House Husband (Written August 29)

House Husband


And if anyone quarreled or complained,

He would simply leave the room

And let them work it out, as long as it took.


He might sit in the kitchen,

With a cup of coffee and a book,

Or he might call his wife at work


And talk awhile, about everything

Or nothing. He could see the look

On her face, as she passed


Silent judgment. That deep frown

That he hated. And if she asked

If everything was okay, he’d say,


Well, what do you think?

Try a little harder, she’d say.

The truth is, she knew


What he was going through.

She’d been there too. It was the glue

That held them together.


But it was the children, in the end,

Who proved to be his strongest

Champions, which he never forgot.

In Praise of Stones (Written August 28)

In Praise of Stones


For many years I’ve collected stones,

From beaches, at the bottom of cliffs,

Along country roads, or in fields


Where they pop up like mushrooms,

Hosts of them. Every stone is different,

One of a kind, just as every human being


Is different. But some are more interesting

Than others, more eye-catching,

For whatever reason. We walk over


Hundreds, thousands, or skip right by,

Then suddenly, one of them, perhaps

As large as our fist, perhaps so small


It’s a wonder we noticed, makes us stop

And look again, just one of them, among all

The others. Something attracts us, in a way


That we’d find hard to explain, if pressed.

It could be that it’s perfectly round,

Or that it’s heart-shaped, or egg-shaped.


It could be the unusual color, or the fancy

Markings, or the fact that we can see

Faint traces of a fossil, whether real


Or imagined. It could be the weight of it,

Or the feel of it in the palm of the hand.

It’s this one we want, and no other.

Who Cares (Written August 27)

Who Cares


I’ve been saving this one up for years,

Waiting for the right moment.

I want to see the look on your face.


I want to know what you have to say.

I want to know what you think.

I want to know many things,


But something inside me moves me

Further and further away. You ask me

If I am well, and I answer, No, I am not well,


I have not been well since the day you left,

Without so much as a good-bye. The room

Smells of licorice and mint. Is this to hide


The whiskey you drink? The whiskey

You always drank? I was eight the day

I saw you, from the top of the stairs,


With your hand in the cookie jar,

And you mind on escape. Who cares

If you live or die. I don’t.

Out of His Reach (Written August 26)

Out of His Reach


She shook her head roughly from side to side,

In answer to his plea. As much as she loved him,

She would not let him in again. She had learned


To understand and accept his obsession, his weakness

As he called it, but she could not accept his lying.

She could no longer trust him. He was a man


In his fifties, with strands of golden-brown hair

Placed carefully across his scalp, a dark tan,

And lips painted with a faint red lipstick.


Remarkably good-looking, when he wanted to be.

He shifted, perhaps just to put out his hand,

But it frightened her, and she stepped back,


Out of his reach. The chain on the door

Held fast. She let him talk, and she listened

To his words, but gave them no thought.


The story had progressed beyond whatever

He might have to say, or whatever he sought.

It was too bad, but she wanted him to leave.

Frail Boat (Written August 25)

Frail Boat


It was probably the hammering of the temples,

Which became more and more pronounced

As we came within sight of the island.


The sun was directly overhead and the glare

Was unusually intense. It was like waking

From a dream. I would never have believed


That such a frail boat, packed to overflowing

With runaways, could weather such a sea.

The land rose out of the water like a huge loaf


Of petrified bread. On the wharf a crowd

Had gathered to greet us as we inched our way

Into harbor. Everything was larger than life.


A girl, perhaps twelve, perhaps fourteen,

Standing at the edge of the wharf, not cheering

Or calling out like the others, looked at me.


She had reddish gold hair, and features

As grave and austere as a caryatid.

What we were running from no longer


Mattered, in the closeness of the embrace

We received. I felt what the parched earth

Must feel after a sudden and furious downpour.

Everywhere in This World (Written August 24)

Everywhere in This World


There is suffering and misery everywhere

In this world. Across the dark water

Of the back harbor, in an apartment


On the top floor of a brand-new building,

A man tells himself that he cannot go on,

Even one more day. As she scrambles


Aboard a helicopter in order to escape

Certain death, a girl, in despair, cries

For her father. On a Halifax street


A woman struggles to put her life

Together again, after her mother’s

Sudden death. Near a heap of rubble


That was once his family’s home, a boy,

When asked to talk about his dreams

For the future, says that he has no dreams.


Everywhere there is suffering and misery

In this world, among those we know,

And those we will never know.

Two Sides Are at War (Written August 23)

Two Sides Are at War


Two sides are at war in you,

A kind-hearted side that listens

To others, is open to their ideas,


Is generous, always gentlemanly,

Understanding of weakness,

Ready to forgive and forget,


And a competitive side

That insists on winning

At all costs, that will do


What has to be done,

That will make the “hard choices”

Without flinching, that can be


Ruthless when necessary,

That has no room for weakness,

For softness, for second best.


As the ocean rises and falls,

One or the other of these two sides

Will gain ascendency over the other,


But never for long. The great knack

That you have is to be able to balance

The two, so that they do not oppose


Each other but play off each other

In a fruitful way, adding to, rather than

Subtracting from the sum total.

Family Photos (Written August 22)

Family Photos


My grandfather’s gaze was steady

And defiant even at an early age.

His brother might have been bigger


And stronger, but if he dared pick on him,

He surely paid. Later, as a grown-up,

He grew plump and soft in his body,


But his eyes remained hard.

He seemed always to be looking

Somewhere else, not at the camera.


He was part of his family,

And yet not part of it.

My father, at the age of twelve,


Was already taller than grandfather,

And made him look elfin.

Unhappy with life, he abandoned his wife


And children, who were all in their teens,

Or younger, delivering a blow to their bodies

From which none of them ever recovered.

Some Nights (Written August 21)

Some Nights


Some nights she could not sleep and time

Was her enemy. It played tricks

On her. What seemed like hours


Was a few minutes on the clock.

The voice that whispered, You are worthless,

Worthless, worthless, kept rushing at her,


Like traffic on a highway, coming close,

Then receding, then approaching again,

Without let-up. It would be better


If you slipped quietly under the waves,

To be seen no more. Sleep

The sleep of the dead, never to wake.


You have had your moment in the sun,

You have tried and you have failed. Make

Peace with your enemies. Your time has come.

All Her Life (Written August 20)

All Her Life


But instead she came up behind him

And again put her arms around him.

She was not angry, she said, only hurt.


All her life she’d been told she was

No good, and would never amount

To anything. It was like a monkey


Sitting on her shoulder,

Whispering ugly words in her ear

The moment she began to think


Better of herself. As a mother,

As an artist, as a human being,

She wasn’t so bad, she guessed,


But the monkey had different ideas.

His breath rose and fell on her breast,

Blowing at her conceit like a bellows.