Ancient woman, young as a child
older than you thought possible
agèd as the earth’s crust
shaking the mortar of your home
shock waves teaching your feet
all they need to know
about temporal and eternal
about time’s mouth opening
for breath of life at midnight
breath of memory
your ear cocked for the sweep
of time’s wide, dark hand.
The world sleeps, new moons
between dying days of silver rain
the green world wakes
season of planting
leaves ripening and after harvest
chaff lying sunstruck in the stubble.
Now your winged hunger comes
swooping to the field for grain
in time of drought, for the taste of love
in time of fear.
And you are here, still alive
carrying your earthen tray of poems
like living fire into the sanctuary.
Sun burns a hole in my eye
but I see you aflame
even on days
when winter casts
and the long night
I guard my love,
but the sentinel
drowses at the gate
where dreams glow
and the word sleeps
in the nesting womb
of unreliable landscape
We believed in those days
that love belonged to us
we had no idea of love’s law
could not imagine
the child’s death in winter
would tie our frozen hands
together, fasten us like prisoners
to judgment’s bare tree
and that when we looked
we’d see a ruined branch
and turn our grieving faces
away from each other.
In those days we had no idea
of love’s law, could not imagine
how, in time, mercy would unbind
our wrists, release us
into each other’s custody,
that there would come the gift
sometimes given to lovers
who endure loss: the grace to turn
and see the wounded branch
see the green leaf open.
Kids at school laughed, said he stank like squirrel stew
or mouse shit, like an old suitcase, man,
smell of the country he came from
or the sweater his grandmother knitted
in her old kitchen, garlic and wild leek, the rabbit
she caught boiling in a pot on the peat hearth
needles clicking odour into the wool
row after row.
He threw the sweater in a dumpster on the way home from school,
bought a new one, red, white and blue
at the five and dime with paper route money
but the kids still laughed. He thought
something inside his skin must reek through the pores
of his long hands, thin chest,
maybe his grandmother’s life poured
out of his mouth with every breath his heart pumped,
a foreign smell, stink in his blood, her story
living in him, old words knitted beneath new.
New words came to him in pieces
but when he strung them together, he smelled shame
for the place he’d come from, his grandmother’s childhood
on the farm, her hands old at ten, look.
How the soil starved during the war, malchik, she said.
Acorns and thistles.
And how, when she fled, the child she carried on her back
lived almost to the border.
Your uncle, she cried. Before your father was born,
listen, malchik, weeping in her new kitchen
trying to reach him
trying to knit their worlds together.
Blessèd be the waves
carrying your ashes
the door to memory
image of small hands
pulling on boots
red-striped toque, mitts,
down the hall of the old flat
nothing to hold you
from the race
to stairs and front door.
Blessèd be the perfect snow
the goofy smile
on your snowman’s face.
Blessèd be the white world
created only for you.
Blessèd be new snow
First words on my lips at dawn,
what it takes to welcome morning
out of the corner of my eye
the luminescence, a new day’s
burden of grace,
hesitant hand reaching for air,
stepping on wood lines.
Beyond the glass, a grey sky rises,
and hills, ancient green.
What it takes to behold the time
between childhood and age,
to hear birth and death
knocking on the same door
at the same time,
to behold the page, unwritten
what it takes to remember
I can see for miles
in your light.