Photograph by guest arts editor, Colin Grubel.
Read about the art selection process for this piece here.
On Ojibway Island
Seeking herons’ pointed beaks, egrets’ plumes,
I idle beyond the empty band shell,
its warping panels.
I follow the circular drive,
its one-way path,
with water to my right, lawn always left,
but find no comfort,
of picnic lunches calling to crows,
white historical markers
turning grey under basalt skies.
The local AM preacher
asks for alms, preys on the prayerful,
but on Ojibway,
first masses were offered
in thick québecois.
Father Nouvel pinned black robes,
brown woolens, between knee, soggy ground.
I imagine him leading his devout, the paid, the cajoled,
toward the Shiawassee flats,
purple phlox standing tall, heads bowed.
Mosquito choirs remain,
but faith, wonder are fleeting—
could he find beauty in blue chicory
growing in asphalt’s crumbling edge?
gang symbols sprouting on river concrete,
spiraling like the spent balls of clematis,
the culled forests replaced by utility poles,
Leaving this island,
where the Sauks are no more,
I follow gravel rivers flowing both ways.
Behind the court house,
its walls of concrete justice,
church gardens show off maroon peonies
that emerge from ants,
that hide legs under ruffled skirts;
celebrate the curved stems,
striped leaves of nasturtium
that escape from stony seeds;
praise the yellow pansies with purple masks.
Nearby, condemned signs, printed on red paper,
are taped to doorways, sinking foundations.
Eviction glows like a new scar, the mark of Cain.
Cookfires, hope have become orange smoke
helixing on the horizon.
* * *
Reunion, Late Summer
Through her bay window,
sun sinks into water,
reminds me of a communion wafer bypassing teeth,
an egg yolk swallowed whole.
Hummingbirds flit about feeders;
iridescent breasts, metallic silk shawls,
glitter like stained glass.
While she prattles about
balancing in kayaks,
between the evaporated tracks
I tally changes, constants:
sarcasm remains, but not the beehive;
eyebrows are still plucked into perpetual surprise.
I dream of Audrey Hepburn in Charade.
We settle in the breakfast nook
where a wrought-iron patio set sprouts
from green shag.
Fleurs-de-lis form table legs.
A crack splits its glass
top. Her toenails curving under,
her left foot turned out,
she hobbles about in terrycloth,
turquoise, pain, a knit cap
despite the heat.
I try to set the table, guess where
silverware, potholders might be,
always off the mark,
the thread off the loom,
feather poking through pillows.
more crone than fairy godmother,
she acknowledges my distress,
calls of “where, where?”
I can’t find forks but know
bags of bottles, gallon jugs of Gallo green,
line garage walls.
My evil self plans escape,
eyes telegraphing distress calls to my wife—
glances, eye rolls become dots, dashes,
the click of metal
meeting metal, silver, copper,
the message known only by paired stationmasters;
faith, for them, resides
in the medium, warp, weft, line.
Fearing the future,
a repeated past,
I study my aunt in profile, against the glass,
The nightingale’s kir-kir-kir hovers
over greying water; cattails sway
like ticking metronomes in the wake
of purple martins, swallows,
silenced, at twilight.
* * *
Sweet stars, I’ll ask a softer question: Moon
attend me to the end. I’m here alone.
–Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire
He hides beneath blue hydrangeas
lining his Uncle Karl’s home.
The Kreuzer sonata, though the boy can’t name it,
washes over him,
funneled between the open space
linking sill, sash,
carrying the burning kerosene of hurricane lamps.
As German lieder fall,
his chin on his knees,
he leans into rounded cobblestones,
scent of cooled compost.
Wet leaf-mould glints in perpetual dusk.
He studies the rising clapboards
of his home, whitewashed, rigid.
Squares of light, filtered through gingham,
still carry the glare of church elders
anointed with tobacco, tea, indignation.
The greenhouse, its slick walls,
remains another option.
The rising moon repeats
in each pane
like a series of dominoes,
a single pip in each square,
one on one on one,
one by one by one.
Flowers under night glass are
but shadows, blue gardens
in humid air.
Between leaves, arthritic twigs,
he scans skies for sweeter stars.
* * *
Intercession, or Torso Turning
Oversized chestnut leaves,
marked by beige blight moving from edges inward,
separate Jeanne de Fiennes from day’s eye;
his emptied sockets
ignore the gold spreading over his foot.
This rash inches upward,
growing from touch
His spine is a furrow,
cut deep by a rusting plow.
Fingers remain spread,
the ball of the left foot planted
the sole a bridge to nowhere.
Lips are parted—to speak? to scream?—
I wait to hear his voice.
I leave this martyr, his shadow, this shade,
for wild roses teeming with lemon centers,
layers of mums,
white on white,
each smaller than the last,
like nesting dolls,
the pebbled path unwinding like a loose thread.
I follow this Parisian stream of stone,
pink, grey, white
sights obscured by ornamental grass
ever reaching upward;
Here stones make a scratching noise under foot.
Here saints’ suffering, sacrifice remain
here I hope to find you.
* * *
naming the memory ward
on movie night
where credits never run
nurses push patrons
(as if diners would order this dish)
the screen is a sheer sheet
white as a pumpkin seed
i imagine edges burning inward
i leave the day’s burning eye
adjust to ward walls, today’s verbal games
a bird in the hand
poops pecks pleads
it’s raining cats
a rose is a rose is a
don’t throw the baby out
a perfect score
you still lose
tvs burn blue
yesterday’s menu loops
beef bacon baloney
i carve with sharpies
a deflated blouse
blue scarf bursting with begonias
sharp lines bleed
photos mark months
scalloped sepia surfaces in september
bridesmaids and bouquets bear blanks
you ask their names
i have no answer
so i try to bring the outdoors in
line your windowsill
name what I can
rosemary red basil lavender
late fall brings baby albums
another hospital bed
iris pinned to your chest
priests peddle blessings in bottles
even i know their line
(what do you ask of the church)
from your tongue
like words from your past
wrestle with candy wrappers
stripped of sweetness
raspberries resurrecting roommates
surrounded by seagrass
cradled by cotton
you stare to space
i refuse the visitor log
blaming blooms in my fingers
christmas cacti burn blood-red at easter
i stake mums in shade
to tether stalk to stick
i brush against obedient plants
pinked petals elongate
into empty-eyed needles
phones stay still
i transplant aster after aster
today i may be your father brother uncle
telling you go go