It was late for a visit. I opened the door
And outside was standing my own language.
My old friend had traveled places I had not been.
Well don’t be a stranger I said. Come in.
You’re the one outside, said the voice of my language.
And I was, and I came on in, not sorry I was late.
You unfolded the instructions like a bedsheet
And smoothed out the words with your palm.
First we identify all the parts, you said
To find the thing that’s missing. Or things.
It’s hardly ever just one thing.
The tools in the instructions, you pointed out,
We’d never seen before. Might have to make
Them out of scraps of other things we have.
Eventually that toolbox will have everything you need
but for now we just need a level and some sandpaper
So you can sand this grief to a shape that fits
the frame. Of what, I said. You read from the
Instructions: of that gap you fear so much.
If you look in that envelope included in the box
You’ll find the hinges of your life. You helped
Me sand and sand and mount the door
So oddly shaped and hear the bolt slide smooth
Like a finger through a ring.You folded the instructions
So the last line was all that showed and placed it
On my palm. What’s left, I said, the door is built.
You take your time, you said, and then walk through.
Creek, Cloud, Cricket
I drove ten hours toward the gravity of mountains
Away from the withdrawing bay and on the other side
of the Cape the sea’s constant worry-beads whirled
In the many-fingered tide. I was home and a long way
From it. I was twenty trash bags tightened one at a time
With old things, stuffed with the past in a dark garage.
I was inert explosive. I was upright. My father’s lips
And eyelids affixed shut, his hands folded, all horizon.
Modest shadow details of sunset on a strange beach.
I was home and alongside the creek I was alongside
When my father spelled out the last word he said to me:
“Yes.” The creekbed’s brushed knuckles just below
The surface of running thought, watered down mountain
wisdom. Summer drifted like a jellyfish. A creekbed
Mumbling yes endlessly. A cloud over a hospital wing.
Ritual shawl over a casket. Spell it out slowly.
Dread lifts lightly like an August wasp. It has its own
Direction and settles according to unseen rules
Of behavior written in the humid afternoon air.
Eventually, after rain, crickets give the all-clear:
It’s too dark to tell if I’m happy or sad. If grieving
Is the rocks or the water, the cloud or the rain,
The pinpoint crickets or the spinning earth.
Night on Cape Cod
Sister, the song keeps restarting
And each time it is a different song
With its insistence that nothing starts again
Not fathers or mothers or families
But the sunset our grandfather painted
Stays just where it always has
We believe the promise of wind on sand dunes
Surf on a tumbling shell
The house we grew our souls in
Where we pulled our mother’s memories
Out of albums photo by photo
To find the wrong name on the back
Or a name we didn’t know
None of our souls can outgrow
The wind comes through the upstairs
Window like the house is breathing in
Before starting a song
I can take a nap any time of day.
Five minutes at my desk. Ten
At the dining room table. Longer
In an uncomfortable wooden rocker.
My kids see it all the time, like
Clockwork; their father’s momentary
Ease. I didn’t see my father sleeping
Until last week after a long day
Of transfusions and transport,
He was asleep to the sounds of
Baseball on TV when I got
To his room and sat quietly by.
All the years of my life to see
His hands, his face, alive, at rest.
Time between the tides.
Horseshoe crabs guard
The low tide, bury themselves
Beneath the sand ripples,
worry lines on the sleeping
The thought comes to the edge
Gently, again and again. You pile
Rocks to keep it at bay. It’s not
The thought that will drown you.
The rocks glisten in the sunset
Where the thought caresses them.
Even tears big as jetty stones
Disappear into the thought.
It’s enough, you think, to know
If you just lay on your back, relax,
The thought will support you,
Hold you to the sky like an offering.
I could hear but heard the past most clearly, the voices in the moment
Warped like waves at a puddle’s edge bouncing backward
I could move but was walking ahead of myself, my feet traveling
over a landscape I could not feel beneath me
I could see but saw only context, I could smell but smelled only
The rainy earth of medicine
I felt time pass but my fear was a half-second quicker
than my certainty though they walked with the same shadow
I understood but like understanding a letter written to someone else
Or a message that once understood cannot be answered
I remembered but I remembered like a book where I’d underlined
every word leaving me with all significance and no sense of direction
I could tell the dying his own death story but in the telling fell
Out of my own life a stranger holding his father’s hand