Slipping over museum marble floors, it was so easy— movement between places and people. In this room,
modern American painters, step to the next, to traditional African pots. Not so outside
the hush of those halls of protection, navigating the living, struggling city. A street
I’m driving, paved and passable as any other, stops suddenly at a chain-link fence
stretched across. The projects beyond. And people I am not to reach, or rather, who are not to reach me.
The radio does, with its talk of how a wall could border the whole country. Some among us truly wish this.
So I cannot see a saving metaphor in wire’s mesh, how light, at least, passes through.
In the museum, there was a stencil, paper cut-outs stitched on strands of silk. These were stretched across
fabric and that washed over with the juice of persimmons, centuries ago. Surely, what the maker thought of most,
deciding on the delicate incisions we still admire, was where dye would be allowed to go, the openness
in the design. Art is the good we do. Yet, it does not quite support the belief better is ahead. It can only be said
that there are a few fine scraps that survive. I hope someone who has made it farther along
this street than my idling car is putting paper to use to cut a chain of dolls for a girl. And she will be let,
for some afternoon hours of her life, to unfold them. To think of the hands as a link.
When to Wear a Strapless Dress, and Not Consider What is to Come
When I was measured for a wedding gown, my hips were found to be exactly half the width of my shoulders. This form, and the fashion among many women to hunger and hone away hips, could have been a caution, about a future we should not bear children into, that would bring to our shoulders great weight. The field where I was married nearly burned before the year turned. Questions circled, smoldering. Was the drought that dried it the first of the natural disasters, of thirsts we’d feel for what had been our civility? What’s coming, or can be hoped? I cannot foresee when flames, the sea, and bigotry will rise, or borders, presses, and the blessed chapters of bookish lives be closed. But I have studied European poets, and, before exile and execution, before quieter oppressions that may not stay foreign, they felt the careful forms of starched napkins, saw the architecture of spiral stairs and turrets’ upward aims, and tasted citrus’s aesthetic of sugar and sharpness, which fed their lines, so fine, and brief. My friends sat in folding chairs opened for the evening’s occasion in the field, the green and growing field lit by fireflies’ short blazes. The full river and my full skirt as I passed over the grass to give a promise of all the years ahead made like-minded sounds. I was told I was beautifully slim. Slimness was a measure in which we were happy to consider beauty.
Wildfires, Election Week
“Beneath the surface,” I write. “Crossing over,” I note,
selecting from the news, for a poem, these few phrases
which sound saving. But they are speaking of fire.
Fire and a tree, how deep into the bark the burn to be deadly.
Fire and the river, the barrier it may leap.
The sky is smoke-dark. These are days of no dawns, do feel an end-time.
And we’re deserving of judgement, given what we’ve elected.
Maybe it is time to think differently, to stop the editing, the excepting. To say,
let the fire come. Let it burn all the fuel and in that way finally be put out.
The fuel, which is what we have built, leaving the earth bare to begin again.
Against such sweeping statements, a small example again stands, redeeming excerpt
from the wreckage: A Cherokee council oak, older than this country, under which the tribe
met to settle differences, deserves to survive the blaze. And it may because people
have kept clear the ground around. Flames don’t grow so high or hot
in maintained grass—care taken come to some purpose.
Though the Cherokee were driven from the land where hate stayed,
deportation is the talk today, and defeats define the history of good.
Which keeps on going. Add to the losses my little lines, refined until they fail
to represent the majority of what I see. In the end, they do nothing
but turn thoughts to the grace of a tree. So willfully.