Far down the stuccoed tunnel they come
camouflage, rifles, helmets, from the blue
smudge end that is the vanishing point,
that is sky, freedom, flight. They stride
in line, deliberate, serious like the eight
boys huddled around a bicycle strung
with yellow and red pennants, with blue-
threaded wheels, who’ve stopped playing,
who are watching the men. They squint
in the loud sun, the sun narrows their eyes—
what will you become? you’ve a lifetime—
too late, their eyes are captured, desire shot
down to their marrow, streaked with play,
with the good dirt of Haifa like the driveway
my three brothers stood in one day, sun-
squinting, toy rifles straight on their shoulders,
straight backs, straight line, three strong
boys captured at play, kept in the family
album, saved, saved before they knew
where they were going
–after a news photo of Baghdad, May 24, 2005
Blue, voluptuous, pending through iron
to my yard. These globes don’t stop their progress
as an ant doesn’t, though he’s slower to trespass
what they don’t realize the fence marks ours.
Our own. If I could own these, I could not
grow them, if I could grow them, I could not
keep them from their natural rate. If I could,
I would not, the grace to die being a grace.
Distant absorber now, of sun, air, mineral—
as I am—coming closer, needs no forgiveness.
Full as breasts, as hemispheres fused, as blue lungs
and the hands of the beloved at his blue bench.
You feed my eyes. You breathe.
You need no disguises.
Do the lights work? Who has the keys?
Are we sheltered?
The road had more cracks than before.
I don’t like small rooms.
Are there mice here?
Look, the mountains are black.
Where did the squirrel go?
Are they baking in the city?
These pillows are feather.
I don’t care what happened in the city.
Is there a can opener?
Let’s listen to the air.
The sky is blue.
Where’s the bathroom?
How do you make a tree?
No, the wheelchair won’t go upstairs.
These ferns resemble hair.
Children should be seen.
Have you lost your glasses?
Will the rock move?
There’s a wasps’ nest.
Are the nails sharp?
Is the apothecary closed?
How high was the flooding?
Is that clock right?
Does the TV work?
Did they find the bomb in time?
Who moved the hammock?
Was he wearing a bullet-proof vest?
Why is this frog white?
Must we have peaches?
Must we work?
The trees are saying something.
Must you shout?
Someone hid the hummingbirds.
Someone took the mailbox.
How bad is the ozone?
Children should be clean.
I want popcorn.
Do you think the apartment is okay?
The floor creaks beneath my wheels.
Where are your shorts?
Is the lake warm?
How do you make a lake?
Don’t we need to paint the house?
Did anyone die?
I don’t like oatmeal.
Can we get any stations?
The eggs are brown.
Will you comb my hair?
Please light a fire.
Who moved the beds?
How much dust was there?
Is that a star?
Where is your body?
Is that the moon behind that cloud?
Can you see me?
Is it supposed to rain?
I can’t see my hand.
Wasn’t I here before?
Soundless, the moving TV picture turns
them all dull. I find my mother there
in a plastic-sheathed recliner.
Her feet don’t walk anymore.
Everyone here can’t remember
or is headed there, or is a nurse
in white clothes. Soundless, the moving
television screen . . . . I wheel her away.
I read her a psalm I don’t remember. How soft
a tune starts out of her, whispering, then fades
to oblivion. Silent as a left church. Longing
must have something to do with memory. Today
she is ninety. My hair is halfway to her white.
She doesn’t remember me. She can’t remember
Did what happened to us
really happen? Does it disappear? Am I
going where she has arrived? If a tree stands
in a forest and no one sees it, is it there?
Are we as real, and guiltless? Those men in our
lives—no wonder she’s erased it all! She is
clean and cannot be what I am seeing.
For a long time I have longed to know her,
never having intimately conversed.
Now we move to the courtyard, heading for
the open, I am behind her, pushing. She gestures,
both hands, and head, like a tree in wind—
small brown birds fly out the towering evergreen
and disappear in again. She says, they live
in there. She is like a tree in wind.
I don’t know what to say. I think of Egyptian
birds who whispered from realms of the divine,
and sheltering limbs of the poplars back home.
Metaphor’s no help here. Beside her chair,
winding up the metal stems holding
up the porch roof—tomato vines,
their green fruit the sizes of pebbles
sent mysteriously out of the dry earth.
I knew who it was
3 pearls swinging
from each nutmeg
the color of blithe
she is blessed
with flowering sandals
Coming near, I said,
I hear 3
clicking in each
violets & tulips
sprang many colors
I cannot tell,
and birds behind
and nothing of all ahead
she said, Quit watching
your pearls & feet
lives in downtown DC and teaches at The Catholic University of America. She published a book of poems last year, Green Bodies (Word Works), work in anthologies, and in these and other journals—32 Poems, Beltway, Cafe Review, Gargoyle, Potomac Review, Southern Review, and Valparaiso Review. Her work has won three Larry Neal Awards, and fellowships from the DC Arts Commission and Vermont Studio Center. Dozens of her essays on poetry, style, meter, prosody, and teaching writing are published in journals and books, most recently The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition. She has also taught poetry in a shelter for the homeless and other community settings.