You are white carnation in winter,
pure of memory.
Soft light falls upon you.
You shine in twilight,
bother no one with conspicuous colors.
You are subtle in your whiteness.
Your blossoms fit so tightly together
as if they
warrant no description.
There is only
which has no proper language.
We come upon you
in our darkest moment
and cry whatever name is dearest to our loss.
The salesman’s voice
comes softly on,
turning the merchandise
like a ripe plum,
twirling it for
the hungry eye—
describing its taste—
letting his smile
caress the greed
to a need.
(first pub. in Lyrismos, 1967-68)
TIN BOX LID
Stylized—in blues—pale as time—ago time. Rimmed
by a swathe of pale yellow; holly laid about, a bowl of
plastic fruit, a pear, some grapes, and apples, red and green,
candy canes in a vase—a lit candle inside a lantern—all
literal, all horizontal—on a blue-tiled base. The scene is
patience, patience, patience. The candle burns down. The
tin box holds only its emptiness, and many Christmases
The air tongues me light
I who am thin and
married to the dark
the sweet air comes down
with its innocent surprise
to find me bent against the sky
for all the weight that’s in me
when I feel the
damp coolness of its word
I alter for reply
Yes, I tell it, Yes
and begin to cry
I am a priestess of pain
an endless child creates in me
its poetry for life
but I am thin
and have no womb
the child will die
now the air is raining upon me
as if it were tears
it slides down my skin
and binds me to the grass
I feel my child
creating itself again
finding its way
through the light
I alter myself for this
I am maternal
(first pub. in P.O.W. Mother Poems, 1980)
The public mama fusses over her toddler she
plumps into the shopping cart in diaper only,
its smeary face all wet from recent crying as
the mama picks up a tiny sack of candies she
tears open with her teeth that the baby grabs
and whines for the one dropped on the floor.
The baby squirms in further fits of
whining and the public mama wipes the
chocolate from its drool and smacks her
finger to her lips and smiles, cooing her
baby-talk back to the child who has such a
The line barely moves as the harried
checker at the register sorts-out the hang-up.
The baby studies everyone with no reaction
and does not smile. The public mama flutters
about and oogles to the child with baby talk.
The white-haired toothless man who
is with them keeps adding last-minute items
to the cart and keeps joking down to the public
mama who laughs back, flirtatious to both
man and child, glancing around to share her
role of what a caring mama she is while the
candy-appeased child sits back and stares about.
THE DANGEROUS MOTHER
You take the babe to the sea for baptism, or the release
of drowning—you, the dangerous mother, running into
the black shadow of the sea—chased by what . . . ?
chased by what . . . ? and the sea, rushing to catch you,
tugs at your skirt . . . pulls at your feet . . . and the babe
clings to your neck in trust and fear. How the night
thrills at your intention. It opens up . . . opens up
its wet wing for you. How deliberate you are . . .
A TALE OF FORBIDDINGS
At night the golden bird brings the stolen apples
back to the palace tree and fastens them brightly
there in the moonlight.
I don’t know why she does this; she is
so patient and tireless, and her slow wings lift
so beautifully against the softly shining sky as
I watch her from my window.
Why does she not tangle in the branches,
I wonder; and why does she not fall broken
under the weight of such a task.
And I know that in the morning the
saddened tree will have been redeemed of its
theft—and no one—not even I—will have to pay
for the King’s old grief and unredemptive anger.
Like the shadow of a flower at night
when blue is trembling on the fence,
and the sky is closed away from
the moon, which will not show
itself, and you are as lonely
as this, and try to say it . . . .