Reading the Obituaries

Now the Barbaras have begun to die,
trailing their older sisters to the grave,
the Helens, Margies, Nans—who said goodbye
just days ago, it seems, taking their leave
a step or two behind the hooded girls
who bloomed and withered with the century—
the Dorotheas, Eleanors and Pearls
now swaying on the edge of memory.
Soon, soon, the scythe will sweep for Jeanne
and Angela, Patricia and Diane—
pause, and return for Karen and Christine
while Susan spends a sleepless night again.

Ah, Debra, how can you be growing old?
Jennifer, Michelle, your hands are cold.


The Blue Water Buffalo

One in 250 Cambodians, or 40,000 people,
have lost a limb to a landmine
            —Newsfront, U.N. Development Programme Communications Office

On both sides of the screaming highway, the world
is made of emerald silk—sumptuous bolts of it,
stitched by threads of water into cushions
that shimmer and float on the Mekong’s munificent glut.
In between them plods the ancient buffalo—dark blue
in the steamy distance, and legless
where the surface of the ditch dissects
the body from its waterlogged supports below
or it might be a woman, up to her thighs
in the lukewarm ooze, bending at the waist
with the plain grace of habit, delving for weeds
in water that receives her wrist and forearm
as she feels for the alien stalk, the foreign blade
beneath that greenest of green coverlets
where brittle pods in their corroding skins
now shift, waiting to salt the fields with horror.


Summer Sapphics

Maybe things are better than we imagine
if a rubber inner-tube still can send us
drifting down a sinuous, tree-draped river
like the Wisconsin—

far removed from spores of touristococcus.
As we bob half-in and half-out of water
with our legs like tentacles, dangling limply
under the surface

we are like invertebrate creatures, floating
on a cosmic droplet—a caravan of
giant-sized amoebas, without a clear-cut
sense of direction

It’s as if we’ve started evolving backwards:
mammal, reptile, polliwog, protozoon—
toward that dark primordial soup we seem so
eager to get to.

Funny, how warm water will whisper secrets
in its native language to every cell—yet
we, the aggregation, have just begun to
fathom the gestures.


For Lucy, Who Came First

She simply settled down in one piece right where
she was, in the sand of a long-vanished lake edge
or stream—and died.
            —Donald C. Johanson, paleoanthropologist

When I put my hand up to my face
I can trace her heavy jawbone and the sockets
of her eyes under my skin. And in the dark
I sometimes feel her trying to uncurl
from where she sank into mudbound sleep
on that soft and temporary shore
so staggeringly long ago, time
had not yet cut its straight line
through the tangle of the planet,
nor taken up the measured sweep
that stacks the days and seasons
into an ordered past

But I can feel her stirring
in the core of me, trying to rise up
from the deep hollow where she fell—
wanting to prowl on long callused toes
to see what made that shadow move,
to face the creature in the dark thicket
needing to know if this late-spreading dawn
will bring handfuls of berries, black
as blood, or the sting of snow,
or the steady slap of sand and weed
that wraps itself like fur
around the body.


Rondeau: Old Woman With Cat

Osteoporosis (one of life’s indignities)
is such a splendid name for the disease—
all those little o’s, holes in the bone
where the rain gets in, rendering a crone
like me defective, porous as swiss cheese.

I’m riddled at the hips and knees,
roundsided as parentheses
since my shrunken spine has known
osteoporosis—

and my extremities
have shriveled into lacy filagrees,
breakable as glass on stone.
Naked at the window ledge I drone
to my sleek, supple Siamese:
osteoporosis.


If You’re Watching Face the Nation

without the audio
to observe the cavalcade of chins
flapping up and down
under matched pairs of eyebrows
that rise and fall, and a hand or two
wagging back and forth
for a very long time
before coming to rest under
one of the aforementioned
chins, you could well be envious
of those furtive creatures
not wired for sound—
the snakes and armadillos, mollusks,
worms, octopi and my own white cat—
living out their lives
in the silence that is their lot,
oblivious to the conversations of men,
of wolverines with wind, of running water
with the growl of thunder, and the croon
of mourning doves who think nothing
of interrupting the steady rain to talk.