For fifty years
she wrote to Yolanda
in foreign prose,
sharing secrets as she once did
walking home from school.
Argentina and girlhood
a lifetime ago.
Reality: three kids, then grandkids,
a troubled husband, an aging mother,
an Arkansas farm.
Yet every letter promised
that someday she'd return.
Now they are on the tarmac
stooped, with the uncertain step of age.
Words catch in their throats
as their hands caress the other's cheeks,
wipe away the other's tears,
and their eyes see only
the girls they were –
their secrets safe.
I had a new camera –
a Nikon with filters and ten rolls of film.
I fancied myself an artiste abroad, judging
optimal angles, light source, shutter speed.
I fell in love with doors –
the heavy, textured wood in fading blues
and reds, ornate locks and hinges
forged of iron, sometimes
with geraniums, a bucket,
or a broom of twigs nearby.
I almost missed her standing
near the church – one with twelve-foot,
hand carved doors, sunlight catching
in the bas relief of saints and sinners.
Tiny, wizened, hunched,
she stood sentry in her widow's black,
face convulsed in sorrow like Christ
on the cross. Her trembling palm
pleaded silently for alms.
She would cross herself in reverence
if a coin were tossed her way.
What a picture, I thought. Wow.
The quintessential portrait of supplication.
I saw her as the centerpiece in my array of doors –
ancient portals, ancient figure, ancient land.
I approached her, showed my camera,
offered what I deemed a tempting sum.
She took the coins and blessed my venture.
I set the aperture and tried to frame the shot,
but my Beggar of Greece had disappeared.
In her place I saw a woman, dressed the same
but taller, smiling, brushing a wisp
of hair from her face, smoothing her skirts,
fussing with her sweater so the tatters wouldn't show.
Dammit, I thought. That's not what I want.
But I politely snapped the pose, nodded thanks,
and went back to filming doors.
Turns out my well-planned "doors as art"
looked dumb when I got home –
like plain old doors. Instead, framed on my dresser
is an elderly Greek widow – dignified,
delighted that I'd pay a hundred drachmas
to take her picture.
For fifty years mother’s face reflected
a marriage she endured,
a man she didn’t love.
But when he was blind and frail in hospice,
she visited him often,
and when he reached out, groping for her hand,
she would smile and move it
(again and again)
just out of reach.
Honey-thighed surf children
chase the ebb,
bare feet etching
pockmarked sand. Another
surge, crashing, scrambling,
tumbling water bubbles/babies
catching sun beams.
Scientists see tides and wind
tug at eternity,
the vast liquidity of earth.
Poets find analogy:
cosmic force pursuing, crushing
fragile human frames
and timid hearts,
while sun-kissed fledglings' merriment
is incidental, drily pondered –
this ecstasy of splashing play.
The robin sings at first light,
announcing new life in the old pine. Below,
sheltered by scruffs of willow
a fox kit blinks at sunrise from his den.
The barn cat’s manger nursery has sweet hay.
Fields glow nascent green,
and orchards burst white promises of harvest.
Mortals, blind with logic, claim
January starts the year,
while Nature shakes her lovely head
and smiles, knowing
it begins in April.
The Day Fred Died
he asked us to sing The Teddy Bears Picnic.
Fred couldn't sing anymore. Pneumocystis
and radiation had scarred his throat and lungs.
“I'm waiting for the swallows to come back,"
he croaked, “you know, like Capistrano.”
If you go out in the woods today
you'd better go in disguise . . .
We reminisced about growing up
in the 50s with Saturday morning's treat
after chores – the Big John and Sparky
radio show, its teddy bear theme song,
and Sparky's impossible adventures.
Sparky the elf, like Fred, wanted
(more than anything) to be a real boy.
At six o'clock their mommies and daddies
will take them home to bed . . .
we sang as he drifted into a final morphine sleep –
the man who raised enviable tomatoes,
wore cowboy boots, gave huge, enthusiastic hugs,
loved ribald jokes and trimming the tree at Christmas
because they're tired little teddy bears.
There’s a slow awakening to death.
In youth, it’s a solar eclipse you didn’t expect.
You look away. Fear blindness.
At midlife you make the cardboard pinhole shield,
warding off the glare and the blackness at the core.
Finally, when they’re commonplace – after two,
then three, then four, you turn and stare them down
with your bags packed.