Thirty-six years of Valentines. We've gotten good
at this. We used to go to dinner out, resolutely not
discuss the children. Now they're gone, we talk
of nothing else-at dinner by the fire by candlelight.
We know how our bodies twine for safety, know
the fears that keep us both from sleep, failures shared
or not. In the music of this room, heirloom
carpet, walls etched with places
we have been, we celebrate
the time we've had and wonder
if a marriage might mean something more
than all the tangled skeins
produced by pain and knotted
with our longing for perfection.


The gravedigger's wife ponders

My Jake, he dug them all by hand,
well, with a pick and spade. So small,
you know, the baby graves, backhoes won't
do. I'd come out with him when I knew
a baby died. I wondered what he thought
each time he straightened up and wiped
the sweat away. Did he remember
little ones we lost? Each time as hard
as if it was the first, like a hole deep
in your belly.

He dug those too, so tiny you could dig
them with a spoon. We left that place
these many years ago, yet I still see the stones
small as pebbles beneath the maple.

Jake don't talk when he works.
I always wonder what he thinks about,
like when it's spring, does he remember
how it was when he was young and courted
me, when he would sing while we sat for hours
and laid out dreams? Maybe he only thinks how quick
the winters came to punish him, the ground too hard
to dig, corpses left aside until the thaw.

Or does he think of all we longed for then and wonder what
became of it? Does he ask why? And when the moon comes full
and you can read each letter carved in stone and every name
and date and every prayer, except the ones that time and weather
wore away, when all the stones cast shadows, some stretched
long and thin, some low and shaped like lambs or crosses or
like wings-what does he make of the moon's stark light
and of the pull? He doesn't plant or plan by its wax and wane
as I do, never names its mysteries, holes dug in the waxing
moon with too much dirt left over, holes dug at the wane
that you can't ever fill.


A Question of Angels

Eleven years ago, when planes plowed
into towers and the world came down,
I spent days staring at an image veiled
in smoke. It had the shape and feel of ladders leaning,
though I knew it must be made of broken beams. I wrote
at least one angel, maybe two, moving
up and down, holding bodies
in their arms.

My poet friend objects to angels, too tame,
too sentimental: cherubs poised on greeting cards
holding canopies for medieval Marys; Raphael's
baby angels, bemused and dreaming with dark,
stubby wings.

She doesn't know the ones I mean, the muscled kind you wrestle
with till dawn, the ones with flaming swords who guard
the Tree of Life, the ones with legs like fiery pillars, faces
like the sun; St. Michael and the angel hosts arrayed
against the dragon; angels disguised as strangers, lost
and needing shelter for the night.

The ones I saw remain,
more solid in that haze than we will ever be, standing
amid the ruins-holding us, and the ones
who flew the planes.


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