Ode to Laughter (Written May 25, 2018)

Ode to Laughter

Comical interlude, she said.
Laugh now,
while there’s still something left
to laugh about. We used to think

That things could not get
much worse,
but now we know better.
We can laugh or weep,
but laughter is more cathartic.

Laughter does not deny reality,
like fantasy,
but makes it into something
more human, and therefore
more tolerable, like clean water.

Laughter points to one conclusion:
whatever is is,
the past is nothing like what
it used to be, and the future
is anyone’s guess.

Laughter lurks in alleyways
its next meal, in dark corners,
in dumpsters that promise surprise
after surprise, like poetry.

Laughter lasts longer than lies,
which age badly,
like wine from an inferior grape.
Laughter tells the truth, madly.

What Once Was (Written May 18, 2018)

What Once Was

She is far too sociable
a woman
not to chafe at the limits
her condition imposes on her.

What she wants is to get out
more often,
see friends, talk and laugh,
forget her troubles. Gossip
a little, tell stories. Inside,

Everything is always the same,
so old hat,
nothing much to stir the emotions
except the occasional phone call
connecting her to the outside world,

Reminding her she is still alive,
still kicking.
With the coming of spring, she likes
to walk to the bottom of the street
and on warm days along the path

By the river, where the tide rises
and falls,
rises and falls, twice a day,
the way her spirits, the longing
in her to be part of things,

Rises and falls, rises and falls,
like clockwork,
and where fireflies used to light up
the marshland, dark with sea water,
and where birds used to make

Their nests, before the road
ruined it all,
scattering hapless creatures to the wind,
a sad reminder of what once was.

Standing Here at the Cutting Board (Written May 11, 2018)

Standing Here at the Cutting Board

I picked up the knife she had dropped,
a long knife,
a quite ordinary kitchen knife but sharp,
good for slicing bread, carving roasts,

Cutting cucumbers, and chopping onions,
an all-purpose knife,
but heavy, especially in hands that were
shaky to begin with. Sharper than
the steak knives that too often

Did not slice or cut at all but tore,
they were so dull.
There were tears in her eyes and not just
from the onions. A cut like the one
she’d given herself doesn’t hurt at first,

But in a while begins to throb
and to ache,
and the blood keeps coming,
from under the too-thin, too-narrow
bandage, which is not sufficient.

Why do I go on living, she wanted to know,
looking at me.
Here I am, standing here at the cutting board,
like a dummy, with not enough strength
to open a jar of pickles. Why do I bother,

I don’t even like pickles. Slicing off
the tip of my finger
was not an accident, but a wish to draw
blood, to feel something, anything,
after days and weeks of feeling nothing,

Unable to climb out of the hole I’m in,
the pit.
You try your best, I know,
but sometimes it is not enough.

Ode to Bodies (Written May 4, 2018)

Ode to Bodies

Bodies caught in a glacier after a fall,
or buried
under tons of snow in an avalanche,
or drowned in a northern lake

After a boating mishap, or locked
in a freezer
to hide the evidence of a crime,
keep the look of life-in-death
for years, with rosy cheeks,

Clear skin, and bright eyes, until
one day
the glacier shifts, the snow
melts, the lake runs dry,
and someone opens the freezer

And what chance has concealed,
or evil intent,
is revealed. Bodies felled
in an instant, by a heart attack,
or a blow to the head,

Taken by surprise, remain
their faces showing, perhaps,
a puzzlement, or a growing sense
of something large, pressing down on them.

Bodies that die peaceful deaths,
free of pain,
asleep in their beds, surrounded,
if only in a dream, by those they love,
are most to be envied. Bodies

That have been tampered with,
tortured, shot, or in any way
disrespected, making fear
or dread the last emotion

They will ever feel, are most
to be pitied.
There is nothing to be said of them,
other than to lament their fate.

She Continues (Written April 27, 2018)

She Continues

In spite of these many obstacles,
such as poor memory,
failing eyesight, shortness of breath,
chronic weakness in the legs, dizziness

Brought on by a diuretic given to counter
the shortness of breath,
bowels that are sometimes overactive,
sometimes locked in place for days
on end, with no relief in sight,

In spite of all this, she continues,
every morning,
to get up, write in her journal,
meditate, stretch, jot down
her agenda for the day, get dressed,

Make her way, slowly, down the stairs,
holding tight
to the railing and the newly installed
“grip” – in case her head swims
and her body wants to fall.

She continues to find reasons
to go on living,
foremost being concern for her family
and what sort of legacy she might leave
if she were to do away with herself.

She continues to want to get out
and do things,
meet a friend for a cup of coffee,
go to a movie, take in a play,
drive somewhere to watch the sunset.

She continues to enjoy the outdoors,
sitting on the back deck,
watching the tulips come up,
the allium, and the scilla. She continues.

It’s All Right (Written April 20, 2018)

It’s All Right

A cry rises from the bedroom at the top of the stairs,
then a thud.
The house seems to shudder, then become
settled again, the way a ship, when it hits a rock

Underwater, or a long-forgotten sunken treasure,
or debris
from a previous shipwreck, will wobble
a moment, before regaining its balance
and moving on. It may be damaged, but not

Fatally, it’s hoped. More than likely it’s nothing
to worry about,
and there’s no need to tell anybody, no need
to broadcast the news, which would only cause
unnecessary panic, adding to the loss of life,

When the ship finally does sink, as it must,
in time.
Think of all the passengers, in the ship’s hold,
asleep, unaware of the unfolding catastrophe.
Why wake them with cries for help,

When there’s nothing they can do,
in the end,
but watch as fate works its way out?
A trip to emergency might be in order,
and then again it might not be.

Once the house shakes and shudders, even though
it steadies again,
it will never be the same. Something has happened
and the beams and the walls will not forget.
She may die in her sleep, or while meditating,

Or while taking a shower, or coming down the stairs.
She may faint
or have a stroke, she may die tomorrow,
but it’s all right, she says, she’s ready.

Ode to Cats (Written April 13, 2018)

Ode to Cats

The woman steps onto the back deck
with a flashlight,
searches the ground below the picket fence
but finds nothing out of the ordinary.

In her dream there were three cats,
including her own Ginger,
sitting close together under the fence,
transfixed by something happening
just on the other side, some animal,

Some commotion that was both intriguing
and frightening.
In the beam of the flashlight she could see
what it was, a snake almost hidden
in a pile of leaves, only the large head

Plainly visible. She told herself
stay calm,
there are no poisonous snakes
where we live, but for the cats
the danger, or the fear, had more

To do with being swallowed alive,
or strangled.
First Ginger, then the others jumped
onto the deck, seeking protection.
Should she let them into the house,

Until the danger had passed?
The tricolor cat
seemed ready to stand his or her ground,
but the little white cat, a kitten,
trembled in fear. Animals are no different

From humans in their ability to feel
pain and pleasure,
misery and happiness, fear and its opposite,
though humans have the ability to name
what they feel, and to stew over it.

Some cats are young, some cats are old,
some cats are tame,
some cats are wild, some cats are friendly
and some are not. Every unfriendly cat
has a story to tell, of what makes him

The way he is, or she. Friendly cats too
have a history,
which would include, almost without
exception, being well loved.

Strangers in the Night (Written April 6, 2018)

Strangers in the Night

It’s not the first time she’s told me
the story of her life,
and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
“You don’t have to listen to this,”

She says, not sure whether or not
I’ve heard it before.
After twenty-five years together,
we still feel, at times, like strangers
who have just met at some

Concert or film and are trying,
to get to know each other. I take
whatever I want from her story,
whatever strikes me, and I feel less

Distant from her, though I know there are
vast areas
where neither one of us wants to go.
We are passengers on a bus, travelling
to a place we’ve never been, excited,

In a heightened state of awareness,
but at the same time
wary of what awaits us, unsure
if we will be able to tell the difference
between what is real and what is not real.

She had a full, rich life before we met,
most of which
I know nothing about and never will.
So who is she? My wife, but that’s just
a fact. Inside her head, where she lives,

Who is she? It’s not her intention,
I’m sure,
to shut me out, but every day
she remembers less and less.

Don’t Even Ask (Written March 30, 2018)

Don’t Even Ask

This could mean two things.
A friend might have called
and invited her out for a cup of coffee,
and she said yes, because she’s been feeling

Isolated and depressed. Or she might have had
another angina attack,
more severe than usual, and called an ambulance.
I was only gone an hour, running a few errands,
because we were out of some essentials,

Such as milk, bread, butter, eggs, bird feed,
and some kind of protein.
The cat was waiting for me when I opened the door
and gave me an openly defiant look, as if to say,
I don’t know where she went, don’t even ask.

I looked upstairs, in both bedrooms, searched
the basement,
in case she might have fallen down the stairs,
but it was obvious the house was empty.
It felt empty. All the energy was drained out of it,

Like an empty, upside-down water bottle.
I would have thought
that she would leave a note, or something,
telling me where she was, if she was going to go
away like that. But I suppose, if it was an emergency,

She might not have had time. So here I am,
not sure what to do.
Maybe she’s in the studio, but that’s not likely,
with the path still covered in ice and a dusting of snow.
She hasn’t been to the studio for weeks, for months,

So why today of all days would she decide to wander
out back?
It’s not as if she’s run out of ideas, and can’t think
what she wants to do next. She just doesn’t have
the strength she used to have. For a long time

She worked in oil pastels but now she “inhabits boxes,”
as she describes it.
I liked the oil pastels, because of the way she could create
such deep, rich colors and such interesting textures.
The trouble is that oil pastels, like spray paints,

Can be hazardous to the health, so I don’t blame her.
It’s true no doubt
that her confusion stems in part from inhaling noxious
chemicals. If she’s not in the studio, I’ll call the hospital.

A Mistake (Written March 23, 2018)

A Mistake

The whole thing’s a mistake,
a trick.
If only she had died that time
in hospital, when she was sick,

She wanted to, she had seen
what it was like,
she was ready, a little nudge
was all she would need,
she said, to tip her over the edge.

When it didn’t happen, as desired,
she wept.
It took courage to go on, not to die.
Life, lived well, might promise
some sort of wisdom, some vision,

But she isn’t holding her breath.
A gray mist,
as thick as any on the high seas,
obscures the path she has chosen.
Her mind, once vibrant, has become

Less reliable. Her body, once active,
has begun to break down.
So many things she’d been able to do
she can no longer do. Worst of all
is the feeling of isolation.

She will have to wait it out,
get used to it,
and remember she is not in command,
but something wholly other.