What comes next
After a hurricane the whine
of chainsaws cutting into downed trees.
After a blizzard, whiteout silence
then the cries of hungry birds.
After a loss, another kind
of silence when we are too weary
to cry, too numb to tackle
the list of things that must be done.
The force of what has happened
flattens us to old rugs
on which the pattern is only
memory and their use is past.
How have the mighty…
What we have done to you
for our convenience. In cave
paintings you stand, huge, looming
over hunters with your sharp
deadly horns and prancing hooves.
You could reach seven feet tall
at your massive shoulders.
Called Aurochs, now just cows
we have tamed the wildness out,
shrunk you to an amenable size.
You were bigger than bison,
fierce, worshipped for your strength
companions of the moon goddess.
In the Greek islands, dove cotes
sacred to her are marked with
your horns. Hathor the cow
goddess gave fertility and joy.
I meet your limpid gaze as you
chew your cud under a scrub oak
then rise lowing to be milked
turned from monarch to food.
The forest of sleep
Decades gone and I still dream
of the woods I wandered at twelve
and thirteen, miles on old Indian
and logging trails and then
dusty gravel roads past farms
in Michigan and watched deer
drink and lunched on raspberries
by a tornado blowdown. If I
heard hunters’ voices, I crawled
into the underbrush and hid.
The first woods I explored:
steep hills above the Severn.
I was nine and we were housed
without bathroom and I caught
fleas from Chesapeake retrievers
bred by the owner. My friends
and I walked two miles on
Jumpers Landing road to where
the yellow bus carried us to school.
Afterwards we ran free like dogs
let out of their pen. When I
found that magic place thirty
years later, the hills were ironed
flat for suburban tract houses,
the wild holly and pines wiped out.
Yet in dreams I enter woods
logged off half a century ago
and I am wild with joy, plunging
deeper and deeper into the place
no parent could ever find me.
Three decades ago we came together
I wake in the morning to love
in a coffee mug spreading the wide
tail of its aroma through the bedroom.
Real love is tough as a daylily
a tractor could run over and still
it would open the throat of its blossoms
new each day for the bees to visit.
Love is tender as peony silk,
as the pads on a kitten’s feet,
sensitive as the flesh of the inner
thigh. Love fills me up like a five
course dinner, yet there is always
room for more. We can mistake
the glitter of false stones for the real
and we may rummage through dozens
of bodies searching love and never
succeed. But once we have it
it goes into our blood and bone.
Even when I’m dead, exhumed
years later, on my skeleton
the print of your hands will remain.
In the white frame house
The clapboard of the house across
the road is a page from a school
notebook, lines across the white
not yet filled with writing.
A new couple is moving in
on the second floor. Already
pregnant she moves slowly,
hesitantly choosing each step
like a camel in deep sand.
In this neighborhood unpeopled
yet with friends, she fumbles
through those she meets for women
who’ll mother her. She carries
her belly like something she could
drop. Her back is a question mark.
Her eyes leak invisible blue tears:
child with child. Pity is cheap
rising as mist from my pores
but I am leaving here soon.
Indifference fills in the blanks.
On the threshold
We stand at one of the thresholds
of the year, when we are halfway
into the light, balanced but tipping
into beginning. Goldfinches
wear their bright mating plumage.
Chickadees call all day, Fee-ver,
fee-ver. The wild gobblers
spread their fans and strut.
We see a kind of red mist
in the marshes, buds swelling
and starting to crack open like eyes
waking, showing a slit of color.
New spears thrust from last
year’s straw and sodden leaves
toward the yellow sun. Squirrels
chase each other along branches.
The door to the land is opening.
Some of us will plant, some
will bike, some will walk or jog.
The clench of ice has loosened
on ponds. The Herring creeps
out of its banks. We are freed
from heated rooms, winter
projects, too much electronics.
Overhead geese row northward.
We too awaken, our flesh warming
to urges shrill as the orchestra
of peepers that soon will shiver
the air at dusk. Like the days,
like the sun and moon, we too
must balance heat and chill, light
and darkness outside, within.
Peas are the first thing we plant
always. We lie full length
on the cold black earth and poke
holes in it for the wrinkled
old men of the seeds.
Nothing will happen for weeks.
Rain will soak them, a white
tablecloth of snow will cover
them and be whisked off.
The moon will sing to them:
open, loosen, let the pale
shoots break out. No,
they are pebbles, they sit
in the earth like false teeth.
They ignore the sweet sun.
Then one unlikely day
the soil cracks along miniature
faults and soon baby leaves
stick out their double heads
and we know we shall have peas.
Way too much of a good thing
Engulfed in green --
the garden laps at me.
leaves are hungry and thrust
for the sun, gulp the rain.
Too much is the name
of this month, sun blazing,
the sand burning the soles
of my feet, white as the hottest
fire. Thunderclouds mass
like boulders of iron.
Lightning zigzags to earth.
The trees toss, frenzied.
The bushes dip low
with heavy roses that
rise as honey to the nose.
Thickets of zucchini
long prickly vines of cucumber
all gleam with fruit
that swells while I look.
Pole beans climb trellises
above my head so I stand
tiptoe to pick while
the hummingbird hangs
in the air scolding.
Even the air feels sensual
like a tongue caressing.
July, you overwhelm. I turn
on airconditioning and hide.
The loose wind of this March thaw
undoes me as I walk, unwinding
the bandages of old resolves.
This season you sank into
the ground where seeds wait.
The instant snuffed you
so you became a tale I tell
myself. The brain starved
and you ceased, although
blood trickled out for an hour.
When your mother called weeping
to say you were dead, I sat
in a chair for nine days, catatonic.
Guilty that you were dead, guilty
that I was not with you and for
two years had not been.
A female trained to the halter
of heavy guilt, I forgot
I could not save myself, lying
pooled in blood from an abortion
less skilled than yours. For years
I helped women to the care
they needed, I packed their wombs
with ice while they hemorrhaged
and their doctors refused my call
not caring if they died broken
backed like mice in a trap.
Many women I helped survive
but still your death lurks in me
like those pea seeds buried
with mummies in the desert
shriveled, ancient but still
ready to sprout.
I close my eyes and your face
shines pallid as a moon high
and tossed in clouds, hair
of milkweed, spiky elbows.
Grief waxes with the season
of your death as seeds sprout.
The old cat speaks
I rub your prejudices against the comfortable
way they grow. I know how that feels:
like a clumsy hand setting my fur
on end after I have placed each hair
in its proper order clean and sleek.
I like things in their places. An armchair
moved, a suitcase brought out on the bed
and I protest, loudly. I have learned
change is seldom for the better.
Many of my kind I have seen
cherished as kittens, then as adults
tossed out in the street to starve.
My vanity is considerable
though not as overblown as yours.
I keep my cunt clean as my face.
We wash our friends too, purring
and turning as our mother did to us
in the warm milky days of ecstasy
I recall in joy kneading my paws
on your arm or chest.
Brothered and sistered as in the womb,
as nestlings we suckled and stumbled
studying speed and grace. We knew
what we could be if we survived.
With friends we lie in the sun
eyes blinking to lazy slits,
blissful, our paws in lotus
position, smiling like buddhas.
Copyright © 2010 Marge Piercy