Breezy beach poppies
dance like daughters
in sun-dried grass.
I wonder about God’s
as I walk past.
If I had shaped these petals,
birthed them wet,
fed them from my earthly teat—
If I had covered down
blue winter nights,
If I had dug this nest
sea chantey fresh
so they could stretch—
and in a moment, spied
in dusky light their nodding heads
and reedy thighs, I would ignite
in flames of sinful pride.
But I am saved by thanks
for all I did not make.
Which makes me think:
How does God escape?
Before I knew that rivers would deceive
I sat on a dusty iron bridge to watch
the stale summer breath of a California stream
float beneath my hardened feet.
Walnuts and willows dipped their canopies
on banks of velvet moss, gleaming
liquid as enchantment.
I wanted that cushioned landing.
I’d like to jump down there, I should have said
to Grandfather, who would have warned –
Instead, I just shoved off.
The drop was quick and sweet
Until the land mirage revealed itself
as floating leaves, and the river grabbed
my ankles, knees, and breath
and slimy logs harassed my hips
and my naked toes met liquid weeds
while my hair, above all, swam loose and free
in dark, maple light that came to me
as I kicked hard, like a dog, for the air.
You sketch my kitchen and I am exposed
as if you’d traced my naked spine
just to see me squirm.
You’ve done this with others.
Still – I believe you envision only me
castled by marble and terra cotta,
served by six obedient burners of gas,
framed by the burnished forests of Vermont,
And the immodest maiden in me warms
with the glow of surrender –
until, duty-bound, I remember my place
and ask about the cost.
A wide window here, for basil and chives,
your pencil mustachios in reply.
The wall gone there, to bring in guests.
You set me adoringly in this court,
until, pink with wine, I dip to the music
and am lost – taken as any virgin
caressed by leather gloves.
Great Uncle Peter pulled so many salmon
from these waters, they named a town after him.
Now my stringy girl digs a rod into her hip
and reels up her fourth fat-jawed ling cod.
Her pole arches the same fertile sound
my grandmothers steamed across,
bartering scholarship for freedom
and the swell of moonlit canoes.
My brother braces her back as she hauls
steady against the entire Inside Passage.
He nets the thing, her fifth, and clubs
its bulging head. She does not look away.
Across that inlet, my mother was born.
Over those mountains, Dad perfected his shot.
And so long ago the memories could be dreams,
I shared supper with Granddad’s cannery men.
Her sixth. A little Alaskan in her after all,
no one says out loud, not mentioning the purple shoes,
the headphones, the frequent flier miles.
We motor into town to the FedEx place.
She wants a feast on the other side,
on a backyard grill
under New England maples
and our own blueberry pie –
her best friend for audience,
her sister for corroboration,
her home behind her.
We smoked to Athena's temple
on borrowed scooters, passing freely
through storms of olive trees.
From center stage at rocky Epidaurus
we offered Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Yammering bells woke us in Napflion
and crackles of loudspeaker priests,
but in our rosy-cheeked cabin,
lemon and yesterday's sweat on our sheets,
the waves slapped lazily on the hull.
Your khaki zipper whistled at it all
as you slipped away for pastries and chocolates
and a silver necklace for my birthday.
I keep it polished clean on my throat,
wrapped where a prayer might have been,
if only we had known.