It was not true—it was the way we floated
through blue and heavy water all the way to
death and back—almost too heavy to bear:
the shadow distances, uncertain and com-
pelling; the silent way we looked at each
other and gave up our fear. We were too young
for dying, though one of us would return
changed and the other would not remember.
It was a dream, we said, as we kept turning
and turning, buoyant and made of moon-
light. It was only sleep-water, we promised,
as we flowed through windows into cur-
rents, relentless as migratory pullings. If we
lost each other, we promised, we would never
give up the searching. We would not
need air. We would hear each other through
our calling. It was only love, we tried to ex-
plain to the few who would listen.
Now when I pick up telephones
little voices filter in . . .
“Have you been saved . . . ?”
I say hello and
childish laughters haunt and find
where I am grim.
“Who’s there!" I ask. “Who’s there?"
and breathing silences respond
filled with demand.
Now when I answer telephones
strangers imply I know them
saying my name with whispered love.
Hang up! I plead, afraid of them.
I do not love!
They always call again.
(first pub. in Prophetic Voices, 1993)
when we speak in tones so sad
when we speak in tones
when we speak
and silences wait
and between us
and when we speak
and of how
we always speak
in tones so sad
and silences wait
words and meanings
oh, silences wait
when we speak in tones so sad
(first pub. in Red Cedar Review of Colorado)
I WHISPER INTO THE TELEPHONE
I whisper into the telephone.
You whisper back.
We talk of silent things . . .
we talk of silent things . . .
and offering questions.
Dyings are like this.
And waiting for dyings,
which is what we
have no words for,
though we speak and speak
in these whispers.
MOTHER CALLS ME WITH HER DYING
(After “One Minute Stories” by Istvan Orkeny)
Mother says she is dreaming that she is
dying and just wanted to warn me, prepare
me for the phone call that would come.
I am calm, remove myself from responding.
I don’t want to hear this. Mother’s voice is
turned down low. I can barely hear her.
She says she has to be careful, that they
listen at the Nurse’s Station, but she is dying
in her sleep and she wanted me to know—
wanted to hear my voice—hundreds of miles
between us, and time itself three hours away.
Now, I don’t want you to grieve, she tells me
in her old no-nonsense voice; and though I
try to open my mouth to answer, she keeps
I cannot interrupt her, though she dwindles
off again. Wake up! I want to say—but
don’t know what that would mean—if she
is really dying—in her sleep—in her mind—
in my imagination.
SENDING EACH OTHER AFTER GRIEF
With the hook in my hand where I grabbed
for the life-line, I follow the shape of the
ghost to the shore. When I rise up through
the green and singing water, you will be
standing with your back to the sea, having
called and called all night through the storm.
You will hear my name in the flight of the
drowned soul you feel shudder through you.
Oh, my most loved, how can it tell you of
the places I have been on the journey you
sent me upon—I have learned how to
swim—I who was born in the ear of that
shell on the sand.
You will walk as one who has failed, but I
will be home before you, pouring the blue
bowls full of boiled sea-water where the tiny
fish with the diamond eyes swim brightly,
their borrowed hearts beating for joy.
It is pure, this love; it has been tested and is
worthy of you. You will walk in the door
with nothing to say, and sit down at the
table, and I will put my arms around you and
show you my hook.
Tomorrow I—shrill sea wife—will send you
out again to stand all night and look for me,
calling my unknown name, and braving the
wrath of the one who grants our wishes.
Here we are,
disconnected in glass reflection
where images collide
against competing voices and eyes
and a sense of urgency
the glass-captured sunlight
that is lowering down the walls
and a certain confusion prevails
made of the shifting light
and the overlapping snatches
of twilight conversation.
SOMETIMES YOUR HAND
Sometimes your hand
would reach out
perhaps my hair
the air between us
but the reach
like a thought
unfinished . . .
times like that
I would undo
my restive rage
then called back
by a season it
would never change
(first pub. in Piper Calling Poets, 1990)
A mute in the land of silence
a sage in the land of praise
a singer in a field of song birds
a gossip among rumorous bell-ringing…
These are the tellers of what we ask
these are the tellers of what we answer
these are the voices and non-voices of all
the babble with which the world is filling…
Oh, go to the mute for silence
go to the sage for opinion
go to one who is hushed by birds
and let the old bells keep ringing.