There was music made of joy—she’d listen,
then weep—then tell of her father’s violin—
a grandfather I don’t remember—a deaf
grandmother who never heard music.
From my room at night, I’d hear her old
Victrola play one sad song over and over
and let run down—and then the needle’s
ceaseless scraping that she’d not turn off.
I wanted to play—the harmonica—the
accordion—the piano—I thought I could
make music—a man came to our school—
showed us how to fold paper over a comb
and hum into it . . . It thrilled my lips . . .
Before arthritis took my hands, I played a poor
guitar—singing the songs I would make up—
and that indulgent instrument would let me
play my clumsy chords—sounding good—
and I would play and sing and sing
to my musical, listening self.
AS IF I AM MY GHOST NOW
I am all memory. I am small. I am in the house of
roundness. Rooms swallow me even as I enter
another of them. Walls mute my meaning with
their own importance. As long as I dream I may
stay here, season after season of my life. I am
the child of darkness. Daylight frightens me. I
stand away from windows with their harsh
reflections. No one else has ever lived here.
How have I created this out of my mother’s
endless escape from every threat of rootedness.
My doll sits on a couch facing me with accusation.
Its arms out-stretch… outstretch… but I can never
cross the distance it takes to get to her. I am the
doll. I am the distance. I never find myself.
(Grass Roots Event Thirty Years Later)
I stood beside you to have my picture taken with
you as a memento of the day. We did not know
each other. We might be celebrities. We were
here among the names we recognized. We
wondered if ours were too. The sun filtered
over the afternoon through the flattering leaves
of gracious trees. The camera looked around
for other faces. I smiled and smiled and smiled,
standing beside one — then another — of the
strangers with names I knew. Now I don’t know
who I was standing beside. I am a later stand
apart from all that intimacy. It meant nothing.
Thinning out the memory now, it was not that
important an event. I look so archaic with my
too-bright smile, and the you of the pictures
smiling from the same distance — aloof. We
autographed the air with our faces, and I don’t
know whether to keep or toss the photograph,
but you might be important — and we might
even remember each other if we heard our names.
I took her land and made a map,
drew little homes upon it
and arrows to where I wanted to be.
I had no land like that. Mine was
packed and unpacked in little suitcases
until it grew as small
as sand in a tiny sand-bottle.
I never knew time could crumble
like that. I moved the miles around until
I found one I wanted to keep.
I stayed-put until my roots went deep.
I named her land my land.
I made a flag made of her scarf.
Her initials became my initials.
MAN WALKING A LONG THIN ROAD
After “The Road with the Poplars” by Van Gogh
This long road diminishes behind itself in a
mirage of distance. Only the poplars keep it
from vanishing out—closely rooted to each
side—passing their shadows back and forth
across the way where a plod-footed man
tries to reach the other end. But this is a
slow road. The late thin light of a flat white
sky tries to wash it out—the man faceless in
this dwindling hour—losing detail. But he
does not hurry, this cross-hatch road is familiar
to him, and some house may let him in before
the last light goes, and some warbler may yet
break the gray monotony and echo down and
through this gauntlet of his day, and the trees
will press their tips together, and the road will
close upon itself, and perhaps the moon come out.
TO CLAIM THIS FLOWER
“Little Flower In Crannied Wall”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson
Leave it there ! Why pick it, root and all, when it has
just struggled so to grow, even here, in this tight space,
between rock and rock, taking the sun as we take sun…
of what use to you to take this flower from such earned
survival and feel the right to do so—do you not equate
anything by this?
Bending, after rain, you pull
the broad weed from the drive-
way—a huge clump of green
with a stubborn root that
breaks off at the last moment.
The fence catches the leaves
and a plastic bag that dances
like a ghost in writhe.
Small clumps of tumbleweed
loving where they are—you
lose the battle with them, too.
(first pub. in Tiger’s Eye, Fall/Winter 2001)
He loves her
so he sends the ravens to her
over the gray landscape.
He makes their shadows large against the sky
so she can feel them fly toward her,
dreamed or not.
He makes them
larger on the ground where they ingrain
without texture . . . without sound . . .
He loves her
with a memory made of pain
so he lets the ravens blur
before her comprehending eyes.
There will be tears tonight.
There will be shadows in the rain.
THERE WAS A TREE
that grew so big
that lived so long
its roots went deep
it knew the songs
of winds and birds
and threw its shadows
just as far
as life’s dimensions are.
Our thanks to Joyce Odam for today's piquant breakfast of poems and "rootless flowers" in the Kitchen!
Homeland: Writings about Homelessness;
Our Place: Writings about the Earth; and
Metamorphosis: Writings About Aging.