Category Archives: poetry

The rose trellis

It takes time to rebuild what one tempest brings down.  (Tempest in literal hours or metaphor as months or years, pick your perspective.)  First, you’ve got to cut back the wreckage of roses, years’ worth of beautiful growth, heirlooms and hybrids, all tangled and thorny and a veritable reminder of what you’ve left lying dormant too long, then let it lie until the blooms have died back and you’ve filled all the vases all over the house with the beauty that still (still) is there, no matter the mess of it all.

And then, when it’s all been cut back, runners and canes gone to ground and all of the pruned bits are bundled and bagged and then (inspiration!) why don’t you have stackable trashcans for this (the old dog has tricks in her yet, because you may be a bitch but that term doesn’t mean anything here in the yard) it’s all set aside and you’ve even remembered the date for yard waste pickup (it feels good to be organized, like a real adult, yes it does) you’ve got to pull down the wreck of the wood you put up with some kind of “help” decades ago.  Now, power and hand tools and pry bars and sledgehammers at hand, your shoulders and arms ache in different ways than they did when the trellis went up the first time, when much shouting and swearing about levels and measures and the “right” way occurred, when really, roses don’t care as long as there’s some kind of solid support. Eight-five degrees versus ninety won’t kill a wild thing as long as the inches and feet all add up and the ends meet, more or less.  (Now your eyes sting with sweat and sawdust and your arms shake with effort, but you shoulder the support beams yourself as you pry them away where the masonry anchors are rusted fast to the wall, and that rip-crack feels good, in a way, saying something final the tempest did not.  Destruction can be good for the soul.)

And then it’s time to rebuild.  There’s the handheld masonry bit, your grandpa’s whom you never knew except through his tools and this house with its ancient wiring that holds, that and the set of your father’s chin, just like his dad’s in the photographs on top of the silent piano.  The chink of old iron against stone is satisfaction itself, the reverberation through your body from the bit/hammer/swing of your arm placing new anchors (ones that you bought without interference from dudes who may well have wanted to help, but you’ve got Storey’s Wisdom and the internet, too, not to mention a basement full of a dead master contractor’s bits, bolts and bobs and why not put history to your own use, this time?).  There’s a feel not just of power but of placement, creation, in the whir-grind-hot burr of the old (as old as you) Skil power drill, extended from the garage thanks to the trench you dug through the yard two years ago and the line you had laid out from the house (sometimes it’s okay to accept you have your limits) as the special concrete bits dig in and bite, take anchor and pull you forward as you push, cast your anchors in stone and then set your planks, two by four by eight hardwood cut to fit the wonky dimensions of mortar and stone.

Vertical struts go on first, drilled and anchored and screwed as the sun crosses the sky and hits your neck and shoulders around the crabapple tree (and today you don’t look up for Icarus, no, today you’re not flying too close or falling, not trying and failing, glorious in momentary success, today you’re just a gardener, because catching a fish feeds you one day, but fixing your garden feeds you for months in more than just the physical way), and then once they’re done, the horizontal slatwork, easy, compared, but un-anchored and needing more verticals to hold the whole rigging in place.  It’s a sailboat of sorts, though it’s a ship that sails with the seasons and sun, and not with the wind– at least, you hope not for a while, not like the last blow that brought the last bout of hard work cracking down.

And then last but not least, the oil stain, rubbed on by hand as the ladder teeters a bit underfoot– but it’s not far to the ground, and you’re not wearing wax wings, nor will you be hurt by more than some thorns (would that thorns were all that could hurt us), because you’ve been careful in your construction to pick up the nails, screws and bolts as you go, to be tidy and not leave too much scrap because as you’ve worked, the roses have already budded green, inches and feet gained back from the retraining you gave them at the start of this all.   There’s a moment of silence for the dragonfly who flew too close and was wing-splattered with stain.  He is still, stiff by the time you see him, resting on top of a thatch of Lillian Gibson’s regrowth, a fingernail’s worth of driftwood-colored weatherproofing forever stilling his flight.  It’s an unworthy thought, to think that some flies must die so that things bigger than them can live, but still, there’s something else, if not worthy, than worthwhile of acceptance:  even when you’re rebuilding a rose trellis with as much care as you can, you can’t look everywhere all the time, and there are bound to be splits in the wood, spots that you’ve missed, and tempests that you cannot predict, somewhere, off, outside the yard.

Too, it’s a comfort to know (grounding, it is) that just you, Storey’s Wisdom, a well-planned trip to Lowe’s, and the contents of your dad’s and grandfather’s basement built you something your roses, crabapples, and other things to be fruitful and counted-upon in the future, built this all by yourself, give or take five degrees.  You’ve taken a measure, and somehow, it fits.

Late realization (the wannabe cat lady’s lament)

Sometimes I think back and wonder what the hell I was thinking,
staying so long with someone whose objection to cats was cat hair
and the commitment that might be involved in getting someone
to feed them if we ever went on the vacations we didn’t take all that much,
that and protecting all that hand-me-down furniture we never paid for.
I could have been cuddling (for decades) a wet-nosed purr-ball of love
instead of someone afraid of mess and commitment. After all,
if you can’t fix it with duct tape, a swiffer, and other friends
who have cats, you need to reexamine your choices.

I’m off to the pound.

Wild and precious

It’s not summer yet– we’re barely broken from winter
but the days are starting to hold that verge of wet
of mud, of emergent green, and the breeze may still bite down to the bone
but the sun is just that smidge brighter, the light a little more gold.
It’s enough of a promise to make the tangle of brush littered under the
thornhedge, the long brambles themselves in dire need hacking
a challenge, not something so daunting to send me back under cold covers.
The just now full moon is low in the still twilight sky–
not day, not night,
but that inbetween state when everything waits,
everything’s poised.

I am finally ready to leap even though last week, or was it last night,
I was ready to fall, or was it to crash?
Still, each day is different, I’m learning,
and today I heard a poet reading her verse about whelks.
I remembered that time toward the end
when we took a walk and collected our own– beautiful, broken,
all hollowed out.  I left them in the bowl your brother’s wife gave us when I left,
along with so much else of our life.  In abandoning most of our things,
it wasn’t so much a clean break as the fact that you can’t take it with you,
and it’ll just break your heart if you try.
Those whelks, though– it’s strange, the things your memory holds on to.
I know there were good times enough to make me stay so long,
not just my own fear or yours that kept me hanging around,
but all those times are blurred versus those last few trips
all tinged with the last light of summer, that and the things
that still make me burn with rage.
In hindsight, I should have leapt in the spring, but I’d hoped
you would be able to make the leap with me, to try to hold on,
so I won’t fault myself for trying.  Someone had to.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
You, unable to help yourself, much less me, and me,
asking for help you couldn’t admit I was always going to need?
It wasn’t so simple a matter as clearing out the winter’s detritus
or waiting for spring.   It wasn’t as clean as admitting
that things had changed, like the way sand and tide
whittled those whelks.
I still don’t know what a partnership is,
but I do know to walk away
from those who cannot choose joy simply
because they will lose it some day– that knowing, at least
is a prayer that I be my own best companion.

People and things are evanescent, it’s true.
I don’t know what you were expecting
in a world where we’re all born to die.
It is all wild and precious and, for the moment,
part of our life.  I know how to pay attention to that,
even if the attention is caressing the brittle shells of late winter,
rather than admiring the slime trail the snail leaves in June.
The snail doesn’t know how long he is here.
He just takes his time, and enjoys each blade of grass
during his slow, messy, mucous progress.
Perhaps that’s the first kind of prayer, the steady snail crawl.
Slow, onward, with your home on your back.

(With apologies to Mary Oliver & The Summer Day)

What some people call home

Eating a pomegranate is a serious commitment.
Demeter and the rest of her Olympian pals
missed that memorandum,
borne nowhere by Hermes’ winged sandals,
but then again, a pyschopomp’s job
is to steer souls where they belong.

All that wailing and gnashing of teeth,
the maternal winter, the drama.
The story always tells it like this:
Poor little Persephone, she had
no idea six seeds of a rubyfruit
would condemn her to be Hell’s new bride.

The fact is, we’ll never know.
I like to imagine the part where
poor little Persephone took the sharpest
knife she could find, dug deep into the pith,
sliced off the top and then dug in her thumbs.
She cracked it wide open, that garnet temptation,
grenadine staining her arms
before she plucked out those sweet-sour teeth,
flicked the bitter seed-cushions off her fingers,
and rolled the soft-hard fruit in her mouth
before biting down, the agrodolce
so different from the gentle-hay tickle of summer,
the mealy-mouthedness of pommes.

Plus, Hades wasn’t that bad of a guy,
even if his place was a little bit shady.
He kept his hands to himself,
not like most of her uncles/ fathers/ incestuous clan,
and he never appeared as anything but what he was,
kind of grim, kind of sad, the real deal.

Pomegranate’s a wintertime fruit,
at least in some climes.
Imagine the things a lady will do,
just to get away from what some people
call home.