• A FAMILY TIE

    She lit the candles
    of kindness, one by one,
    until her ‘Pray for me'
    and my unuttered
    ‘I will mind you in the only state
    time is safe, that is, memory'.

    Your haunting by a younger self
    tests a courage to keep faith
    when so much disappears -
    friends to age, the land itself.
    The waves that weep on one lakeshore
    leave the other wet with tears.

    All that was long before I learned
    (if I've learned anything)
    because I read a sign
    that any life might be
    the same length as
    a strand of twine.

    Time, is it? Or time that's left?
    The hours in which we partake
    are but a trick
    of retrospect and longing.
    When you left home
    it was I who was homesick.

    Now what was and is
    have separated, but are still twins
    within that mystery
    of time - or time and place,
    as if a place
    had but a single history.

    For it was not a letting go,
    no, more a series
    of sheddings.
    How often have I quoted her -
    you can't dance
    at all the weddings.

    Now you chase your hearts
    and aces the days bequeath
    but brittle traces.
    We might grow by healing.
    Be strong, my love,
    in the broken places.

    I'd wake and want to give
    the ordinary day
    its due.
    Who enters age amenably?
    Who but a lucky few
    complete their lives? It's true,

    I'd seek the making
    of a summer
    in a single swallow.
    Do good work,
    I'd tell myself,
    and the rest will follow.... more »

  • A SUMMER FLOOD

    Again, I went out
    to the new wood
    because, at times as these
    it is a true good

    to be alone
    among the tree
    I planted and trans-
    planted, and an ease

    among steadfast companions
    to be one who believes
    that answers can emerge
    in leaves.

    There was disquiet
    in the house, a whirl-
    wind in the ways and days
    of our most lovely girl.

    They stroked her like water
    (that is, everywhere), the worries
    and the woes, first deaths,
    her teenage tragedies.

    How live two lives
    of here and there?
    (Wherever ‘there' may be.)
    May she pause (I make my prayer),

    like salmon in the estuary -
    our daughter -
    acclimatizing
    to fresh water

    en route
    towards a stay in gravelly mud
    and waiting for
    a summer flood

    to tide them
    over. Now contrails
    scratch the sky. I watch
    the mayfly hatch.

    And then what had been
    leafage in the night
    began to ruffle
    feathers, ready to take flight,

    and birdsong happened
    for me - no, for us
    all - solo first,
    then in chorus.... more »

  • AN OUTLOOK

    They have ruffled
    the embers of evening
    and flap from its flames.
    They come like clockwork,
    minutes later every eventide,
    a loud returning that proclaims

    the row of lines in which
    they pause, en route to roosting
    in the rookery, a place of rest.
    They sketch black scripture
    in the sky. They watch
    from trees where they don't nest -

    these pairs and threes, tens
    and dozens making thousands -
    while I, intent on praise
    and mesmerized, wonder what,
    as they fly by, they might be
    and realize: they are the days.... more »

  • LATE SENTINELS

    How would they know whether
    they're coming or going
    as they swish that way and this
    in such fierce weather,

    those winter trees between
    the window and the lake,
    those snappy ashes
    and that steadfast evergreen,

    its ivy clinging on for life?
    The tips of Sitka spruces bend
    like sailboats in a storm at sea.
    Sturdy sceptres, emblems of strife.

    Shrubs stand unshaken in the shelter
    of an alcove, under eaves.
    Late sentinels - their woodland
    cousins flurry in a welter

    of distress as when in fright
    we start awake and worry
    where we are. We scan the nap
    by lightning's light.

    And so to whom now will we turn,
    now that the long nights
    lean on us? Now who or what
    will guide us as they burn,

    those fires of house and hearth,
    in guttery flickers?
    As if there were no end to plenty
    we plundered earth.

    Where are they now, those chaste priestesses
    who tended embers born from Troy
    and kept them lighting year on year
    for centuries? For anyone who transgresses

    nothing worse than the shame -
    not even the mandatory sentence,
    that became our task and duty. We had
    their trust. They held us as protectors of the flame.... more »