After the Fire
Rain pelts the bottom of the bucket
where my sons collected worms
to prod and poke and scare
the girl on the corner
who never shares
her gum. The worms
recoil from the downpour,
explosive plunks. One rolls
up over another as if to soften the blow.
I swirl the water slowly
and walk next door where
ruderal weeds sprout
through the black earth,
scorched after a boy tucked
a blanket in the gas fireplace grate
to make a fort. The framing
survived except for
one wall, as if the house
always meant to open onto
the wetland where the sun sets.
In a back bedroom with an infant
whose slightest cough woke me,
I slept through the burning
timber, the second floor
folding onto the first like a lid,
the windows exploding,
the wail of sirens,
and the coyote who kept up
the call that roused me finally
to the trees’ reflecting light.
Black glass shards still litter
the ground. I empty the bucket
where a few grass bouquets
have gathered. The worms
writhe toward escape, their arterial
stretches and bends readying
to till the earth, return
root to its shrub, blade
to grass, bulb to bud. If
only they could knit back the boy.
From Setting the Fires, Airlie Press, 2015
Saturday night and the hours spiral
like dominoes into a morning covered in
the same patchy fog as my new mother’s brain.
Something’s wrong with the baby. Something
in the tight bee swarm cough, the fists
each time I lay him down. Maybe
it’s nothing, like these unsettling
marine clouds the morning
will burn through. Probably
it’s nothing I hear in the voice
of my grandmother, my mother, the wind
pushing leaves in the same small circles
in the street. Outside, a deer slinks up
along the side of the house to chew
tulip bulbs between bars of soap
a neighbor laid out to ward her off.
She used to come with a fawn
but now she cocks one cyclopean
eye at me in the window. Her
other, a singed divot on the side
of her face, pins me to that gaunt
room. The baby’s lip turns a deep
wormy purple. I whisper a prayer and hold
my breath as if my breath were all I’d give.
The Uses of Grief
No one will ask you to house sit or walk the dog
while they frolic on the shores of Hawai'i --
most likely, they will never even tell you
they are going. Friends will not resist
when you pull away from a hug but nearly squeeze
you dry if you initiate. And whether it’s for sex
or a carnival ride, no one will try to set
the mood or coax you into going.
Neighbors will not expect you
at the annual BBQ, but if you come,
they’ll be delighted you didn’t trouble yourself
to cook something, and refill your drinks unasked
even as they count how many you suck down.
No one will ask to borrow a cup of sugar
or a rake, much less expect you at book club,
birthday parties, baby showers. People
you hardly know will pray for you,
and though you have no idea what you believe,
when you growl about asking God to do something
useful, like pulling weeds or laundry, you will
wake to find someone has pulled the weeds.
Maybe it’s only the fear that someone
like your mother will show up to do
your laundry, but you finally stuff a pile
of clothes into the washer. Then, one day,
a sorrow greater than yours sends you
to someone else’s doorstep with your best lasagna
and a bottle of whiskey, and you walk right in
because you know she will not protest, not
when you rummage the cabinets or pour drinks,
not when you reheat the food, or set it down
in front of her on a cracked orange plate.
A Sage Advises How to Firewalk
First thing in the morning, start
with a fire rolled out like a blazing
carpet on the lawn, the spot you might
put a garden in before summer’s out
if you could get your act together.
When the flames die down to embers,
use a rake to spread them in a long pit.
Don’t measure or lay string. And if
you must know, the temperature
of the coals reaches more than
1200 degrees but that will mean
little to you when, from ten feet
away, the heat singes your eyelids.
You do not have to be a swami
in a loincloth to get from one end
to the other without toasting your heels.
And while interesting, it does not help
to know that when two bodies of different
temperatures meet, the hotter body
will cool off, and the cooler body
will heat up until they are separated
or meet at a temperature in between.
And despite the testimonials, I swear
you don’t even need faith to carry you
safely across. Did you not dive into water
you couldn’t see into? Kiss a first time?
Drive home after one too many and keep
the car between the lines? Or swerve
to avoid the drunk? You buried
a friend. You pulled the child back
onto the curb. You did not strike back.
You finally left that dizzy bitch. Despite
the new scar across your chest, you
pulled that shirt off in broad daylight
not knowing how he’d react. You said no.
You said yes. You stayed. You quit.
And here I am now, hands gripping
your shoulders to tell you, you’ve got this.
Published in Jet Fuel Review, Spring 2014