . .