Showing posts from September, 2020

Please Don't Stop By the House Unannounced

            for L. H.

you can’t bear
any tires on the gravel
any footfall on the porch
any shoes inside the door
any coat on the hook
any food in the fridge
any body in the chair
any face
any touch
any voice
any story
any love
that isn’t his

Play notes: This wasn't play at all. I wrote it for a poet friend upon learning that her husband had been killed in an accident. Peace to you in your grief, L.H.

Hiking a Poem

Start out not knowing where you’re going.
Leave your phone at home, or switch it off.
Pack only what’s essential.
Wear sturdy shoes well suited to your feet.
Don’t borrow someone else’s.
Bring trekking poles, maybe a friend or two,
for balance and support,
Be prepared for all kinds of weather.
Hope for anything, expect nothing. 

Follow your inner compass,
even if the needle points you straight
into wilderness where every mile looks like the last.
We pay closer attention when we’re lost.

Set your own pace.
Respect the heart of the land.
Avoid ruts. Take no shortcuts.
Laugh at your stumbles.
Appreciate the muck you must wade through;
the piles of dung you step in, too—
you’re not the only critter in this poem.

When the ground is level, keep your head up.
Notice the pelicans on the lake, the season of the trees,
the wedges of geese, the Pleiades.
When toiling uphill, keep your eyes on your feet.
Sink your body into the slog.
Don’t be in a rush to descend again.
Downhills can be hard on the knees.

Don’t ask if the poem is good enough.
Walk its path as a guest, with nothing to prove.
You’ll reach the end when you get there.
Pass through the place with such humility
and care, no trace of you will survive
the wild words you find, not even
your name carved on a tree.

Play notes: This poem can be traced to an earlier one, "Hiking the Loop." When posting that, I accidentally typed "Hiking the Poem." I laughed aloud. Wasn't that a title begging for a text? I drafted it during last week's personal writing retreat in the woods (which, by the way, involved a fair amount of hiking).

Let's Start with a Poem

I’m writing this poem
because it’s all I can do.

I can’t set the world right.
I can’t put out the wildfires.
I can’t calm the hurricanes.
I can’t lower the oceans.
I can’t hold back the floods.
I can’t end the pandemic.
I can’t heal the sick.
I can’t raise the dead.
I can’t cancel the debts.
I can’t hire those without work.
I can’t house the homeless.
I can’t feed the hungry multitudes.
I can’t keep the schoolchildren safe.
I can’t relieve the droughts on the farms.
I can’t stop the violence in the cities.
I can’t pretend that color doesn’t matter.
I can’t wash away the sins of slavery.
I can’t get racist knees off dark-skinned necks.
I can’t return this land to its original peoples.
I can’t tear down the border wall.
I can’t uncage the children.
I can’t restore their mothers’ stolen wombs.
I can’t deflate the conspiracy theories.
I can’t spin all the lying into truth.
I can’t make new enemies become old friends again.
I can’t build peace out of scraps of hate.

But I will still try
to find words for this poem.

This is how we can begin.

Play notes: This was the first poem I wrote on the personal writing retreat from which I've just returned. Perhaps like you, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by despair over the state of my country and the world at large. Writing this proved cathartic. It enabled me to move into a somewhat lighter creative field.

Hiking the Loop

Head the other way for once.
Backward to your usual forward.
South instead of north.
The trail won’t mind if you do.

Let the sun peer over
your other shoulder.
Let the mirror of the lake
reflect your shadow side.
The water will still hug the shore.

Go around the burial ground
only a half-mile in
instead of hours later.
The dead will still keep
company with the sod.

Enter the open stretch of prairie
from the west instead of the east.
Its tall grasses will still bow their heads,
worshipping the breeze.

Rise up into the woods
instead of sloping down.
The trees will still welcome you.
The hawks will still watch,
the blue jays still squawk,
the squirrels still scatter.

Somewhere out in the middle of the loop
you’re apt to meet your old self
striding down the narrow path.
Smile to greet her.
Step aside to let her pass.

Play notes: Funny how habituated we can become to the smallest things! I wrote this poem after hiking a loop trail (ha, I first typed "after hiking a poem") clockwise after having always hiked it the other direction. 

Hard Freeze

It’s too early in the season
but no one told the frost. 
The sky, flat and gray
as an old griddle, promises
no cover. The only clouds 
around are the faint plumes
of your breath as you stoop
through the helpless garden
picking green tomatoes, 
yanking unripe peppers, 
scavenging for baby beans, 
mourning half-grown melons. 
So much is beyond saving. 
Too many living things, still
in their prime, about to perish
from this precious patch 
of earth. If this is the dying 
time, as the forecasts predict, 
you’ve reached the end
of your humble powers.
All you can do now is prepare
yourself for the fall of night: 
tuck your little ones tight 
in their beds, trusting sheets
of cloth to keep them safe
as the killing cold descends.

Play notes: The seed for this poem was a hard freeze in our garden on September 10, 2020. I wrote it the following day, the tragic anniversary of "9-11." I didn't consciously connect the poem with those terrible events but noticed a resonance after finishing.


            for my son, Nathan LanTian Cole-Dai

Before you were born
I dreamed of you,
old man in a baby’s body,
speaking in a sage’s voice,
telling me secrets of the universe.

These days I dream dreams
of another you, a child
of five or six, always beyond
my field of vision,
the sound of my voice,
the reach of my hands.

Both dreams are true—
both man and boy
are at home in you.
In my heart, too.
The man, getting comfortable,
the boy, running in and out,
each playing his part.

Let them be as they are.
You’re growing into the son
I’ve loved from the start.

Play notes: I wrote this for my son's eighteenth birthday, September 4, 2020.