Two Poems by Kathleen Graber
Self-Portrait in Suspension
This dewdrop world is
a dewdrop world. And
yet, and yet . . .
Because I have no one-quick-word for what I feel tonight
as a newscaster reports the beheading of an eighty-two-year-old scholar
of antiquities in Palmyra—
his mutilated body hung from a column
in the ancient square he loved—
I want back all the hours I spent
this afternoon seeking a pair of old-school Adidas Superstars.
The most mindful moments of my day passed as I waited
for a discount haircut. And later,
I breathed deeply & slowly
as I watched brown bread brown in the toaster.
a semi-automated phone call announced the compromise
of my identity, assured me my bank had preemptively blocked
all access to my funds. Panicked over how little cash I had,
I lost it,
shuffling my cellphone in & out of my pocket
to make a dozen frantic & fruitless calls.
Now, after a dinner
of cheese & rice, I scoop Chinese herbs into warm water & drink,
knowing I could not pronounce the ingredients, even if
I knew them, knowing some part of me knows it is foolish
to dose myself on trust alone,
knowing my former husband’s cousin
would say this is how people end up with other people’s kidneys.
A friend who consults the I Ching before each meal reminds me
to trust my intuition.
At fourteen, I named the black mollies
in the small tank beside my bed Doc, Doc & Doc because,
despite great effort, I could never learn to tell them apart.
One morning, while I was at school studying biology or algebra,
the charcoal filter backed up & they died.
the belief that each of us matters. How unfathomable the fact
that our urgent being ends.
I have no one-quick-word
for my feelings for the hip kids in the park who call all their dogs
And so, when the crows gather in the yard to pick
at the scattered tops of strawberries & apple cores, I open a book
at random to name them.
Sometimes I lift the old blue paperback
of Common Wild Flowers & read from it a litany of words
for the world we have been given by those who came before:
Keck & Traveller’s Joy. Violet. Primrose. Nightshade, Nettle,
Shepherd’s-purse. Honeysuckle, Broom.
If to name is an act
of owning, perhaps to list is simply to spend or to sow. Profligate.
The beauty of the light at dusk sluices the mind with sorrow—
or so the latest research suggests.
Here, in the growing darkness,
the white trees are blooming, the forsythia, the daffodils.
buzzes—like a bell & not—just once, at the far corner of the house.
The small motor of the refrigerator kicks on. Elsewhere,
a two-thousand-year-old temple is being blasted into dust.
And yet . . .
I open The Complete Book of Patience Games, say Pendulum.
Little Spider. Napoleon at St. Helena. Crescent. Captive. Clock.
Twilight. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? A phrase, coming back:
to say two things at once.
Outside, the sky is saying its two things—
more, no more, more, no more—
fierce lullaby. A last careful crow
paces, bowing its head as it goes; every step, a seeming genuflection.
The Year of the Horse
No longer the thought that you have a body, but, rather,
that you are one. Only yesterday, a student, longhaired,
not yet twenty, asked if this were even a distinction
that made any sense. It’s late already in a neighborhood
so suburban all the drivers wave as they pass,
though no one knows anyone’s name. The streets,
so quiet that even the house rented to kids
from the pricey private college has gone sleepily dark.
The last image you have of home is of an injured gull
shrieking amid the traffic of the 7-Eleven parking lot.
A man with a baseball cap trying to shoo it off,
but it won’t fly. You thought that if a car didn’t
crush it soon, the guy at the gas pumps might finally—
out of compassion rather than cruelty—walk over
on his break & crush its head with a boot. Its suffering
seemed that relentless. The night before, a full moon
had pulled the tide so high turtles were left stranded
in the road beside the marshes, but, here, now, is
an evening so capacious no one needs a scarf or gloves.
No one has to decide. Decades ago, if you passed
among illuminated brownstones, you wondered how
you had missed some turn of fate that might have
given you the keys. Not yet knowing the days
when you won’t eat or dress, not yet the Year of the Ox
when you’ll have only debt. Inside, on the stove,
chicken, carrots, parsley & dill. Broth as transparent
as habit. As for sorrow: in other states, the mothers
& fathers of everyone you love are dying, but yours
are already dead. Some things only happen once. Above,
the perfectly credible stars. Below, a downhill road.
Last week’s snow melting before the next storm arrives.