Territories of memory,

those walks inLinda Signature 099

the old war zones where

snipers hid in trees

above Sarajevo and fired

on wives and children

who ran if they could

or died in the panicked street

on their way

to the errands of the innocent.

All they had wanted was to buy

supplies, to borrow a book,

to wait for the tram to take them to work,

or a hot meal with some wine.

I saw scars on the shelled buildings,

and roofs broken open with fire,

and scars in the eyes of survivors.

All the abandoned farms

lethal with unmapped mines.

Somewhere in the north

I tried to see the Drina

from the high mountain pass

at Ljubovija. But the milky fog hid the river in its deep purse,

made the green foamy ribbon a thin wish, below this house

with no water at all, and no hope of water.

 

The Drina’s eternal flow is there somewhere,

under this place of glacial scrubbing—restless

waters, soundlessly passing, below

someone’s grandmother’s homestead,

an old uncle’s orchard, the coin of scant plums,

or a hundred year old apricot tree that pushes out fruit,

year after year, war or no war.

Sky from Porch 005Morning fogs flow

into this valley,

brushfuls of gray paint

onto a canvas

of abstract impressions,

roads unseen, vanishing trees,

a gallery of shapes,

air heavy with May,

and far to the east,

streaks of azure sky

behind a pearly veil,

like my mother’s eyes

behind her Sunday millinery.


Linda Signature 216
I know what you’re thinking

if you think of Paris at all.

You recall public buildings

and gathering places, cafés,

the carréfours and arcades,

the rushing quais and flower stalls,

the gilt esplanades, the boulevards,

and bridges full of lovers.

 

But I tell you,

this city’s suspicious heart

is made of private chambers,

doors of gorgeous oak or bronze.

Beyond I have seen the quiet courtyard,

province of the pitiless, the rich, cloaked

with flowering trees and roses,

paved with old stone, giving on

to high ceilings, high windows,

where one damask drapery parts

ever so slightly,

a pale hand fluttering down

and out of sight,

as the door closes

tightly.

 

1620764_10101577242889571_5085611874602411231_n In memory of Ocie McAvoy Kurtz, 1902-1988

(Photo credit: Kristen Bechard)

They are burning the remnants of unmown grasses at my sister’s farm

while Holy Week pilgrims make their way toward the third day

and a resurrection of the mind. Years ago we passed

through the Flint Hills toward Oklahoma

where our mother had died at home

as peacefully as a prayer.

It was the burn season then too, on the tallgrass prairie,

a landscape of low fires at the salt licks, and cattle safely

grazing at a distance. The burn smoldered along the fencerows

near the road. The flames lazed in the bright spring sun,

but the wind was still as death, and we remembered everything

we could about our mother: her strong curls, her wit, the alluring smile;

the few times she lost her southern cool. Her eyes, blue,

had a way of looking into distances none of us could trace.

The prairie was her censer, and the smoke from it rose

straight up, as the smoke is rising now behind the farmhouse

whose charred ground will hasten to live again

with tiny promises of green and yellow

and strong shoots of blazing star and big and little bluestem.

 

ID-10021052We wave palm branches,

reenacting the bit of guerilla theater

Jesus invented, his parody of the Roman general

astride an armored horse, riding into town

from Caesaria Maritima to keep the locals in line

at Passover. Jesus on His ass makes me think He

was more like Monty Python than the Pope.

Lean, tan, enjoying His joke,

while the Romans seethed

and the crowds went wild for their native son.

ID-1008159

We walk with care down a well sanded steep slope

to the old clapboard sugarhouse below. Mud sucks at our boots.

Above, the pale March sun flares off new stainless steel stacks on a shingled roof.

Steam crowds out, subtly perfumed.

Inside, the shiny evaporator is full of amber sap. A worker

holds a glass up to the light. Color looks right.

To one side a boy offers a tiny cup of syrup.

Its sweetness shocks: we want to lick every drop.

 

A Merrow daughter stands behind a rough-hewn counter,

taking orders. The taps are slow to start this year.

She’ll call when our jug is ready.

She’s giving away sugar on snow, and selling maple candies, three for a dollar.

We buy one of the little bags of maple leaf shapes.

They are gone before we’re out the door.

The syrup we’ve ordered will season our breakfasts for months to come.

We bless the charity of maple trees. Their gift of pure liquor

outshines the apple from the first garden.

Bless this sap and these

Merrows who invite us to sugaring.

Praise for the steam, the staggering sweetness

of these first rites of spring.

Inspiration: “Rose Colored Sofa,” monotype by Linda Price Thompson

ID-10033268 rose petalsNo one sits on the red sofa now.

The painter has brushed someone out,

to receive a call

about a birthday,

or a death.

Her aqua cup

makes a tiny shadow

in a corner of the coffee table.

I do not know

if it is full or empty,

herbal tea or Earl Grey,

decaf or bold Columbian beans.

The green carpet darkens to black.

I can hear the painter breathe.

 

If this room were mine I would paint it cream

and hang a lilac mirror on the dusky edge.

I would gather my most faithful friends

to scatter their lights, like fireflies,

across the winter roads until the room

was June, draperies billowing,

lilies spilling their perfumes through

open windows. We would drink our fill

of red wine, and sing. We would lay our feasts

on the rose-colored cushions,

and I would smell the loams

of all the springs and summers

when I was young and a beauty.

“Our dead are almost beyond counting and we want to herd them along…(yet) the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us…. Even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way…to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming.”—Roger Angell

 ID-10088546 dancerA dance band plays jazzed up Rodrigo, while someone announces guests.

Here are my departed loves, crowding into this one room.

My mother, Ocie, tilting her head quizzically

as she learned in West Virginia, ready still to give us what we need.

Uncle Forrest, the artful preacher, holding forth

at his Seventh Street dinner table. Aunt Ada, who married twice again,

chiding, “Oh, go on now, Forrest.”

Ida Susan McAvoy, whose hair I combed when I was eight.

And my father, his dark eyes snapping sharply

above his dark Helldorado beard with those two white streaks.

John Lyder from third grade, and Joe Seifers on the alto sax.

Sam Dixon and Clint Raab, back from Haiti. Walter, and Rob,

looking young and fit. Colin, Carl, Rod, Heather, Janet.

 

At sixty-nine, I feel lucky to recall them all again,

and to have lost so few. More

will leave in time, unbearably so, yet stubbornly gleam

from a great beyond. Those who make this music

will draw me in one day, and we will glitter

on a stellar dance floor, to a Tango, or the Twist.

ID-1005736 Tour Eifel by Simon HowdenEven from here, there is the aroma of the church.

One senses it long steps away,

while the bells ring wildly. The wideness

of the holy call, multi-toned, multilingual,

draws us inside. It is not alone the dried

boxwood or the paint on the icons

or the hundreds of candles.

It is not the building materials.

(Oh, yes, I sniffed these!)

It may be the heat of cramped toes

and feet released from boots

three times a day since the church went up,

or, before that, the soots of campfires

warming pilgrims who have searched for peace

in the tiny village church—

they say thousands since the forties.

Slightly sweet, with a sour note, like an herb,

not unpleasant, but strange,

a fusion over years of many mysteries,

yet as simple as our daily bread.

 

Listen: Out there a mallard called,

and half a dozen young followed

quietly in her wake,

near where the willow spilled

its new green skirts into the shallows.

Then the bells called and I answered.

Inside, an unseen hand pushed at my head,

until I bowed low.

The narrow taper someone gave me to hold

did not drip wax.

An old man in an old white shawl

spoke an older French,

and Jean-Marie translated thoughtfully:

The promises of holy text

belong to anyone who listens expectantly.

I wonder now if the odor is the trace

of an ancient manger,

not to be filed into a book and shelved,

but sheltered here to be breathed,

as frankincense, or worn,

as gold, as myrrh.

 

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sky from Porch 005On winter mornings by the wood stove

we watch the curling fire fold over itself.

In here we are warm, and share our slow talk

between sips of dark coffee.

Outside snow swirls, and fogs blur details

of the miles of ridge. Nothing moves except the snow.

The crows and jays are sheltering somewhere

in their rooms among trees, and the deer hide in their yards

under the northern canopy.

 

I knew your name

before we were born. You carried the moon

with you to shine along my path. I followed you

the way deer follow the call of the sheltering range.

We may go blind, looking at the snow this way,

through the early morning moon, Mars, Spica, Saturn.

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