Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Wide the Sky

—Poems and Photos by Joyce Odam, Sacramento


What we sell here is always what you need.
Amulets and calendars; out-dated stones;
jars of rain that still separate into drops.

We have the spool of thread you lost when you
forgot how to sew—in just those colors needed
for the coloring book you never opened.

We have more : pretty little boxes to hold rings,
a perfect leaf that you passed up when you
were looking through a window to find

your old reflection looking back
through you. Shall I go on?
We have the key for your travel. The map.

The other side of the door. We have
the book you read and lost, the one
with the pages full of truth and photographs.

We have the perfect penmanship of your youth,
a tube of healing for your hands. We always greet you
with recognition—are sad when you must go.

Goodbye. We know you must be off. We have
postcards for this. We have a cat that sleeps
on a chair and dreams prophetic dreams.

The dreams are for sale. The little bell
on the door is made of sunshine.
It tinkles every time someone comes or leaves.


After “My Mother’s Country”—Barbara Weir, 2011
If she would make a tapestry, it would be of a snow-
shoveled beach from some still frozen place of an old
road taken. It would have far-off brown hills and valleys,
despite the displacement of snow. She would give it no
towns or nearby elevations. It would have one long
piece of white yarn threading over it like a meandering
road on an outdated map.
                          Tapestries live on dusty walls—hers
would wear thick layers of cigarette smoke, its fading
detail would represent little whorls of places she might
have been. The old roads would run crookedly all over
the map—indicating displacement—despite the mysterious
snow—or the melting cloud layerings covering the flat
dazed land with no perspective.

After “Year’s End”—Ted Kooser 

Go where you must
—it never changes.
We wait in our sameness.
No mirrors correct us.


It is still dreary here. 
Accept it. We like it that way
—have nothing to change, or want
to do over. We are not travelers.

You will come back to the same old roses
holding the fence up, but we are painting
the screen door first because of rust
—mauve like the sunset.

When the year turns, we will turn,
with a sigh of relief to give it blessing
as if we had made some determination
—you, of course not here to tell of it.



Who watches me with the
strange indifference of flowers

in the guarded woods
of my imagination

where I go in search
of strange flowers

seen in flower books—
the many eyes and faces

of such flowers
in their dissimilarity—

at home in
their dark shadow places

where they thrive and compel
my curiosity, where

should I dare to pick one
I would be forever guilty.


This is a poem of explanations.  Easy to know.
Nothing to forgive.  Nothing profound for you
to ponder.  Nothing obscure so you have to think.

This is a poem,    this is a poem,    unlovely . . .
it travels time to its own distance, which is here.
Now let us consider the page—upon which

these words—upon which these meanings,
do not mean, and do not say. I have lied to you,
true—but you deserve the lie—you who are so

deserving.  Whenever you greet me in sorrow,
sorrow is what you get in return.    I am fair.
I mirror you, you with your vain look.

I am here without you.
I am writing a poem for you, which you will
correct and correct.  I am your flaw.

Now I am at a riverbank.  It is winter.
Swans drift up, hungry perhaps, or curious.
A gray wind ripples the day and

the swans move away, discouraged.
I regret myself, my small arriving
to so lovely a place.  I know I must walk back,

but first I must walk out to the end
of that small pier and stand on the texture
of that solid water.  I have juxtaposed

backwards—you do not yet exist for me,
still I talk to you about this moment,
which is captured like an impression of

a wet leaf in a book.  You insist
on bringing me back—I leave it all suddenly:
the dear white swans with their glossy eyes,

forgetting me and the page that is struggling,
that you insist on being part of.
I cannot please you.  I will please myself.



where am I missing the boat?
even though I don’t know
where boats are going
I keep missing them
arriving at docks to see
the small speck in the distance…
the wisp of smoke…

others return
to tell me of their travels
secret with joy
intense with detail
I nod impatiently and sneak away
to my schedules and wardrobe
that I keep packing and repacking
until it fits small

each day is shrunken
with my anticipation
my off-sense of timing
that I keep perfecting
each day is waging
its size against me

Sweet Envy
smiles from her poster
and I, her collector,
study her closely
to memorize where she has been
for I would go there

(first pub. in Calliope, 1989)


We are traveling fast to your destination, which we share.
You won’t tell me where that is, though I have bought the
tickets. When we pass the dangerous scenery, you make
me close my eyes, then you describe the horrors in a teasing
voice. We settle in for a long journey.  t is your secret.

Mostly, you brood out the window for long periods; you
silence every question: “Feel the rhythm,” you tell me,
“Sleep.” And when I sleep, you waken me. “Look! Out
there!” you say, and point to what you see. But it is too
dark, and I don’t know where we are. You are a strange
child, and I become afraid of my age, because we are in
different places in ourselves.

When we slow down for departure, you brighten and rise
quickly, and I look out at the gray, thin morning, which is
full of unusual weather. The long, ramshackle station is a
blur of signs that could name this place, but though we are
to depart here, we are going too fast.



—as bleak as any distance, wide as a sound,
or even a silence—whatever crosses
the space between near and far;

a place with no road—only its distance,
maybe a small shack for the sake of desolation.
Who might live here? 

Maybe no one:
an empty house for your mind to occupy,
a house with no trees—

not even that much relief for the sweeping eye.
Distance is familiar; something wants it,
something you know is ready to take you,

or leave you.
How wide the sky, thinning out its blue,
as if it were running out of blue.

The clouds have trouble forming
with so much width to use.
What brings you here,

reluctant to continue, or remain?
A distant speck appears
and is coming toward you. What will you do?

Our thanks to Joyce Odam for her riffs on our last Seed of the Week: Journeys. Joyce writes: Robin and I were driving home some time back (last November) and we got carried away with the fast-changing look of the lighting in the traffic, the swift change of colors in the sky and in the headlights of the cars and the swift-moving moon. I searched for those pictures yesterday and found them and this is what I send for the 'travel' prompt. Robin Odam is Joyce's daughter, also a fine photographer and poet whom you may remember from the Kitchen.

Our new Seed of the Week is Lost and Found. Send your poetic, photographic or artistic thoughts on this (or any other subject) to kathykieth@hotmail.com/. No deadline on SOWs. Check out the Calliope's Closet link at the top of this column for all our Seeds of the Week over the years—they are considerable and good kickstarters for a rainy day.


Today’s LittleNip:

I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book—they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life.

—Emilia Fox