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Maggie Paul

What Remains

Remember the Aladdin’s lamp
sent by a  friend from Greece?

Or the lapis lazuli hair combs
given by the young poet, now departed?

What is gone, remains.
Who lets go, holds.

After his death, my friend’s father
left his cymbal to speak for him.

Who says language comes
from the tongue anyway?

Often we cannot speak for ourselves.
Only what we leave and return to utters our names.

Behind the House

         for Paul, 1992-2010

That summer, the boys were Romans
reciting Shakespeare in make-shift togas,
brandishing book and sword from the Dollar Store,
announcing the downfall of Caesar.

Each one skipped his way in bed sheets
to this blonde mound of summer grass
behind the house. In paper cups, they gulped
their wine and saluted the gods.

Yellow-haired and brown, skinny
as olive branches, they memorized their lines
with jabs of jokes thrown in
to lighten every scene.

Four years later, about to celebrate his 18th,
 my son calls with a  deep new voice
I ascribe to the adult world
he is trying on.

He’s gone, he utters. Paul.
An accident. Last night….

It seems now that he has gone
the way of the gods,
or of sunlight itself,
falling upon this hill behind the house.

My Time

I took my time,
which I thought I had,
being of middle age
and still able to walk, run,
and fret over minor concerns.

I took it as if it were free,
and there was plenty of it.

But that was before
I watched my father,

confined to wheelchair and walker,
settling for tasteless food
and relying on foreign women
to escort him to the bathroom.

Now it is clear.
Every sky has a ceiling,
every hour,  a final hand.

Mulberry Tree

Lately I wonder about the non-flowering mulberry tree
whose tight-fisted branches stay poised to punch the sky.
Not even a slanted sheet of winter rain obscures its wild
bulges, the obstinate stance it assumes by the side of a quiet road.

We first met in California, that mythological land
of beauty.  I thought it a mistake of creation, like a human
face unnaturally marred. But now when my eyes trace
the gnarled veins in those branches, they seem
to contain me. After all, who doesn’t, from time to time,
take their fists to the sky, subvert a song to a silent scream?

Consider the couple failing to conceive, the thirsty land
waking to drought, each of us desiring to flower
in a storm. How we locate ourselves in winter, while one
moon after another turns a cold eye to our need for spring.


It may not be what we want, but look
how time braids ‘round our shoulders.
Maybe that’s why getting out the door
some mornings is so complicated.

Any novelist will tell you we are composites
of our former and future selves.
It can be difficult to recognize which
in the mirror. Be thankful
language accommodates our dilemmas.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine
what is created and what is destroyed.
One might ask if the dream we run to
is the very one we run from.

I only know that some extravagance
brings us here to this moment,
surrendering one dream to another.
We are only advised to take the stairs
slowly, and  not mistake each cloud for a storm.

Boylston Street

In mid-day,
black petals fall from a black rose.

A dragon sky scorches the streets
where we played as children.

We touch one another for the very last time
in that certain way.

Now ash is caught
inside our mouths.

Some clench the rose between their teeth
while others limp away.

Who will recall the city’s face before
black petals fell from a black rose
in mid-day?

Maggie Paul

Maggie Paul earned an M.A. in Literature from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A resident of Santa Cruz, CA, she teaches at Cabrillo College and De Anza College. She is the author of a collection of poems entitled Borrowed World  (Hummingbird Press, 2011) and the chapbook, Stones from the Basket of Others, (Blackdirt Press, 2001).

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