My friend Tom Hazelwood posted a poetic challenge recently–make a poem of five childhood memories.

Here is my response.

 

I remember…

the twenty-five cent bus ride

along Keystone Avenue into town,

hoping to meet boys;

 

Sandy and I in our father’s shirts at the pool

hoping to meet boys;

 

church camp at Skylandia with Jane Ohl

hoping to meet boys from another town;

 

Mount Rose and Slide Mountain in the ski season,

hoping to get through the day without a broken bone;

 

the day I learned my true dreams:

college, job, family, faith, the unknown—

and maybe even a boy or two.

 

I remember….

Image courtesy of radnatt, freedigitalphotos.net

At the home place I memorized everything beloved:

Ida Susan Sanger’s silver and bone mirror and comb,

precious on the parlor highboy. An iron-hued field out back,

high swells of wheat in May. Smooth glass jars

massed in the earthen cellar, packed with peaches and beans

against the certainty of storm.

 

She was my grandmother, my first mystery. So thin,

so spare in her words, her prayer cap always near.

When I was nine she allowed me to comb her hair.

She would unpin the bun frayed from her night’s sleep.

I’d smooth the center part and count out fifty strokes.

The long strands that barely cleared the top of the tall stool

she twisted around her hand until the bun again

rested on the nape of her neck, caught with long hairpins

and two special combs above her ears.

 

The year the home place burned, I returned

a last time. Only the wind now, silence of bones in tombs.

The rolling wheat, the storm cave, the comb,

all of memory, no Sangers there now, Ida Susan

and her Charlie safe below ground.

It is my turn to hope for as many years as she endured,

spanning nearly a century. She saved her breath,

left it to the daughters to tell all her stories.

She is as unknown now as then.

Yet I meet her face, her hair, in my mirror,

her silvery yellow hair.

From your curtained roomid-100472702

we hear the soft clock

of intensive care: Alarms sound.

IV dispensers click.

Pressure cuffs inflate

every ten minutes with a low hum,

and an aide in a narrow cell

peers at banks of monitors to cull among

arrhythmias and breaths, to pick

the one that signals a turn for better or for worse.

Soon even these murmurs rest.

 

Then a guitar player strums

a few notes, old folk tunes and blues,

rhythmically humming or singing

to a man with no hair. Motionless,

we harmonize such little music

as we can, feeling lucky for your change of heart.

Your daughter calls. The guitar player pulls

his leather coat over red shirt and vest,

releases us from the ICU as he steps away;

while outside an autumn sun slowly falls

behind the golden ridge to twilight.

(Photo Credit: “Solo Guitar, Guitar Player,” image by Tongrajantaduang, courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net)

The summer I troubled my parents,ID-10082832

my mother and I played canasta.

Neither of us had paying jobs.

She had an old hand-cranked

card shuffler for the two decks.

We unfurled fans of 15 cards,

sorted by rank and suit,

and the dealer turned a card for the pile.

We would each meld our best runs,

took and discarded and laid cards down

in neat columns until eventually

one of us won—usually her.

Late in August she took leave for Indiana

to nurse her dying sister, my Aunt Io.

I like to think she recalled those hours

around the card table as more than duty

toward an irksome younger daughter,

but with something like grace or even joy,

as she traced the breath of my aunt

to its last solemn sigh. The hearse departed,

and, her act of mercy passed, my mother boarded

the first train she could book for home.

 

Image courtesy keattikorn, freedigitalimages.net

A cloud of butterflies and bees feedIMG_0627

at the prairie blazing star’s purple spires

as blooms fade to brownish pink.

There is room for all that want a share.

 

The garden is in its late summer swoon,

and bees crowd into forest hives in a sugar haze

to shed their payloads of nectar and pollen,

and guide the others to the treasure.

 

In winter, when the hives are quiet,

and the blazing star is trimmed away for its long sleep,

I will open a jar of honey to sweeten a cup of tea.

I will praise the taste of summer;

bless the prairie blazing star;

mind the lives of bees.

In Vermont people pinID-10020345

their spin-dried wash

on lines over porches or in yards

where the wind and air weave their fresh messages,

lift the sleeves of a work shirt,

make pennants of pant legs.

In 1953 my mother’s lines were wires

taut between T-shaped metal stanchions,

and she kept a damp rag in the furnace room

for cleaning them of high desert dust

before she hung out the wash.

Sheets and pillowcases first; then my father’s shirts.

Her unmentionables on the middle wire, away

from streetwise eyes. The Washoe Zephyr

surged straight off the cool sides

of Mount Rose into our yard, into

the fresh linens snapping like parade flags. At night

our beds smelled of ponderosa, sun and mountain air,

as they must here, so many years later,

so many states apart.

 

Photo Credit: “Clothes Line,” Carlos Porto, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”–Gandhi2013 Vermont and Kansas 145

 

I know the aromas of kneading:

earthy, a bit hoppy, like dark ale

topping a chilled glass

from a keg deep in a basement locker.

And I know the feel and sounds.

Live yeast pushes back at the hand.

The dough blisters, rebounds with

little pops of air. When the dough proofs

it turns foamy, ready to be shaped and laid

in buttered bread pans.

In 40 minutes or so I will remove them

from the oven and tip the loaves

onto a wire rack to cool.

Their perfume rises like a prayer,

and I am back in my mother’s kitchen

at her table, with a pat of soft butter and a jar of jam,

a small glass of milk. Her warm bread she offers

with smiling blue eyes,

a holy communion if ever there was one.

The high south ridge above townID-10010583 mist

wears a gown of wet fog that moves

with the wind. In its folds,

pooling in the low swales,

the fog hides a drummer

tuning the kettles,

while violas thrum fiercely

and the other strings begin a pizzicato

riff. Strobes flash random patterns,

all silver and white, until the players

signal release—the quiet bridge.

Thirteen herons lift off

from hidden nests in the ledge,

the beating of their wings brief applause

for encore after encore.

 

  1. IMG_0103The Vise

I am holding this vise,

feeling its heft, its solid weight cool

in my hand. Its notches align like little teeth,

a perfect grip whenever the thin

lever turns right.

 

In 1963, the year he turned sixty,

my father clamped the vise

to his workbench in Billings. I can see him lock in

a marred table leg wrapped with sheeting, hear the click

of the lever he wound, see the light flinch

between the jaws. He knew every grain

as intimately as kin, tended

each scar with healing plane or pumice.

Now the northern ground

clamps him tight, scarred as ancient wood.

When he died, the vise passed to me,

and I took it home as a reminder

of all the good he did.

 

Now my father sleeps under an iron marker,

Now he mends the light and wind, alone at a table of clouds.

 

2.Waltzing With My Mother

Our city’s body lay between white flannel sheets,

pulled up last night past its chin,

over its flaccid face.

The soft weave of snow pressed its weight

close to every contour. Truckers,

running late, filled the frozen diners all across our state.

Now a few slow skaters sweep around the rimed ponds.

The whole place has shrugged off business

and fallen fast asleep.

 

On this sort of day we laid to rest

my mother, dressed in rose. Wind

froze the sleets of grief to our cheeks.

After that there were years

when the snows didn’t come,

the roads were always open,

ponds shrank: The sleep of our mother

unhurried beneath its sheet of silts.

Remember her now, in this gauzy snow,

head tilted, one eye open, perhaps dreaming

of “The Skater’s Waltz” on a placid white pond,

her blades flashing in perfect, three-quarter time.

Image by Tuomas Lehtinen, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by Tuomas Lehtinen, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The sloped meadow shrinks under a thin quilt of ice

that needs patching. Broken thatch shows.

The roadway up to the house is a mud track. Easy

to feel a car slip to the side into the shallow ditch.

We drive slow in the raw wind, or not at all.

 

In the house we watch

meltwater sluice off the south roof

where the woodstove heat escapes,

winter partner of the sun that surveys

the meadow with its unblinking gaze.

The porch thermometer rarely rises above twenty.

A vole died out there in the cold. We saw its dark

body roll first into a ball, then stretch out on its back,

giving its small heat back to the empty morning. A fox

has crossed twice near there without touching,

and three crows call from the trees.