Not spooky, and not a town,
but a child’s link to
ghosts of her home,
you tell me more
than the asphalt
about the ground they cover.
Walk across the Grays’ backyard to where
the lawn ends and
the woods begin,
scramble up a rooty hill, through
past ditches filled with rainwater
to an ancient tree.
Climb it. Perch on one
thick gnarled branch,
feel the presence of history:
An apple orchard,
a family whose daughter
abducted by an Indian tribe
returned years later
to live with her husband
in a wigwam
behind the family home.
She would not enter the house.
Some ghosts will not be buried.
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.
Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.
Swelling out of the ground
a rough gray face –
three holes stare from
a hollow bulging tree root.
Two vacant eyes
meet my own.
I recognize the
A mouth agape
speaks words of sorrow
only I can hear.
from its core.
with human mask
calls out to me as I walk on:
We are the same,
you and I.
I know you.
Evan Plotkin and I
Sit on my front stoop.
He is Jewish. I am Catholic.
Menorah, he says. Light.
Matzoh, he says. Food.
Dreidel, he says. Game.
Crucifix, I say. Death.
Yes. It’s true. A tiny dead guy – Our Lord –
hangs from a brass cross
In my parents’ bedroom,
I tell Evan.
I see this dead guy every day.
Don’t give him much thought.
No way, Evan says.
He has never seen a crucifix,
Does not know that
Our Lord died for our sins.
I am unable to explain how this is so.
How did Our Lord know I would pull the
cat’s tail this morning, just to make him yowl?
And was my stroke of cruelty worth dying over?
Evan asks to see the crucifix.
He can’t believe my parents have
a dead guy – even if he is brass — in
the room where they sleep.
I take Evan inside.
The crucifix is the first thing we see
when we enter the bedroom.
Big and shiny. Hard to miss.
Look, I say, pointing.
I glance at Our Lord,
then at Evan, then
back at Our Lord.
Our Lord is a little brass man,
Like a toy.
His limp body
Hangs from this cross,
His tiny face raised
Hands and feet pinned down with shiny nails.
What do you think of that?
I ask Evan.
Evan is nine,
Three years older than me.
It makes me feel kinda sick, he says.
I look closely at Our Lord.
For once, I see him.
See the crown of thorns
pressed into his head.
See the agony on his little golden face.
Gray rocks lace Inisheer,
speaking an ancient language.
An old man drives a horse-cart
along narrow island paths,
telling me local history.
I cannot comprehend his words,
his Gaelic accent thick.
Instead, I read the rocks.
O’Brien’s Castle, stoney lord of the island
for 600 years, has defied
the savage storms of Galway Bay.
Here rock is color, shape, mood.
Rock is the bed of dreams.
worn bare by harsh winds,
network of roughhewn fences
on this piece of Irish ground a few kilometers
out to sea
seem plain and hard,
like its people.
I read beauty in the rough stone’s
defiance of time and tempests.
The islanders have endured the same,
their tongues singing songs
heard nowhere else.
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.