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Tooth

24 Nov

It’s been three nights without a visit.
Even Mom and Dad fail to explain her absence
but suppose it to be weather related.
Patient, expectant, the girl reconfirms the presence
of the tooth and scrap of paper that says,
read the questions in the letter on the table. 

Finally, tiny written answers penned by one
who self describes as no taller than our salt shaker 
and tells of a Canadian blizzard.
I examine the coins, marveling at a fairy’s strength
to carry the two golden Sacagaweas—beautiful,
but unpopular with the grown up public

who have settled and decreed these be received
from none but a parking garage payment machine.

Driving With Dad

5 Sep

Alone in the car headed across town to pick up my teenage son, I’m first to an intersection as the light is turning yellow. I mash the brake and stop. The person behind tries to pull beside me to my left to be at the front next to me, but misjudges and brushes up against my left rear bumper with the right side of her car. She quits and immediately starts backing up, to extricate herself from my quarter panel, I’m guessing. I’m wondering where to pull off and exchange information when I notice she’s still backing up into the right turn lane. I make a U-turn and start to pull behind her, but she’s already turning right and taking off.

I wish I had my father’s brain at a time like this. He could have weighed all the risk, cost, and benefit of a pursuit in the time it takes for me to see red. He would probably have guessed her route, doubled back and caught her on the other side of the neighborhood. But I need time to process.

I decide to think while chasing her. She’s driving pretty fast. Naturally, so am I. I’m hoping she gets stuck at another red light. I want to read her license plate. But there is no opportunity. She turns right again, races by two lanes of traffic, dust rolling up behind her silver Monte Carlo from where she’s using the median as a passing lane.

Dad was pretty proud of his defensive driving. He probably would have noticed an approaching vehicle in the rear view, judged the error, and pulled ahead a little bit. He had the seemingly prophetic ability to anticipate other people’s driving divergences and blunders. He would have been a fine ship’s captain.

I give little thought to the danger of my pursuit until I get back home and tell my wife what happened. And then I feel ashamed and anxious to have imperiled myself and others on the road. I feel stupid.

I never had an accident while driving with my father in the car, but I had dozens of them when by myself or with friends. Fender benders just came naturally to me. Parking lots proved to be my nemesis. One time I backed out of the garage with the driver’s door open! I could be an air head, a dreamer. And reckless. Dad owned motorcycles and, for some reason, allowed me to drive them. Once, while driving his motorcycle, I hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk (in front of my high school!). She did live. Clearly angels caught her. I was filled with shame for my reckless choice that had caused the collision. Yet my dad continued to believe I could and would do better.

Which is probably why I think of him after chasing a hit and run driver for a mile through the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. More than thirty years after my teenage driving days I’m still making some rash driving decisions.

Dad is gone now. An accident like this reminds me how much I miss him. I miss his reliability. I miss his steadfastness. I miss the way he could command a situation. I don’t have the same powers as him. But then again, over the years I’ve learned to take on some surprising difficulties. I’ve learned that I, too, can be reliable. Sometimes I can even be forgiving.

Which is pretty much what happens as the dust flies up behind the silver car. I slow down. I let her go. I believe I can do better.

And as I reflect on the situation over the next few days, I seem to open my heart to my dad a little more. In my mind, I’m a bit less hard on him. Dad, I know this won’t come as a surprise to you, but I’ll say it anyway: I might be learning what it means that a man has compassion on his son.

Today, I see the car parked at Tobacco World. It’s definitely the one. Fresh scrape marks crease the right rear fender. I think about going back so I can glimpse the tag. Justice tempts me. But I just keep driving and thinking.

I have a notion dad would probably have circled back, at least to have a chance to talk to her. He could talk to anyone. I can’t help wondering what he would have said. But as for me, I’ll keep the secret.

My wiper blades are singing to the intermittent drizzle and I check the rear view mirror as I hit the brakes and make the turn for home.

Phone Call

27 Aug

Only the friend felling alongside
sees, peripherally,
the blur of broken treetop drop down,
like a pendulum, to end a good life.

Please call, is all the message
on my brother’s phone says.  And so
he is the first of our kin to learn
the words “we couldn’t save him.”   

Hyperventilating,
steering spring mud roads to Mom,
he dials to let me know
the man we call our Dad is dead.

States away, in the backyard,
I hear my voice responding
with a buzz of questions.  He says,
better hang up, I need to go in.

I gather wife and children,
crumbling, tell them all he said,
tears slaking dust between the boards
of this worn out kitchen floor.

Wood Heat

20 Feb

I tend the damper and watch
from the window—bundled cousins
are laughter with toboggans.  

They slide the slope to jumbles
then regain the hill, gathering
and choosing lanes

for another fleeting run—
children banging the cadence
they have always drummed.

Soon the failing light
will send them in.
Soon we will go back home.

On the sash, I am turning
away from my reflection
to flame in the wood warm room.

Final Flood

26 Jan

Beside the toddling Ausable we kids grew to be disciples
of gun oil, varnished stocks, blued barrels, and the old
cash register of Robinson’s Guns and Ammunition,
Grandpa behind the counter packing Half and Half
into his pipe, plucking a paper match.  I’d notice
his fingernail, evenly split and unable to mend
from where a car he’d been repairing fell on him. 

Visiting in summer, we’d walk from Grandma’s
to the store, numb our fingers in the Coke cooler,
wait for Grandpa to offer wet glass bottles of Hires
and Orange Crush, carbonated hiss invoking spirits
of the sugar rush.  Love poured—filled us,
made us less afraid even of the dusty black boar’s head
dead in his dim back office.

The store had, for years, been sitting vacant
when on an August weekend
Hurricane Irene contorted the Ausable,
split the town into floodplain and high ground. 
FEMA gained the land and came with bulldozers. 

Today, Google shows weeds 
and dirt where Grandma’s house should be.
Between those two trees, I point out for the kids,
and the store right where that dumpster sits.
            There was a front porch…

but the image on the screen is now blurred
by a sudden weight of water on the shore.  

The Old Brown Schwinn Blues

6 Sep

I think I’d give a lot to do over the decision:
my father’s ten speed Schwinn Sports Tourer
gone to the scrapyard for money for vacation.
The maxim, If you don’t ride it, you don’t need it,
uncluttered my life a bit, but now that old brown
Chromium alloy frame and those aluminum rims
haunt me like an unforgiven sin.

My father let me ride it so I could still get to work
after he took my driver’s license, a mercy of persuasion
like a derailleur pushing on a chain to move it.
If I could, I’d go like seventeen again,
bomb a long hill in top gear, lower chin to handlebars
and praise wind that brings tears. Instead,
I slow pedal on this one speed poem.

Father’s Esker

30 Jul

We live on an esker, you used to say,
Tossing rocks out of the garden.
Frost and the tiller brought them up.
You planted peas as early as late April,
The muddy days of sugaring done,
Snow having quit even the woods by then.
Only dying ice remained.

***

Running trails in spring at the reservoir
I find a rocky outcrop still iced over
And kneel beside the thawing, listen
Down among the roots and mosses,
Tell myself to not forget and tell the kids
How a glacial brook deposited the low rocky ridge
Where I grew up and came to know the verse
Of water in the woods. I follow a creek
Down to the lake, but do not risk
The worn and tarnished piece of silver.

***

At the cemetery in summer,
We cut away sod around your marker,
Edge it with gravel from a nearby quarry.
Look at these greens and purples!
Ages those rocks lay hid by the glacier
That ploughed this valley. (I know,
You know all this.) What I mean is,
The earth looks like a different planet when
A steady presence won’t be back forever.

Peanut Butter And The Loss Of A Father

11 Apr

I was given a good dad. His love for me, a great gift. Peanut butter helped me realize this.

I love peanut butter. Always have. As kids, our mom once expressed some concern for my brother and I, “You could develop an allergy if you eat too much”. Thankfully that has yet to happen.

I’m gaining fast on 50 and still eating pb regularly. My favorite is Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter With Honey (Creamy). I also like the Maranatha peanut butter. Jif is a workhorse, particularly for peanut butter cookies.

I’m a house painter. I pack my own lunch. Most days I take a container of pb&j, dipping it with celery sticks at lunch time. I have high metabolism and if I feel a bit shaky mid-morning, I spread some pb on a granola bar. It works wonders.

A house mate once told me, “John, I used to think eating was just meant to fill the hole, but when you cook I eat because it tastes good!” I was honored. But for too long I fear I have used pb to fill the hole without a true appreciation of its wonder, its sticky sublimity. A year ago something happened that made me appreciate it more: my father died.

Not long after he was gone (a few days, really) I perceived that my perspective on all of life was changed. I was seeing through a different lens. I could not immediately, or even months on, clearly identify the effects, but the world often appeared strange to my eyes (and heart). I feared this change was only for the worse, that sadness would prevail going forward. And that is true, but only part of the truth. Along with sadness I found another sense growing: joy.

Peanut butter isn’t really much to look at. Kind of messy. The natural kind separates, forming an oil slick that has to be stirred back in. Yet it is a gift, nutritious, flavorful, edible with other foods or by itself from a spoon. Kids eat it when they won’t eat the dinner they’ve been offered. And it even fills the hole.

It can’t fill the hole left behind by the loss of a loved one, but it has some power to impart a gratitude for all that is good in this world.

As I visit my mom and brother on the one year anniversary of dad’s death, I am more willing to embrace the sorrows and joys of life. Peanut butter tastes better than ever before. I am sad for our loss, but my heart is inclined toward gratitude for all the ways dad gave of himself, in love.

Calling Hours

13 Oct

He had told me where to buy the car
then helped rivet sheet metal to places
Vermont winters had eaten the ‘73 Pontiac’s

floorboard.  It took two days in November,
our fingers so cold it hurt to get them warm.
All winter the car got me to the store

where we worked unloading trucks,
pricing, stocking, sweeping, mopping,
crushing cardboard boxes in the baler.
 
Tonight, in line at the calling hours
for my father, he meets my wife and children,
says he always knew I’d turn out good.
    
I can’t get over these faces, these people
I haven’t seen in thirty years or more.
They’ve adorned themselves with love

for dad and all the good he ever did.
They tell me stories of dad helping them
or his words they have not wanted to forget

and I am drawn to his reflection in them.  
The rust of death has marred our souls;
tonight there is help to patch the holes.

River Carver

13 Sep

A photograph from about a year before you died
shows you seated on a large stump hands folded,
shoulders slumped. My brother and I had walked
down from Grandma’s with my birthday camera
never meaning to capture how cancer had deprived you
of Helen years back, how grief had seized you

and your workshop had retired into shadow;
the gravers laid on benches among shavings
sharp reminders of your need to carve reliefs.
They had fit the artist’s hands—hands made
to wield them—and formed many works:
the shields of the apostles on oaken doors, the altar table,
the walnut reredos so beloved by the congregation.

Helen had ever been your blade and stone,
her keen spirit comfort to your war wounds,
but the unceasing waters of bereavement
whittled your bones and finally broke them
at the kitchen table where Grandma found you
gouged by your own hand and that dull revolver…

Once, while in the South Pacific, you had mailed
a thank you to my mom for photographs received
of her, a then months-old baby. Declaring love,
you promised her stories, mud pies, and the circus.
Your works deserve prominence, but you
were carving for an audience of folks along the river
in a town that would suffer many floods.
For Carrol Coolidge (1908-1980)

Cousin (In Memoriam)

20 Jul

for Jeffrey Eells, 1968-2001

Eight years of traffic have blurred the accident site
by the time I see your place at the cemetery.  I say
I didn’t know you had been buried close to Grandma
and your sister cries—she knew you like I never did.  

Gentle, easy going, made for downhill skiing,
you meant to finish college, were fluent in sarcasm,
and had a well of sadness you kept covered
with laughter that snapped like dry sticks.  As kids

we laughed like cousins at Grandma’s in the glen.
We played kick the can, took our places at the table,
passed the rolls, heard the stories being told,
then got back in the family cars again.  

    Today your sister is keeping her own well and,
for me, pulls back the lid.            (Did you ever
find someone to let in, someone to draw water with,
someone who could damp your dry pail with rest?)

Here I stand, a tree beside the streams she pours,
planted in the soil of her dreams.
    My bark is rough—see how green her grief!
My roots are scorched—freely is falling her relief.

Given

30 Jun

Our Sundays in the park are not forgotten:
the flowering apples, the plumb and level bees.
At the pavilion, bridesmaids and groomsmen
smoking, waiting for pictures to be taken.

I had a wish to syncopate their laughter
with our cadence and our rhythm.
You concealed, double wrapped in skin.
I your living envelope, your place of origin.

Not desiring marriage, and despite my arm’s petitions
I gave you for adoption.
      Oh, the grip of charcoal eyes, of newborn grace!
      Oh, the place where lightning struck my boughs!
      Oh, the rhythm of rainfall the day you appeared
my rising river, my hidden-to-me girl.

Fall arrives and oaks brace themselves,
the park gathers its leaves—I am familiar with
the hardening of bark, the early freeze,
but could not have guessed what now rolls over me.

An infant cry—a flash and strike—but wait,
a distant rumbled comfort has its say.
I ask the baby’s name, tiny hands are upraised;
The mother and I stretch over the stroller like a canopy.

-for Jill G.

Only Dog

24 Jun

As kids, we would put our hands inside
her toothy den; for us the molars were mild,
the incisors unwilling even to gentle dent
the soft butter of our skin.
She chewed a couple of neighborhood pets
and Dad had to put her on a run
until we moved outside of town.
There, with our Shepherd’s perked ears
and pointed nose always close by
my brother and I could explore fields
of curious cows, or trod a tangled wood. 
She would bark for joy in the driveway
when visitors arrived who sometimes
waited in their cars until we settled her.

In her waning days, Dad helped her
to get up steps, lifting her from behind. 
The day came he said, She’s in a lot of pain,
and lifted her into the bed of the pickup. 
We drove to town at dusk and dark
had fallen when the vet came out to us.
As if it had all been a dream,
she was gone
and we had started back toward home.       
        From beside him
there on the bench seat of the truck
I glanced up. Dad focused on the road
and cried.  We never had another dog. 
Dad’s words: It’s too hard.

Timber by Caleb Eells

1 Jun

It was the first day of Spring break, a Saturday.  My brother, my sister, and I were outside doing spring cleaning.  We went inside, tired, and grumpy. We were hungry and wanted lunch.  But when we went inside, we found something quite unexpected. My mom was sitting on the kitchen floor, and was crying hard.  The vacuum we had heard minutes before, wailing like a siren, now sat silently next to her looking mournful. That’s when my dad came in the room with the phone in his hand, and told us Grandpa (on my Dad’s side) had been in an accident, and had died.  I learned later that Grandpa had been out logging (cutting down trees) at another person’s house.  He had been cutting a tree that had entangled itself with another tree, so when the tree he was cutting fell, the top of the other tree came with it, and had hit him in his right temple, just below his helmet.  The person he had been working with said that the blow knocked him down, and then he curled up and didn’t move.  My Dad believes he had died right then. Gone.  In the blink of an eye.

My Grandma, Aunt, Uncle, and Cousins live in Vermont.  My Grandpa used to live there too.  Now he lives in heaven.  And, yes, I’m positive that my Grandpa is in heaven right now.  So anyway, the same day we got the phone call, we hurried to get to the airport and we flew to Vermont, taking one stop to switch planes in Washington D.C.  We arrived in VT around 12:30 and met my Uncle Cam and my cousin, Paul, there.  We drove back to their house without much conversation, and got there at about 1:00.  In the morning, we met their cute German Shepherd puppy, Maya.  Their cat, Daisy, didn’t like the new puppy, and stayed clear of it.  On April 15th, a Tuesday, it snowed about four inches.  My sister and I were happy about the new snow, while our cousins moaned about the fresh snow and how they wanted it to be spring.  My brother couldn’t have cared less about it.  Looking back, I too wish it hadn’t snowed considering the circumstances.  I think Grandma just needed it to be Spring.

The day after the snow, we had the calling hours (a time when people come and give their condolences to the relatives of the deceased person and to see the deceased person in the casket).  When we saw his body in the casket, my Aunt cried a lot.  The lump in my throat , which was as big as a watermelon, didn’t go down till I left the room.  The calling hours lasted about seven hours, but I left with my sister and younger cousin after about three hours.  A kind lady volunteered to take us home.  I noticed that people get a lot nicer when one of your family members die.  I guess it is just courtesy.  Or maybe it’s sympathy. Or maybe even empathy.

The memorial service was the next day, and the weather was sunny.  My Uncle, my Dad, my Mom, and my Aunt all went up and talked.  My Uncle did a wonderful speech, and my Dad read some poems.  One he had written, and one Grandpa had written.  My Aunt and my Mom read some poem-like-writings.  We sang some of Grandpa’s favorite songs, and two different pastors got up and talked.  The memorial service was really marvelous.

We finally left on April 20th,  Easter Sunday.  The flights went well, and we arrived home in time for dinner.  My Dad went up there again last week for the burial because the ground had been too muddy in April.  I’m glad my dad was able to go up again.  He was able to help with the work at Grandma’s house, and he was also there to comfort her. We will be going up to VT again in the Summer.  I will not be seeing my Grandpa ever again in VT, or even on Earth.  But I will see him later, in heaven.

by Caleb, age 12

Hidden

5 Jan

Ready or not, the seeker says.
    There’s only so many holes to go down
in this house, but they run to them again
when the count begins.

Who crawls from the laundry heap
or out beneath the bed is musty, dust
and silliness, contented to be found,
or else lodging complaint
if the count was too quick.

They pull my hand, demand, Count loud!
You’re it!  Oak floors bounce and shake,
then all sounds whisper into secrets. 

I raise my voice to reckon time
before ready or not and here I come.
I go slow, but you’d never guess
the way they’ve flown, like ghosts,
behind doors and into backs of closets.

Then I search the rooms of our home;
I seek their faces,
and the light that would be
found in darkened places.

Teller

28 Dec

In books he read aloud, my father uttered charms.
Brave Sneelock, the Heffalump, farmers Boggis, Bean, and Bunce,
the characters by whom he cast a spell.
As a boy, listening, I never guessed an author
and barely parsed the teller from the tale;
all the earth and sky was in the telling—and didn’t fail.

Who told me stories first my heart is welded to
with sentences, is anchored to, as truth is to a word.
His voice turned all to flint and fire,
or else so leaf and green as to be giddy.

Mom says he still reads to her—I can see him in his chair:
lamplight on furrowed brow and legs crossed.
The sun is low; the sky in rows of ruddy men
is marching down to greet him and he begins.
His gift is words—words full of rooms
in which the wonderment of telling is the end.

Big Deal (For Nathan)

5 Apr

At thirteen, your body is writing mysteries:
fierce storms, blown fuses, dark basements.
To make themselves known, bones lengthen
beneath the pliant soil of your skin.

Tendons and muscles groan extension
to and from—a boy is gaining on manhood,
a burning engine revs and roars,
a locomotive is aiming for its destination.

As successive suns relight your lantern,
welcome them.  Dream, observe, apprehend,
trim the wick of ambition, pour the oil
of expectation—much good awaits you son!

When unsettled by faults and frailties,
or stuttered by the failure of a friend,
when the paper world is crumpling, remember,
the good King has you in his hand;

he is your shelter, find shade in him.  
He built your heart and lungs, he holds
your hope and future—silly spasms,
distractions, even glum reflections

(be they rare or common) are companions,
acknowledge them and carry on.  
Flesh is wanting, faith will be tested,
but you will never be forsaken.

You have departed, have left the station,
are merging with the tracks of men.
Let it come, and attend these days.
Sweet boy, you have begun to be a man.

If Home

11 Dec

If home is where you go—if, here, you strike accords
between the sometimes angry parties at the table
and are able to heed the bell’s harmonic
when another round begins—you stand on solid ground.

If your pulp fictions hit the trash bin by the gate
before you stump over the back step
and through the door, if home is where
you log the daily lore, your feet are on the floor.

If home is where you laugh, cry, get surprised, listen,
touch, desire someone’s eyes, believe they believe
that you are wise, then you are wise. 
If this is your light and your sanctuary;

if home is where you go to rejoin the fight
after a long day—if your foundations shake
and your pillars quiver at the thought of this,
your beacon, quenched—you are a sage and a seer;

you are a lovely footed messenger in flight.

Early Miscarriages

22 Feb

Death,
you are the enemy. You took two friends,
and if you can hold them you have seized the wind.
We weep for ones taken, and are as shaken
by bleak absence as by your uninvited presence.

At dinner, we sit around the table with living kin.
We pray. Then, with our eyes open to each others faces,
we linger over life in a womb; with two fingers
we make small guesses—No bigger than this? Yes!

Death, we do not want for grief,
but there is a Wing you may not reach beneath.
There your hand cannot grasp fragile forms
and your grip has ceased to close on even these
tiny
living human beings.

Balance

30 Jul

A transaction statement arrives, is buried, finally rises to the top
and is opened, whereupon a five-year-old assails it with a crayon.
You find the time to frown check marks by debits and credits
that match your register; black ink corrals numerical larks.

Then, by calculator, I attempt to interpret this art. If only
I could deconstruct the prank figures, but previous and present
balances are stark, like Picasso’s later work: Don Quixote
mounted on a scribble horse, a depiction more likely to be parsed.

Departure

23 Jul

She toddles away from the cat, then sits
as if to place herself: a receptacle

for the parting kiss.  I bend lips
to her hair and whisper, I love you,

bye bye.  I believe she sends me
to gather fresh air, to harvest blue sky;

I believe I reign in her like a king,
turn in her like a door on its hinge;

I believe she rises and remembers a tower,
bowed, with breath and prickly beard.

Trampolines In Summer by Nathan Eells

24 Jun

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother,
we are bouncing
kangaroos in Australia,
our big feet pounding,
pounding the ground
as we race across the plain.

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother,
we are bouncing
high into the air.
Astronauts in space
zooming past bright green trees,
suspended high above the ground.
Then we plummet to earth
like rocks dropped off a bridge.

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother
we are bouncing
rubber balls
on a sidewalk.
Down we go—
we hit the pavement
without a sound,
like feet on the trampoline.

Cashier

7 Feb

Sunday morning after church shopping list:
bananas
bread
bologna
tomato soup
diapers.

At the register
the cashier
runs to grab a flier,
plucks the coupon
for five dollars off
any size Pampers.  

We make our way toward home—
plastic sacks,
hungry kids,
full air in all four tires.

Dad’s Journal, Saturday January 1st

7 Jan

Arose, made coffee, oatmeal, and a list.
Hugged and kissed spouse, and prayed.
Discussed a canoe, a massage—a birthday.
Chased, regained, attempted to retain
next door neighbor’s pet, crazy.
Climbed up and down attic staircase,
then folded stairs away.

Exercised paintbrush on desktop
and taught third grader a bit
about how to paint.  Made a lap:
dressed toddler in pink boots
and green shirt.  Went out to help
with fifth grade science experiment
before it rained—got damp anyway.

Brushed and rolled here and there.
Watched fifth grader play computer game.
Watched Popeye and the gang.
Cleaned up for dinner.  Sat down
with family and ate.  Beheld faces,
took up the graces, read books…
then wrote, and hit the hay.

Catch Again

6 Sep

Okay I’m ready, toss the ball.  Grounder.  Pop-up.  
WATCH OUT FOR THE BABY!

Whoa, nice one!  Good arm!  
That knocked the dust off my mitt!

Whoops, crazy hop!  Get your glove up.
Switch sides, I’ve got sunglasses.  

Now you throw what I throw.  I want to do a jump catch.  
Hey!  That’s too high!

Dad, watch this—TRICKED YA!  
You didn’t even know I had a tennis ball!

Suppertime?!  Just one more, I mean one of each—
grounder, pop-up, fastball.

Do we have to go in?  Okay.  Hey Dad?  
When can we play catch again?

 

Disagreement

2 Sep

These bricks, in our hands,
rise up like storms to wreck our plans
on disagreement—to lay up, or pull down?  
These mortar joints and tools
break the arms of worker-fools.
For us, there is no harbor in this town.

If bricks could attest,
They’d raise a cairn to our unrest;
This post would tell of work yet to be done.
It can only point the way
back to where we quit the fray.
For us, there is no haven from the sun.

These bricks build choices;
they raise questions without voices.
The answers are chisels on a stone.
Bricks can compromise;
they won’t bruise or get black eyes!
For us, deals are made of flesh and bone.

These bricks will destroy—
rise up like lonely in a boy—
while, ignorant, I try to keep my life.
We can build—we can rise,
there is time to gain the prize.
For us, the shelter stone is in the strife.

Sugarhouse

3 Mar

I helped to build our sugarhouse.
It has a metal roof. Steam escapes
through vent doors on the cupola.

We drill the trees, set the taps,
and hang buckets. When sap runs,
gather it and light the fire.

Slab wood pops and flames roar.
The firebox doors turn orange
and the evaporator boils.

When syrup aprons—when drops cling
and fall together from a dipper—
we draw off into a milk can.

My Dad works very hard.
We all chip in. The best part is
when we take a little taste now and then.

 

sugaringimg006

I grew up in Vermont.  I have many fond memories of time spent with my family making syrup in the sugarhouse we built in our backyard.  Sugaring is hard work, but very rewarding.

This poem is for my dad who worked harder than the rest of us and often stayed up late to finish the boiling by himself.

the sugarhouse

Bathtub

3 Feb

Bathtime!

I’m in the tub and here’s the rub,
Mom says to get out soon.

The water’s warm, and what’s the harm
in wrinkles like a prune?

I’m staying in!  Look, I can swim!
Let’s sing another tune.

Now close your eyes for a big surprise,
It’s me! your goose-bump-goon.

 

Elegy For An Uncle

30 Oct

Your second death, this.  The first you cheated—  
buried alive, then resurrected to describe
paralysis beneath a cave-in.

They dug you out.  But no hands reach you now;
your story is complete.  The tumor pressed you
down in ways no one could defeat

and I despise it.  You would have wanted
to assure me that you’re in a better place.
And I want that for you.  But here,

I fight the enemy of your absence.
I can’t get another handshake or hardy laugh.
There is no father, no husband,

no uncle who donned an apron and cooked
chicken halves on a giant barbecue
he had designed and welded,

no quick joke or story to bring a smile,
no soft voice—the sound of a Vermonter—asking,
Hey there, how you doin’?

I have an early memory: you on Grandma’s sofa
snoring loud.  I am only five or six
and a bit afraid of the great rasp.  

Now, remembering it, I hurt—God gave you
for my Uncle, I’ve known love from you, I miss you—
but I’m willing for the hurt to be good news.

                (for Stephen A. Kittredge, 1945-2009)