This year there was no summer. Work and random days of heat,
fog every morning, dark among the redwoods and sycamore.
Seasons move imperceptibly. In the flash of afternoon sun,
yellow and red in the maples, we see time urged forward,
contracting as the air cools, as apples redden and drop.
Light, suspended on this turning point, spreads across the hills
milky and hovering. The first prunings are burned. The metallic sting
of smoke rides the narrow valley and catches in the throat like sorrow.
We enter this finite world not strangers but as the worm or fern,
corporate, belonging, with work to do. On the edge of winter,
what we choose is our own continuity: how work and living fuse
at the root of things.
The slowed motion of each task deliberate, defined by need and
the precision of the act. Garden soil spaded with summer's rot,
plums canned, a flood ditch dug, a window caulked.
The sun leaves the canyon at three o'clock.
We are ready for what comes next, gathering in to sustain.
Chill in the hands as ax cleaves oak.
and then rain.
Twice in the longest night
waking, I was
startled by stars
in the pitch dark sky.
Scorpio, Orion, on the hunt,
hovering above the houses.
Morning will be frost-locked,
juncos at the feeder
fighting for seed,
the air taut and dry,
setting us all on edge.
Weeks of this; the fruit trees
blown early to the bone
and winter at the door
thin and thirsty, wishing
a quick end to a year
mean with chaos, fear,
Asleep in our cold beds,
so many of us wanting, hungry
for the indifferent heart to open.
But here in the long dark,
a glistening gift
of obsidian night
as we slide blind
into a new year
burdened with omens,
alive with the possibility
of our own awakening.
Un abrazo para Teri Ketchie
The house of dreams is closing its doors. Hurry.
In a crowded room a breath of wind
the sighing of children.
Slivers of light waiting to waken.
Ay Elena. Her head cheek-to-wood on the small desk
eyes big as moons searching the wall,
a yellow pencil turning in her fingers
against the thin blue lines of an empty page.
She would make a story in her language. Call it Oaxaca:
A girl and her grandmother together up a rocky hill
hunting herbs and mesquite for charcoal,
dirt and hard pebbles in their sandals.
They sing the one hundred and eighty three names
for what grows there
each with its own cure and the words for that
for the flowers the colors of the flowers that grow there
words for vermillion and ochre blessings
for the sixty shades of azul
for the tools that hammer tin carve animal spirits embroider cloth
for the saints’ days
for the names of the teachers who fought in the zócalo
who return year after year naming what the children need to survive:
chalk and bread
dreams and textbooks
pencils and love.
On Rodriguez Street no herbs grow
and in Pájaro where nopales
the auto shops and corner markets,
school talk and home talk take sides.
The clapboard houses rattle as Peterbuilts roar
by the packing sheds and closed-down canneries.
Vinegar wind hissing combines conveyor belt songs:
the lullabyes sisters share in their cockroach bed.
A breath of wind rises across an empty playground.
Restless bodies wriggle in plastic chairs
wrestling pencils to paper.
In the crowded classroom, books
are borders and the walls are made of words.
Words, elusive as prayer, can save you,
brilliant as a sliver of light.
Silence is no measure of thought, Elena.
What is known of us, what is our worth if
we haven’t the language to prove it?
Cheek-to-wood on the small desk,
scavenge your dreams, their colors,
the pictures in your mind:
the flowers, the vermillion blessings and
the tools that hammer to tell the story,
riding the lines of an empty page
in a language abuelita would not understand.
There isn’t time to learn the song of the moon.
It doesn’t translate into essays.
But you can gather nouns and verbs
as if they were the butterflies of Oaxaca
blue wings yellow,
and by swallowing them, hope
for escape, for flight.