To the Woman Who Gave Nordstrom My Email Address by Mistake
Call it happenchance or a high-tech fluke, but what fun
shadow-shopping you and the purchases I’d never make.
Take your over-priced Chelsea Crewneck Top®
and Levi’s® High-Waisted Tapered Jeans.
Fashion statements, you’d claim, but what about Goodwill:
lightly-used designer clothes priced more rationally.
I must admit it tickled me you sent back that ugly yellow hat.
$68 was absurd and straw is nothing to be thrilled about.
How about a visor––like the glittery one I bought last year?
My $3.00 flea market steal earned slews of compliments
and would have saved your face from $65
3-star powder that couldn’t screen out anything.
By the way, I’m confused by the size of your clothes.
Last year you were a 16. Now you’re X-small.
Weight Watchers? Jenny Craig? How many snips and tucks
did Nordstrom make for all those alteration bills?
By now, I feel I know you well enough to share
a memory: clothes shopping with a mother who critiqued
my teenage size and weight to tears. Some days
I’m still in Christianson’s Department Store, hiding
in a dressing room, hating to be looked at, hating
to be seen, and … But ignore all that. I have to tell you
I’ve started to receive reservations for your Hilton Hotel stays
and tracking your whereabouts intrigues.
Since there’s intimacy in knowing what you wear over
your oh-so-slender shoulders, arms, hips, and legs,
perhaps we could meet poolside in Palm Springs next week.
I’ll be the one flaunting her ambitious breasts under
an off-white T, her thighs under red Bermuda shorts –
sizes XL – purchased at my local Target store.
When confronted with the limits of the known world,
a 16th-century European cartographer inscribed the warning
“Here Be Dragons” on a small copper globe. Beware: What lies
beyond is unexplored – and perilous.
– Jodi Cobb, “Strange Reflections,” National Geographic, March 2019
First you need a mountain even a mesa
butte bluff or high-rise balcony will do
any height to widen your view of oceans
forests canyons streams car-clogged arteries
joggers pacing past mothers strolling
strollers down leafy suburban streets
Then find the edge where the sky melts into
topography and wait for flames four legs
a scaly frame Listen for roars muting
seagull screams screeching cars or voices
quarreling beyond your backyard fence
Conjure up St. George to ward off your fear
Listen and wait How long is up to you
If they don’t appear ease yourself down
into the world-at-hand Begin to forage through
cracks and chinks and crevices through slits
and splits and rifts Be aware unknowns
find a way of sneaking through like love
and loss grief and regret prejudice and hate
Beware of perils lurking nearby Investigate
A sunny afternoon with Aimless Love on the patio
and a shepherd pup whining through the backyard fence.
She’s not amused I boarded up the slats she wiggled through
all week. Divots in the lawn, pawed-through flower beds,
fur caught on jagged wood annoyed. Anyway, I was about
to say before the dog butted in, it only takes one
Collins poem to set me off. Yesterday, “The Revenant.”
Today, “More Than a Woman” and I’m back to the NJ night
my Polish aunt slapped my twelve-year-old face. A reminder,
she said. Of what? I raged as she grabbed her cigarette and flicked
its growing ash. To be a woman, she inhaled my eyes, means
a life of pain. From across the dining room, Our first-blood ritual:
my mother’s only words as she wiped her hands of violence
I needed rescue from. I slammed my bedroom door and flung
red-spotted underwear across the room. And this was it: the start
of years plowing through closets and drawers, disavowing
dresses/stockings/girdles/make-up/heat-curled hair and facing
off taunting boys who couldn’t beat me on baseball fields;
of decades redefining cycles borne down centuries, composing
I’m more than a woman to me. I snap the book shut
and shout this anthem to the slanting sun.
Partners of Poets Anonymous (POPA) Opening for Business
We are pleased to announce
we are getting organized even as they type.
Our name – alliterative with a snappy acronym –
has been approved along with our statement of intent:
We support those who appear – favorably
or not – in their partner’s poetry.
We agree even when references are compliments,
they prompt a blushing slump in front row seats
while our partners steal the stage and earn
applauds – and often laughs – at our expense.
On first Mondays, we’ll gather to commiserate –
in spite of the odds it’s some poet’s birthday –
and rotate through bookstores, libraries,
coffee shops, or any other site where poets read.
We want our hosts to understand how it feels
to lie naked on a page – even quasi-anonymously.
At our kick-off event, we’ll hash out
By-Laws, elect a board, and discuss raising funds.
Monies will be earmarked for annual retreats
as far away as possible from poets sitting
alone in restaurants, softening their eyes
surreptitiously across a glass of wine –
waiting, no doubt, to scribble everything
we do or say in a treacherous notebook.
A caveat: If one day we discover we miss
our smile, eyes, shoulders, turn of head, or timbre
of voice landing in the monument of a poem;
or if we say something no one else could say
and find it abandoned on some wordless road;
or if we start to grieve for those sweet renderings
of who we are in well-crafted verse – if that day
arrives, we’ll disband and burn our By-Laws.
Pay attention and you’re saved.
It pays to pay attention – which is not
like paying bills, the pizza delivery guy,
or the piper – wherever he may pipe.
Nor is it like paying compliments,
taxes, penalties, dues, visits, respect,
or up-down-forward-back for anything.
Crime doesn’t pay, unless it does.
Neither does arrogance when you nip
your own line to title this poem.
But when oblivion’s about to hit
pay dirt and saving’s worth a fight,
rouse attention, slumped in the doorway
of your shuttered mind. Focus its eyes
on barefaced possibilities peeking
through blossoms of an aging cherry tree.
To those of you who will not die today:
walk through your home and bless the open doors,
the table set, the breadth of sun lounging
on the Persian rug. Catalog the small
contentments you have earned: eager words vying
for a poem, work you’ll never have to do
again, backyard squirrels that entertain.
Praise every squill, crocus, and bleeding heart
that dares subvert winter’s calendar.
Invite young mysteries in and seat them
between answers you have no questions for
and ponderables still unclassified.
It goes with saying, listen attentively.
Then tomorrow, if it arrives, repeat.
To My About-to-be-Ex Therapist
About our session this afternoon, I’m confused:
you diagnosed my ergophobia with sadness
in your voice. No offense, but after 40 years
of Type-A overdrive, I’ve earned this new paradigm.
Put this in your notes: I’ve replaced chronic threats
of nothing-to-do with perfected laziness.
My fear of boredom? Relieved by mindfulness.
From my ergonomic chair, I spend hours
tracing the texture of walls and studying
slight tilts of Chinese serigraphs.
I’m happy to report the woman side-saddling
the panther’s back hasn’t slipped off yet
and the lotus pond hasn’t flooded our family room.
As for the cobwebs swaying behind the étagère?
They haven’t ceased to captivate. Anyway,
thanks for helping me define work as what
I say it is. My business suits and black pumps
are up for grabs at Goodwill; my office files
free of contracts, flight plans, and syllabi.
I’m noodling with a blog about the joys
of nothing much. Maybe you’ll subscribe.
Waiting for a Bus to the Cloisters Museum
She rushes down the brownstone steps
and asks me to zip up her floral dress
since her husband’s still asleep and she’s late
for brunch with friends whose spouses bore
them to the brink of death she says
as she pulls her hair off her neck so I can trace
the curve of her back past a half-slip’s waist
over the bra that defies gravity
to pearls announcing elegance
and I’m embarrassed by a brush
with faultless skin as my nun’s short veil tangles
with the wind from buses zipping by
and when she says without judgment
or dismay You’re a rarity it’s true –
a stranger dressed in black appearing
just in time via Providence or Chance –
and she slides into a cab leaving me
bemused by her epiphany and eager
to contemplate seven storied tapestries.
Everything Good Between Us
I have no ear for singing and seldom land on a black or white. Listen in your head, you say when I change keys five times. I’m scatting, I try. Good luck with that, your reply.
Whoever is in the driver’s seat is incompetent. My gas pedal foot never behaves and my mind strays off the road. You’re writing poems again, you call me back. Where are we going? I ask.
You strut your Nordstrom’s strut through the mall, dismissing a dozen clothing stores by the time I consider one. Quintessence of style, you lamentate my disregard for what I wear.
Everything defaults to me: the glasses you lost somewhere, the key that doesn’t fit, the celery I bought that wasn’t plump enough. Trade-off? You ignore my grumpiness.
You have to listen faster, you complain when I ask for a repeat. I can’t keep up when you allegro through health, finance, politics, and theology.
The time between a rift and a reconcile grows shorter every year. We slam doors, conjure up a laugh, reconnect to our own happiness. And, ah! there’s always that kiss.
In every grocery store, I turn right, you turn left. I’m the counter-, you’re the –wise. Inevitably, at noon or midnight we meet – you with salty, me with sweet.
When I invite you to talk about death, you reply, I haven’t tried it yet. When I say, Then talk about miracles, you smile, What’s the difference?
When chaos sneaks up and threatens our equanimity, we look it in the eye, grab each other’s hands, and dance to the music of the spheres.
When I run out of things to write, I’ll pose you against a baby grand like Barbra, Liza, or Elaine belting out show tunes to the neighborhood. Everything about you sings a poem.
Ready are you? What know you of ready?
If this were my final day on earth, I’d like to think
I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with my coffee mug,
watching the sun scramble through our winded firs,
hoping the squirrels and feral cats would walk
the backyard fence. I’d like to say goodbye.
No doubt I’d check the morning news – another night
of death-by-belief, natural and unnatural catastrophes,
sixty-five million souls adrift in un-homelands.
This misery, I’d comfort myself, will ease the letting go.
I would hear you open the bedroom door,
walk down the stairs – steady as any day
before – and look at me expectantly.
We would sit side-by-side, agreeing
there’s nothing useful in worrying,
nothing helpful in judgment or regret.
I’d memorize the cadence of your voice,
the sharpness of your deep brown eyes.
I’ll know them when we meet again.
Just so you understand, I am not afraid.
I’ve been there before. The fact remains
my last day may end tonight or in two dozen years.
For now, there’s nothing more to do than warm
my coffee up, cheer on the squirrels and cats,
and tell you I love who and where we are.
While earth counts up its scars, take my hand.
Let’s watch the sun break free above the firs.
from Thin Places
All I need
A few skyward things: one steady star
to guide, one constellation to bet
a myth upon, one quasar to break
the dark. The rest is ornament.
One mountain to announce it’s ripe
for bulbs and seeds to multiply
without a first or second thought.
Birth deserves tranquility.
A frenzy of birds at sleeptide’s ebb,
tornados of gnats at dusk’s flow.
Two feral cats. Two red-tailed hawks.
Days that warrant wilding up.
A word for grace or luck or hope
when the mountain blocks my star.
In-the-bone love for all that’s lost.
Something born to lead me home.
Salieri, after a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden, October, 1791
The cheap seats love the man.
Each night he lures them from slogging streets
into the pomp and pageantry of fairy tales
with music that makes the angels cry.
They love the oboes courting flutes, bassoons
entwined in clarinets; strings outracing
trombones, trumpets, tubas, horns
toward kettledrums shuddering the boards
beneath their feet. They care not for scores
or virtuosity. They want delight—
magic doors, scenes that fly,
finales—and more, und mehr.
I hide behind red drapes high
above the crowd, and watch them watch
the note-barrage shooting from his fingertips.
And when the coloratura soars
toward F above high C, I catch them catch
their breath before their “Bravos!”
seize the chandeliers where magic drips
from candle wax. The pulse-throb
of the aria vibrates my skin.
I want to cry. Divinity has voice.
But when the curtain falls
the deafening applause unhinges me.
“Encore! Encore!” reminds
this lesser child of God,
he’s fated second-best.
Heaven-hurt, I never could compose
so many notes across a page;
never could raise a mundane crowd
above its seats as that little man
with fire in his fingertips.