mail-slot-941835__340

Mail Still Comes

It is the thing you never expected.

Didn’t think to guard against.

Mail drops in through the slot a full year after

with his name on it.

It hits the ground with a gotcha. The one bullet remaining.

The one gaping mouth you forgot to shut.

Grief slipping in seamlessly through the front door

when you had worked so hard to seal up every crack.

church-cross

Reverence

I can’t step into a church without being reminded of Leo.
I see him, leaning heavily on his cane, waiting in the vestibule
to usher the parishioners to their seats,
his labored gait up the aisle, one leg stiff,
the shoulder of his Canadian Legion jacket strewn
with medals and ribbons.
In the stillness the rubber tip of his cane
squeaks loudly against the polished floor.

The star resident at her mother’s boarding-house,
my friend Linda said we should visit him.
He’d insisted,
and there had been toffees promised.
Restless and bored one spring day I relented,
followed Linda home and climbed the stairs lazily to Leo’s room.
Unlike the others his door was open.
There was Leo, lying on his bed, his cane alongside,
rest the only respite from his affliction.

Come in, close the door.
Feed my bird Charlie.
I worried then about telling my mother this.
But Leo wasn’t a stranger.
Everyone knew Leo.
Father Blackwell told us in catechism class
it was men like Leo who had kept us free.
The shabby room smelled of wet wool
from clothes drying on the radiator
and of Old Sail, his pipe tobacco.
A bowl of sweets beckoned by the bed.
Charlie was bustling about in his cage.
Sit beside Leo, honey.
A good Catholic girl, I did as the hero said.
The bristles of his beard stung my face,
his breath turned to a rasp.
I smelled something fetid on his breath.
When he released me
Charlie was singing,
still.

mathematics-572274__180

September 1st and 2nd

September 1st

The obligatory backpacks bought,
The sectioned notebooks and the cornucopia of Sharpies,
Heralding the dull march back to classrooms, schedules.
In its forlorn wake a trail of
Unhurried pancake breakfasts
And lying perfectly still on a sun-scorched dock,
Until perhaps trailing a finger,
But only one.

September 2nd

Boats pulled out for the season
Children rushing to school
And like a switch was flipped overnight
The water in the bay now darker
Deeper

resized bronze child

Friendly Fire

 

 

He would sit under the kitchen table
About an hour before each mid-week transfer.
Clockwork.
Just sit, wrapped up in himself.
Quietly, not even petulantly.
Resignation in the set of his shoulders,
A look in his eyes
Not of sadness, but worse,
Surrender.

shopping-cart 840x400

No One Wants to Fail

This new poem is about choosing to not look away, but to notice.

Painful, yes, and there are easier choices. But it seems to me I have never had a choice. Perhaps others feel the same. And out of this decision to simply not look away comes so much, in ways I have no doubt are untold.

 

No One Wants to Fail.

From the cart behind me
I hear the commotion.
The little boy refuses to bend his knees
So his mother can place him
In the child’s seat in front.
He stiffens,
Screams.
Another child tugs at her skirt.
But she has had enough.
The shopping trip is sacrificed.
She yanks them through the exit doors,
Her face set in anger.

The boy will wish he had obeyed.
His sister will see it all unfold.
The mother will wish it was otherwise
But feel powerless to make it so.
Who among us
Wants to fail.

angel statue

Hard Evidence

There are so many gods. I like to believe there is one just for small children.

 

Hard Evidence

Ahead of me in line
I catch a glimpse of two tiny white feet
sticking out from a baby seat,
uncovered on this October morning,
the soles black.
Around each of the frail ankles
lies a ring of grime.

When the baby’s face bobs into view
I see that she’s captivated
by the jeweled butterfly on my lapel
and smiles wanly.

Shall I pin the treasure to her stained sweater
Spirit her away
Teach her the names of all the creatures that fly.
Shall I wash her sooty feet with the finest velvet
And dry them with my hair?

old photos pile

Easter Morning Once.

 

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.

Helmet-like perms, and all of us

in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in

above each knuckle, so they stood up,

like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday morning.

The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,

Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,

their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,

head wear meant for the deranged.

 

Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together

for the obligatory snapshot on the stone steps after Mass,

the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,

swiss dot and stiff crinolines lofting in the wind.

 

Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,

I yearned for the silk stockings

Worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.

Stationed solemnly in front

was our younger brother, happy to form his own line,

quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest and

perfectly pressed little wool trousers.

 

Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,

but not one of us listened.

At least one child would turn her head away that day just as the shutter clicked.

Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.

And the third, the face of the third girl

would show to the camera a look of such sadness

as is unimaginable in one so young.

 

Now piled deeply in this battered shoebox,

the sorting job no one ever took on,

these celluloid witnesses to our lives.

The edges scalloped like icing on a cake,

bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs torn asunder,

the truest chronicle of those years,

bringing with it the simple message

that each of us might have done better

if we’d only known how.

 

 

 

 

 

thimble

The Sadness of Her Sewing

A poem for your birthday, Mom. I miss you like it was a thousand years.

 

The Sadness of Her Sewing

 

There she remains,

In the folds of her nightgown

Tucked deeply in her bedside drawer,

Releasing the scent of her Chantilly.

In her favorite clip-on earrings

Of aurora borealis rhinestones,

All  the colors of the northern lights,

She explained,

And here, perhaps most,

Up on the closet shelf,

Her worn wicker sewing basket,

A frayed tapestry on the lid of

a young woman’s face.

Inside, among the bobbins,

Mother’s tarnished metal thimble,

Its tiny nubs smoothed glossy from use.

Remembering now whenever she mended

I would hear her sigh deeply,

As the steel cap clicked

Against her flying needle,

Her impatience palpable,

Desperate to be done.

Knowing now it reminded her of

Being pulled from school at the age of nine

To do piecework for a gruff Glasgow furrier,

Stitching together overcoats in dingy rooms

From towers of animal pelts,

Never to return to school

Or childhood

Again.