…. one must let the mind loose to respond as it will, to receive impressions,
to sense rather than know, to gather rather than immediately understand.
— Edward Albee
Most of all I think it was her arm, doubled back at the elbow
and poised, rigid wing, mid-air, that stopped me, so much
I’d brought to her bedside to tell.
Martina’s safe landing, the plane, the full
moon tonight and the fawn with its pebbled
coat fading. A light
touch to ease her dying. To tell her our grief
would not try to hold her back.
As though it could.
As though her turning inward had not
been noticed. What had I been thinking? She, who left
home to get on with this dying.
Who waved goodbye last week
at the door.
Bones, bones, and steady breathing, and hearing
said to be last to go.
But how do we jump from the speeding train of our own
good intentions? There I was reading out loud in front of your coma
something I’d folded and stuffed at the last minute into my skirt
pocket, a passage I’d found and typed and planned to
send in the mail, in which one of the characters–young, much younger than I–talks about
change, not knowing how it happens or what is required or how it moves but only what it
feels like to change. She gives us her great-great grandmother’s words, she gives us beautiful.
what I’d been wanting to say was how, the last time we spoke, I saw that change
in your eyes, I never had seen you so beautiful. That was my word, in my own mind,
right then. And then I found hers. And by the time I read this passage to you,
it didn’t reach the two feet between us, already you were no longer there.
3. How I Knew
.. Dora Rouge said it happens all our lives. She said that we are cocoons who consume
our own bodies and at death we fly away transformed and beautiful. — Linda Hogan
Such imminent news and still the blue jay
Squawked, like any other day, relentlessly.
Grape leaves over my head in the new arbor
Flickered and swayed, morning sun between them
Flinging itself at the ground and falling forever
Short, and the book I was reading held me
Just enough so at that moment I was not thinking of
You, the tiny leaf that landed on my upper sleeve
Was one more small distraction: or was it the dried
Half of a maple-pip, bright veins the color of rust
And nothing in between: fallen wing I couldn’t
Identify, which bush, which nearby vine
Had leaves like that? And then just as quietly
As it had come it rose and was gone. “Mary,”
I said without thinking, “Mary.”
And waited for the call.
4. Why Not
If our softest words, spoken into a cellular phone can beam
out and up to satellites hundreds of miles above us and bounce
Back to ears on the other side of earth in less
time than it takes to type the word “less”
If we grant to radio waves the power to cross open air between the hill
with its blinking-red tower, far outside of town, and beam the same
Voices and music right through walls of homes, offices, skyscrapers, cars
on the freeway moving in different directions, all at the very same time
If invisible waves of impulse, can B like the pitch picked up by ears of dogs — slip
without our knowing, into spaces inside us, around us, and just
As silently leave,
why not the spirit?
5. Already Beyond Us
And now our friend Ken, in his dying, sends poems.
New ones, a flurry in these wintry days.
He writes of emptiness and promise.
He writes of writing before sleep.
How to respond, find the words for good-bye?
The last time we saw another friend, Joe, just
this past October, he told us he’s dying
not because his body’s diseased. He’s done
what he came on this earth to do. His work is complete.
Yes, but what of our friendship?
Will we ever get enough of Ken’s poems?
6. My Mother as Chickadee
Well, no, not reincarnation, exactly, nothing
so life-long. Rather
The day before she died, my mother, coming home from church, wondered
was there really anything There to look forward to?
Well, I said, if there is, come back. Tell us. And two days later,
there I was on my balcony eating breakfast, under the shade of
Morning glories strung to the roof when a flock of six or eight chickadees
skimmed the air right over my head, were soon out of sight. But one
Turned back, perched on the overhead twine and looked right down, in my
direction, cocked its little black-capped head
Back and forth, back
And flew on.
7. Beyond Us
And what of our good friend Joe? On that final visit I told him
about my mother. The bird. And how for almost a year my mother came
Not as a bird (never again) to visit every night, just
after I’d settled, as usual, into bed with a book, just after
Ralph was asleep: the lightest pounce
at the foot of the bed
The weight of a cat,
but there wasn’t a cat, there wasn’t any
Thing to see at all. Who will believe this?
How can a poem get by with such nonsense? Such
Hocus pocus? Still, the day Joe left us, as law allowed,
with Susan and all three grown children
Around him B a Stellar’s Jay, royal blue with its pointed crown shiny
black as obsidian — kind of jay that never in all the twenty-five years
We’ve lived in this house has come so far from woods to town — skipped
from branch to branch just outside of our window, looking
In. And that very same night
on the foot of our bed, a pounce.
8. A Gathering
Days and days burdened
with what I’ve often impressed on students: write
as though it’s for someone with only a short time to live, make it worthy
and then last night, my head on the pillow, re-reading
Ken’s poem, his custom of putting pen to paper last thing before sleep,
this flurry: the pounce, the birds, the leaf, my mother, what I never
before would have dared tell the world.