The sky. And the sky above that.
The exchange of unmentionables between mouths.
Other people’s shame.
My friend says we never write about anything we can ever figure out.
For him, it always involves sadness.
For me, it’s a language I haven’t quite found the language for yet.
The astonishing smell of a baby’s head. Morning coffee perfectly doctored.
Clothes fresh from the line. Mark Knopfler’s ballads.
The sound of someone leaving who doesn’t want to be heard.
Other voices in other rooms.
The day I decided getting out of bed was a greater effort than I could summon.
The high school dance at St. Joe’s where I stood all night against the wall pretending it didn’t matter. The time in Grade Six when Sister Benedict asked us what we wanted to be and I said poet
and they all laughed. Poetry lurks in the lines between things most important and least said.
A way to bear witness that we were here.
How I might have found a way to conjure words no one else had,
if I’d only found them.
The sky. And the sky above that.
We are left adrift it seems.
Dr Laura is too busy plugging window blinds to be taken seriously.
And these days Dr. Phil appears a mere dead eyed huckster
for his wife’s line of miraculous subterranean botanicals.
Archbishops are led away in handcuffs
while princes in island mansions prey upon the under-aged.
In search of wisdom we seek out the ancients,
the tried and true,
yet again resurrecting their voices that remain intact,
unsullied by dictates of time
Can their savvy translate to the now?
Would Plato mask? Sappho march for choice?
I somehow cannot picture Marcus Aurelius open carrying.
We tease out the answers as best we can.
Learn yet again that wisdom cannot be hijacked off a page
but comes deep within the bone
over canyons of time
and to precious few.
Outside my window it’s never the same—
some mornings jasmine slaps the house, some mornings sorrow.
There is a word I overheard today, meaning lost
not on a career path or across a floating bridge:
Boketto—to stare out windows without purpose.
Don’t laugh; it’s been too long since we leaned
into the morning: bird friendly coffee and blueberry toast. Awhile
since I declared myself a prophet of lost cats—blind lover
of animal fur and feral appetites. Someone should tag
a word for the calm of a long marriage. Knowledge
the heat will hold, and our lights remain on— a second
sight that drives the particulars of a life: sea glass and salt,
cherry blossoms and persistent weeds. What assembles in the middle
distance beyond the mail truck; have I overlooked oceans,
ignored crows? I try to exist in the somehow, the might still be—
gaze upward to constellations of in-between.
Others’ lives are on full display here.
Through the late afternoon
The light makes its way through motes of dust
Onto collection after collection.
The shrewd pickers look right past the string of musty pearls
That catch my eye,
Honing in instead on a pair of tiny opal earrings
With an eye to resale.
They know how this is done.
A table off on its own offers cloth-bound books
Arranged by colour.
Who would devise such bizarre cataloguing?
Pride and Prejudice propped up against
Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,
With their similar covers of cherry red.
An exhibit of photographs comes next.
The people shown with seemingly little to smile about.
Matching sepia toned oval photos show three young girls, sisters it would appear,
The outer plastic sheath now splintered and yellowed.
Obscuring, endangering, what it was once
Meant to preserve.
The savvy pickers haggle now with the bored shopkeeper
But none seem the least concerned
About the back story. Who might the earrings have been worn by, I wonder.
What young girl’s hands carefully inserted the tiny buds?
Before what special evening.
What hopes lay in her heart as she descended the stairs for the dance.
Did she later tuck them away for a daughter
Who was never meant to be?
We want it all to mean something.
So we hold on to the unremarkable snapshots of those long dead,
A child’s single mitten,
An ancient love letter in painstaking calligraphic script.
A matted braid of strawberry blond hair
From whose head we shall never know.
I received this framed portrait in the mail today from a friend of mine. She combined a photo of me with a poem written by my friend the writer Tia Finn. I will treasure this, always, as it was a gift that came straight from their hearts.
The everyday extraordinary
As it ever did.
Biding its time until we stop,
Until we notice.
The tiny unheralded jewels nested within our daily lives
That we rushed past, cavalier,
With no time for the smaller movement,
We were hell bent on destinations.
Headed to the best seller, the top ten.
There were judgments to render, texts to send.
None of which we remembered
Five minutes after.
Pause to discover
It is not only the peony in delicious full bloom
That deserves our attention.
Bend down and inspect the tightly wrapped, sleeping bud
Just as it is,
Soon to swarm with the manic aphids that will allow it to be
All it can be.
Watch the dog watching the squirrel.
How the clouds above change shape even as we look away.
The sad supermarket cashier who will remember your smile.
It’s not the goal, it’s the journey.
Once trite, now wise.
Did you know Margaret Atwood also wrote poetry?
There are always good people.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.
I am not immune to the wonders of the natural world.
I have seen peacock feathers under a microscope.
I know birds retrieve lint from the ears
Of a musk ox carcass to construct their downy nests.
I realize that the grand canyon of Mars
Is the same size as the United States.
I too know that when a blue whale dives deepest
Its massive heart slows down to two beats a minute.
But none, for me,
Can rank with a heated conversation one dressing room over at Marshall’s.
A debate in a movie lineup about the merits of Scorcese vs. Tarantino.
One Raymond Carver poem.
Give me the Lives column in a New York Times Magazine
About the writer’s troubled child.
Let me in on that moment when you knew it was over.
There for me lie the mysteries I care to unravel,
The fleeting moments between us drawing me back
Time and time again.
Hike your mountain. Portage the greatest rivers.
Give names to all the stars and constellations you have ever seen.
Then tell me about it when you get home.
** Photo by Joel Koop.
Absorb whatever is around you
Like a box of baking soda in the fridge.
Be prone to hangnails
and mysterious rashes.
Cancel plans at the last minute.
Be unapologetic when saying no.
Judge nothing as beneath you, beyond you,
or outside your realm of interest.
Know everyone has a story to tell.
Carry a large overdraft on your checking account.
Dwell, no, fixate, on detail.
Realize everything matters or nothing does.
Wear an inordinate amount of black.
Write poems you want to read.
Jot ideas on restaurant napkins.
Carry an extra pen.
Become accustomed to letters beginning
We regret to inform you.
Write some more.
Is sometimes all it takes to capture happiness.
If you’re lucky.
I’ve done it. Thousands of times.
It never felt like a Nikon
I was holding in my hands
but their lives.
The hours alone are punishing,
arriving at first light at the bride’s parent’s house
before the makeup even goes on.
Forty pounds of equipment in tow,
already beginning to fray.
The bride for starters is never quite satisfied with
her dress or her hair
or her bridesmaids.
The groom often bears the look of someone
who has just been given
some very bad news.
Groomsmen are a particular challenge.
Lining them up,
they visibly stiffen.
Roll your shoulders, unclench your jaw.
Pretend you have actually met, I cajole.
To no avail.
And there’s always the visual artiste in the crowd
who tries wresting the camera away from you,
just for fun.
By the time I get to grab a bite
the buffet has been ravaged.
The wedding cake looks like a Dali painting.
Drunken husbands and wives
remembering their own ancient vows
push themselves in front of me at night’s end.
I still love her, you know, he slurs.
She rolls her eyes, shakily fixing her lipstick
before I freeze them in the blink of an eye.
I am always the last to leave
in the wee hours
just as the cleaners arrive.
I gather them together
for the last image of the day
They wonder why the fuss.
They talk about this woman heading off alone in the dark.
from chasing happiness all day long.