Sunday, April 10, 2005


Chill still clings to the patio tiles,
the sink of the sun is soft, not yet
a fallow thing, tempering April air.

Coaxed by the long-haired cat
I named Tree, who placed two soft
paws on the storm door and meowed,

I fill a bowl with dry morsels,
top it with wet shredded beef.
Like his kin, Tree is polite but untouchable.

He bends into place, nods his head,
flicks one ear, every other minute, he pauses
to survey the wide patio for neighboring threat.

I read Herrara’s Frida in a flimsy plastic chair,
the metallic whirl of a blade keens behind
the fence, then the soft clank of settled machine.

Jays and cardinals, harsh whistles, soft trills,
all the throats of my suburban forest call.
A chitter of shaken leaf draws my attention.

Above me, Tree clasps the bend of a wild olive’s
branch, hallway up its height; paused in balance
or flehming, mouth parted in silent stalk.

Abandoning canned meat for the warm
ooze of pulsing blood, the tender shred
of bird heart. I turn my eyes away to read on.

Today is the 16th anniversary of my grandmother's death. My brother's voice on the phone telling me Grandma died and I should come over because Mom is taking it hard. I drive many miles to a woman's home, knock and am admitted by this woman, a stranger who boards strangers. She has organ music playing in the background like the strains of a funeral home. Into the house, Mom is sitting on a bed with a simple white spread, crying quietly. She did not look up. Martin is there. We are like bumps at a social, neither of us knowing what to say, what to do. I'm taken to Grandma, who lies on a small bed. One eyelid is partly open. I stroke it closed. Martin and I go outside, smoke our cigerettes, leaving mom inside with the stranger and her dead mother.

Her name was Farie Geneva Cannon Whitfield. She was born in rural Florida, the daughter of native Floridians. I did a genealogy on her family many years ago but have forgotten the details. Like so many, she is gone from my life and only figments of memory remain. There's no one to substantiate her existence, to recall the memories. She lived with me and Jayne and Paul for several months before she passed. At night, in our big bed, we could hear her calling out to God: "Take me Lord. I'm ready!" Her voice was so strong, lusty almost. I'd go to her and smear Tiger Balm over knees, then leave it with her for the night. After she left, the yellow-orange streaks still left stains on the linens.

Vision through an elm

Sun-basted leaves snap their crisp fingers,
silver-knobbed limbs sashay like slender hips,

seductively. Come up here where sounds are clear,
where voices old as Moses at his burning bush or

Jesus on the waves, are echoes wafted along semiotic air
across the wrinkle-free frame of the perfect blue yonder.

Come, stand on tiptoe, nod, navigate
and spring like those fearless squirrels -

come up here where a jabberwocky of voice
praises the clarity of blue sky; the polished elm

with its dimple green cheek points the way.
Come here, my dear and join the chorus.

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