Her Smile (Written March 9, 2018)

Her Smile

When the talk turns to sex and politics,
when the jokes become crude,
when she gets tired and her thoughts
begin to shoot off in all directions,

When the children who’ve been sitting
so quietly beside her on the bench
suddenly get up and run into the next room,
when she doesn’t hear or understand
what someone has said,

She smiles her beautiful smile
and they think she knows more
than she lets on. They think
she possesses the wisdom
that comes with age.

Who can resist her smile?
The way the lip curls in and back,
revealing the small, even teeth,
which she has cared for, faithfully,
all the years of her life. Friends

And strangers want to photograph her,
just to capture her perfect smile.
There’s nothing fake about her smile,
nothing put on. Her smile is never
at someone’s expense, to hurt.

Her smile means she’s happy
to be where she is, with the people
she’s with, even if sometimes
she doesn’t understand them,
and they don’t understand her.

Her smile opens the way for her
into almost any room where people
have gathered. Everyone loves her smile,
because it is free of all pretense.

Perhaps (Written March 2, 2018)


She could easily have fallen on the steps
coming out of Artemis’s house.
She could be on the way to the hospital
this very moment. Somebody, eventually,

Will think of contacting me.
She’s never been this late before.
She was supposed to call me at four
and let me know when
to pick her up. Something

Must have happened and I can only
imagine the worst. Perhaps she had a heart attack
and she’s lying on the floor in the livingroom
and the ambulance is on the way
and nobody knows if she’ll live or die.

Perhaps she hitched a ride with Lucy
and they were talking and Lucy
ran a red light and hit a brand-new
Lexus GX or a Land Rover
and threw her against the windshield

Because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt,
which would not have been like her,
although recently, it’s true, she’s been very
forgetful. Perhaps fatigue
overtook her and she stretched out

On the bed in Artemis’s spare
bedroom, in the basement, and fell asleep.
I pace back and forth in the hallway,
glancing out the window every so often.
I sit at a table in the sun porch

And wait. Perhaps something she ate
disagreed with her and she vomited
on the black pleated skirt
we had washed just yesterday.
It’s five o’clock and she still hasn’t called,

I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’m too on edge to read or watch TV.
I should call Artemis
but just then a car pulls into the driveway
and Lucy gets out and helps my wife

Out of the car, onto the sidewalk. “We talked
a long time,” she smiles, as she brushes
past me, takes hold of the railing,
and climbs the stairs into the house.
Lucy grabs three old beat-up picture frames

From the back seat and wants to give them
to me. Perhaps we can find a use for them.
If we had a fireplace, I think,
I’m sure we would have no trouble.

Ode to Hands (Written February 23, 2018)

Ode to Hands

With hands like this she could be an artist.
The thumb small,
with wrinkled knuckle and cracked nail.
The fingers long, thick, hairless.

The skin on the back of the hand
crisscrossed with fine lines,
old scars, and dark squiggles of blood
as they go down to do their work.

These hands have an energy,
a vitality,
that flows into them and through them
to whatever they touch, a piece of clay
to be shaped, a canvas to be painted,

A print to be pressed, or someone
to be loved.
Small hands are made for reaching
into the cookie jar. Big hands
are for chopping wood, painting houses,

Milking cows, shooting basketballs,
and the like.
A helping hand is what anyone
would hope for, in times of trouble.
The thought of her, beaten down

By life, makes my hand tremble.
A drowning man,
to save himself, might reach his hand
towards an imagined rescue,
before going down for good.

In the painting the man lays his hand,
ever so lightly,
on the breast of his wife,
while she rests her hand on his.

The Last Thing She Wants (Written February 16, 2018)

The Last Thing She Wants

She doesn’t growl at me any more than usual.
Hardly at all.
A gentle – or not so gentle – reminder
that it has been how many days now

Since I last did the laundry.
The basket’s full
and smells when she opens it.
She has nothing to wear, not even
a bra, on the off chance that she might

Want to go out. There’s dirt everywhere,
dustballs on the stairs,
cat hairs floating in the rays of the sun,
and she has trouble breathing.
When was the last time I vacuumed?

She can’t remember, nor can I.
A week, at least.
And why do I cook the same thing
night after night when I know
she has no appetite. If only

She would tell me what she likes.
But no,
it’s either too dry or too oily, seldom
the right mix. Maybe, she thinks,
we should call Meals on Wheels.

Give ourselves a break. She appreciates
everything I do,
but it’s too much for one person,
as witness the house crumbling,
and the last thing she wants,

She says, is to live (or die) in squalor.
I can deny
the obvious, if I want, that’s my
business. Life is what happens when
we look the other way, or something

Like that. In the kitchen window, under
the spruce tree,
six female pheasants are digging
and digging for yesterday’s seeds.

Ode to Ice (Written February 9, 2018)

Ode to Ice

The man thinks of stepping on the ice.
He thinks of falling.
The woman thinks of calling a friend.
She thinks of the burden she will carry.

Ice covers the ground but does not
protect what’s already in the ground,
the way snowfall protects.
Ice makes venturing forth less
tempting; breeds stasis.

Under the ice the earth turns
in on itself. Things look dead,
but somehow, for the most part,
live on. Birds die when
they don’t get enough to eat.

Plants die when they are left
unprotected and unloved. Hold
my arm; if one falls, both fall.
The distance from the house to the car
seems as far as the nearest star.

The promise of spring, slowly
awakening, is an invitation
to dream. The days grow longer,
the sun shines more brightly,
the ice melts. The future, she thinks,

Begins any time now. It’s always
possible, he thinks, notwithstanding
appearances. The cracks in the tips
of his fingers start to heal.

The Art of Camouflage (Written February 2, 2018)

The Art of Camouflage

I will change names, places, dates,
I will change tenses, persons, voices,
I will change genders,
I will change days of the week,

I will change months of the year,
I will change seasons if need be,
I will conceal my sources,
I will become an expert
in the art of camouflage.

No one but myself will know
the words I have been given,
in the beginning, to look at,
to interrogate, and to find
the story they hide,

Which is there for me and me alone,
the story I want to tell, about her,
about us, about our life together,
about how we look after each other.
Although it starts with someone else,

The story will be my own.
I will tell it the way I see it
and the way I feel it. No one
has heard it before, or suspected
that it could be so. I will say

What I have to say, even if I expose
myself, or her, like the pheasant
behind the japonica bush, hiding among
bare branches, in plain sight, visible to all.

A Fighting Chance (Written January 26, 2018)

A Fighting Chance

My whistle failed to elicit a response.
I tried again. A chickadee answered
from inside the forsythia bush.
A dozen pigeons, neatly lined up

On the top bar of the swing set,
stared at me in a calculated display
of indifference. They knew what
I was up to, and what they needed
to do, to get what they wanted.

On top of the house next door
another dozen waited, expectantly.
It was a thin whistle, which left them
guessing as to my wishes. Was I trying
to welcome them, or scare them off?

I re-shaped my mouth and tried again.
High in the spruce tree crows cawed
impatiently, angrily. From the window
of the upstairs bedroom my wife watched.
A blue jay, on a chair in the neighbor’s

Backyard, made a sound like a yodel,
melodious and seductive, before reverting
to the more familiar shrill cry, like a rusty
clothesline. A male pheasant, with its white
ring around the neck, hid in plain sight

Behind the japonica bush, sure
of its camouflage. If I moved slowly,
I hoped the bird would not fly away
in a thundering fright. I wanted
the pheasant, along with any starlings

And chickadees that might be nearby,
to have a fighting chance at the feed
(black sunflower seeds, wild bird mix,
peanuts in the shell, left over crusts
of bread broken into bite-sized pieces)

When I cast it, by the handful, across
the white plastic table by the back fence
and onto the ground, before the pigeons
descended en masse. Although, as my
wife had often reminded me, pigeons

Need to eat too, like all the other birds,
if we don’t want them to die. The cold
weather, in and of itself, will kill off
more than a few. Don’t be so stingy.

These Various Proofs (Written January 12, 2018)

These Various Proofs

She is at least grudgingly aware
that many of the things she used to do,
by herself, she can no longer do.
To get in the car and go visit

A friend, on the spur of the moment,
is a dream she abandoned years ago.
The ice on the path to the studio
makes getting there impossible,
and even when it is bare,

As with this early January thaw, she’s afraid
to go out, because she might lose her balance
and fall. From experience she knows well
that she might take a sudden dizzy spell,
and need a helping hand,

Which would rankle. Sometimes, for lunch,
she feels inspired to concoct a more complicated,
hearty soup, one better suited for chilly winter
weather, but before she can finish, with
so much cutting and slicing,

More often than not she runs out of steam and
gives up, in tears. It’s for me to finish the job,
or not. Later, after our rest, we like to get out,
into the fresh air, and if it is a nice day,
walk around the block,

Or down the street to where there is
a path along the river, which is always
a wonder to behold, at this time of year,
with its massive ice flows, which are like
the thoughts and images

That float through our unconscious, night
after night, when we are not paying attention.
But we get down to the river less often
these days, and then only with a walker,
which at first seemed to be

An admission of some sort of defeat, but now
seems perfectly okay. Simple, everyday
tasks, such as opening the milk carton,
with its stubborn pull-tab, she finds
difficult, even exasperating,

Because of the weakness in her fingers,
and her wrist. And yet, faced with these
various proofs of decline, and others
as telling, she feels no different,
she claims, than she felt

Fifty years ago, or sixty, when she came
into her prime. Life has been good to her,
despite the loses, the aches, and the pains,
and she wouldn’t change a thing.

What I Wanted To Say (Written January 5, 2018)

What I Wanted To Say

I tried to talk with her last night,
and then again this morning.
My words were weak, ineffectual,
like someone calling out a warning

After the storm has already past.
She knew more about the dangers
than I, but had reached a point
where she simply did not care.
I’ve had a good life, she’d say,

When pressed. I have no regrets.
I’m not afraid, don’t worry. She
liked to watch murder mysteries
because the format guaranteed
that the culprit would be found.

The fun was in trying to guess
who it was. None of the violence
was real. What I wanted to say
was simple enough. It’s essential
to keep moving, if only around

The house, from room to room.
Take another look at the art work
on the walls, or the tiny bottles
on the glass ledge in the window.
Step outside onto the back deck,

And watch the moon in the trees
as it rises for the night. Sometimes
bats swoop low, so quietly,
so darkly, you can barely see them.

Real Life (Written December 29, 2017)

Real Life

I will have to abandon my dream,
if I want to go on living. Real life,
compared to the dream, is dull,
monotonous, hardly worth the effort.

The dream seems to be illuminated
from within, the way the warm, translucent
waters of the Caribbean, when calm, are lit
from below, revealing wondrous forms
too rich and varied to be believed.

What is the dream? It is always
the same and always different.
I am in another city, another country,
where people recognize me
for who I am, and value me,

Where people do not hesitate
to speak to me, openly, where people
love me and look after me when I’m
in need. All my wishes, whether modest
or not so modest, are fulfilled,

As they never are, in real life.
It’s too good to be true, but it is true,
in the dream, which stays with me
all day, like a drug. I never want
to let it go, but I must. Must open

My eyes, look, and see, all around me,
a world of small, everyday things,
each as remarkable as a bird
perched on the arm of a man.