Where the Ducks Swim (Written December 8, 2017)

Where the Ducks Swim

The menace of a dark snow cloud
made her turn back from her walk,
and in her confusion she worried
that she might already be lost.

An hour ago, when she left the house,
the sky was clear, the wind calm,
the temperature barely below freezing.
She kept to the main trail, on the look-out
for the pond where the ducks swim

And the moose come to drink in the fall
before it freezes over. For too long
she’d been confined to the house,
unable to get out, until it had become
a sort of prison, though with a jailkeeper,

She had to admit, who was much kinder
and more attentive than she deserved.
All she wanted, she said, was to get
a breath of fresh air, and so one day,
while the jailkeeper was working

In the backyard, she put on her coat,
opened the door, and walked out.
I have to get moving, she told herself,
or I’ll die of stasis, whatever that means.
In the house she didn’t have much to do.

Read novels. Watch television. Sleep.
She had no energy to do anything creative,
or even cook. But the more she sat around,
or slept, the weaker she felt. Her legs
sometimes gave out, coming down

The stairs, and she had to hold on tight
to the railing to keep from falling.
A fall like that would be the end of her,
or the beginning of the end. No,
the end had already begun.

She wasn’t dressed for bad weather,
she had left the house in such a hurry.
Now that it had turned nasty, however,
with the wind kicking up, and the snow
beginning to fall, fat, wet flakes of snow,

That smacked her in the face like
imitation confetti, she was sorry
she hadn’t grabbed a pair of gloves
and some sort of hat on the way out.

Cloud of Forgetting (Written December 1, 2017)

Cloud of Forgetting

I kneel by the sofa where she lies,
one hand on her ankle,
the other on her knee.
She’s quiet now, breathing

More easily, trying to forget
the angry words she shouted at me,
when it was not even me
she was angry with, but
someone else, an old friend,

Who had gone off script,
thoughtlessly, and said things
that she found hurtful.
I could have intervened,
but I didn’t see what was happening

Until too late. Besides, it’s not my part
to protect her every step of the way.
That would be asking too much.
If that seems heartless, I really
don’t know what to say.

Let me pull the blanket up,
around her shoulders, and stay
a while longer, as she drifts away
on her cloud of forgetting.
Without forgetting, there is no

Deliverance. But I am, I suppose,
the enemy of forgetting, someone
who, almost against his will, remembers
what she so desperately wants to forget.

Ally (Written November 24, 2017)

Ally

Because it is made of crystal,
not glass,
and because it was a gift
from her mother,

More than fifty years ago,
when she lived in a different town,
with a different husband,
facing different challenges,
she keeps it tucked away,

In the back of a drawer, in a box
with no name, hidden but not
forgotten. Whatever healing energy
it had to give, it’s already given,
and now it’s just a stone,

About the size of a thumbnail,
half an inch thick, oval in shape,
purple below, white above,
with raised dots over the uneven
surface, which sparkle like silver

In the light. The setting is silver,
in two rounds, the lower round
like beads strung together.
If I look closely enough,
I can see a moose

Emerging from the purple haze,
with its antlers tilted into the white
above. Through all her troubles,
in the distant past, the not so distant
past, and the present, when the world

Sometimes seemed to be collapsing
around her, she’s taken the moose
as her symbol of strength
and endurance – her ally.

Sleep, My Love (Written November 17, 2017)

Sleep, My Love

I shake her knee
but she just stares back at me.
Don’t go to sleep yet!
The show’s hardly begun!

There was a time, not long ago,
when she was the star of the show,
the one who could take an idea,
and turn it into something grand,
the way a sunflower seed,

So small in the palm of the hand,
will keep growing until it is
as tall as a woman, or a man.
Whatever the obstacle, whatever
the hurdle, whatever the puzzle,

She persisted. She never gave in
or gave up. And what she did,
though often hard, she did with joy
in her heart. Everyone felt better
in her presence. She made people laugh.

She could have been black or white
or brown or yellow, male or female,
or something in between,
it would not have mattered,
for she was the spirit of adventure.

She sleeps a lot of the time now,
but I’m okay with that.
There’s such a feeling of warmth
whenever I’m close to her.

White Noise (Written November 10, 2017)

White Noise

When she discovered that the white noise
not only did not
stop her from hearing the voices
but made her listen more closely,

In case they were talking about her,
saying things that were not true,
or at best half true,
with the aim of undermining her,
and sending her further into a tailspin,

She felt the wiser course of action
would be to accept her loss,
quietly, without protest, keeping
all her wits about her,
the way tulips will close up at night,

To retain whatever light and heat
they’ve captured during the day,
so that her enemies, who seemed
to be multiplying by the hour,
could do her no further harm.

She felt something funny in one ear,
a buzzing, a grinding the likes of which
she had never experienced before.
Was it a stroke? The flu? Chronic
fatigue? Or something else?

She stood up and announced to the others,
whom she had always thought of as friends,
but now believed otherwise, that she did not
feel well and wanted to go home.
Everyone stopped talking and looked at her.

She swayed back and forth, and we were
afraid she would fall. She took a step
toward the hallway, where she had hung
her coat, turned and looked at me.
I hurried to her side. I thought

We should go to the hospital,
but she said no, and she seemed
so sure of herself, so set,
I gave in and went along.

No Beginning, No End (Written November 3, 2017)

No Beginning, No End

She went inside, locking the door.
If I was who I said I was,
why had she never seen me before?
A walk around the block would do me good,

We both agreed. It was raining
but not hard. The wind had shifted
to the north, bringing colder, arctic air
that blew right through my poor hat.
The traffic was heavy on Champlain,

A steady stream that had no beginning
and no end. If I lost my balance,
as I clung to the edge of the sidewalk,
I might fall in front of a car and just like that,
as if by magic, all my troubles would be over.

Down Sainte Croix the traffic was light
to nonexistent. A woman I knew, a neighbor,
came toward me, her dog on a leash.
I asked his name, not for the first time.
We can be glad it’s not snow, she said,

Pulling her jacket tight around her shoulders.
In a shelter in a far corner of the parking lot
smokers congregated and made small talk.
Two or three stood outside the shelter,
in the rain, as if to punish themselves

For their bad behavior, or just because
it was too crowded inside. Farther down,
along the back road, a family of pheasants,
mama, papa, and six fledglings,
scurried to find a way down into the marsh.

I was cold, with the wind in my face,
but now, at least, I had something
I could tell her, something that might
please her and jog her memory.

Before the Earth Froze (Written October 27, 2017)

Before the Earth Froze

Who can say when the tracks were made?
Some time before the earth froze, weeks,
months, or even years ago. The size
and depth of the impressions suggest

A heavy-set woman; not young.
The straight line of movement indicates
purpose; nothing haphazard. Until
almost the end, when the forest becomes
thicker and darker, and she loses

Her way, and lurches from side to side.
Perhaps, in the dark, she feared the animals
that she had heard so much about,
the wolves and the coyotes,
the snakes and the boars,

Or perhaps she simply grew tired
and would have liked to lie down,
rest a moment, and listen
to the birds in the trees
and the rustling of the leaves.

Did I know her? I thought I did,
because I loved her. But love is never
enough. She was alone, in her mind,
and had no reason to hope
it might be otherwise.

She had played along, as true as anyone,
but the end, she knew, was near,
when the wind and the rain would come
and wash away all remembrance.

Overextended (Written October 20, 2017)

Overextended

She sighs and straightens her back.
She’s taken on too much, again.
For more than an hour now
she’s been chopping, slicing, mixing,

Measuring, sifting, and stirring,
focused on what needs to be done,
rather than what she can do with some
semblance of enjoyment. The contraption
for peeling and coring apples malfunctions,

Digging too deep, cutting away too much
of the white, juicy flesh. The zucchini,
which had seemed so firm on the outside,
two mornings ago when she bought it,
is soft and mushy inside. The onion

Keeps slipping from her grasp
as she chops. The gas makes her eyes
water and sting. What else can go wrong,
she asks herself, when she cuts her finger,
in a careless moment. But she is not ready

To call for help. Once she makes up her mind
there’s very little that will get her to admit
defeat. She cleans the cut, stanches the wound,
and looks forward to sitting down at table,
when she’ll be able to present the hoped-for dish

To her guest, see the look of gratitude in his eyes,
and feel she’s done the best that she could,
which in the past, as she remembers it,
was all that anyone every wanted.

The Forest in Ruins (Written October 13, 2017)

The Forest in Ruins

I’ve found the card that she sent me
last Christmas, with a short note.
She was feeling much better, she said,
and hoped to be home in a few days.

A week at most. I wrote back,
though I knew it might not get there
in time. I told her about a dream
I’d had a couple of nights before,
in which she and I, along with ten others,

All from the same town, though strangers
to each other, were being led through
a tropical rain forest, where the foliage
was so thick, so lush, that not even the sun
could get through. The trees had dark green,

Oval-shaped leaves as big as elephant paws,
and red flowers of an intensity I had never
seen before. Parrots, perched high in the trees,
called to us in a language we could almost
understand. We let the others go ahead,

While we fell back, held by the beauty
all around us. At a fork in the road we turned
left instead of right, as the others had done.
We wanted to be alone. A few hundred yards
brought us to where a wall had been built,

Made of old wooden beams, to block the way.
Yellow police tape warned us to stay out.
But as there was no one to stop us, we skirted
the wall, through the thorny underbrush,
we were so curious to see what was

On the other side, like children who,
blindfolded, try to guess what will be revealed.
What we found, though, was a forest in ruins,
the trees stripped of their leaves,
many limbs ripped off and scattered

Everywhere, at odd angles to each other,
some standing almost straight up, impaled
in the earth by the force of the wind.
The animals had all fled or been killed.
Squirrel monkeys lay curled on the ground,

As if waiting to be born. Parrots
had been blown from their perches
and killed. Flies buzzed around the bodies.
There seemed to be no end to the devastation.
We turned and followed the path back,

The way we had come in. The sun beat down
very hard on our heads. The least spark, we knew,
could set everything on fire. It seemed we would never
get to the place where we had begun.

The Word (Written October 6, 2017)

The Word

Be patient, he reminds himself.
Patient. Give her a chance,
she’s trying as hard as she can,
though the word she’s looking for

Stubbornly refuses to reveal itself,
digging ever deeper into its
hiding place, the way some fish
dig ever deeper into the dirt
at the bottom of the sea.

Sometimes, when all else fails,
they drive to the mall,
which used to annoy him
but now, through her eyes,
he sees as a chance to get out,

Meet people, and feel again
that life is good, no matter
what she believes or doesn’t believe.
Life is more than she was
prepared to settle for,

More than television,
more than mystery novels,
more than long hours
lying in bed, or sitting
at the kitchen table, brooding.

If she doesn’t speak her mind,
nobody will know what she thinks
or what she feels. To find
the word, let it go.