Sunday, October 9, 2016

Some things will

In a garden's grave, life remains: beets
Never pulled may be pulled now, to boil

And put back, for the flock to discover;

Greens have carried on and are taken
And dehydrated, or left for the goose to strip;
Red highlights show missed tomatoes;
Dense thickets of dead vines give beans.
Even the weeds, that had defeated her,
Now yield rich heads of seed for hens.
She walks about, coat-wrapped, scanning

Ground for spuds rolled out by hen feet.
Rarely, rewardingly, a ripe winter's squash
Awaits discovery. Gone to seed last year,
Viable chard and kale erupt now
Even as it were March, and are welcomed.

Little remains of her apple crop,
If the early varieties are to be believed,
Filling the cellar as they have, and
Even the kitchen cabinet, with sealed jars.

Rummaging round the orchard, she spies,
Excusing themselves for tardiness, a
Mighty wall of Granny Smiths. She might
Avail herself of them, but her arms ache.
In winter one wants rest. She turns
Now houseward. Her hands hope
Some things will wait for spring.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What rain is for

The last three summers, as she recalls them, 
Her heavy-clay bit of earth opened hexagonally;
Into the depths she stared, seeing dry darkness
So desiccated, she fancied worms and millipedes

In despair had decamped, seeking other worlds.
She poked at crevasses with her stick, finding bottom

Well deeper than twelve inches. Not knowing
How to garden in any but a rain forest, she
Attacked books and websites for some scheme
The budget could be stretched for: shade cloths,

Raised beds, huge-log hugelkulturs, keyhole beds.
All were possible, but her hands, old, worked
In fits and starts; her money allocated elsewhere.
Now she startles, looking at her night sky, so steeped

In stars all summer, finding it black and close.
Some drops, like bad boys' spitballs, carom off her 

Face. More, and now she's happily drenched in her
Old nightgown, dancing slow circles. Autumn proves
Real at last. This dance is what rain is for.

Friday, September 2, 2016

See it through

One should not have an orchard and
Not care for it; so she tries,
Even lurches from the depths of a chair

She's found at some thrift, pre-softened; from
Her house, warm or cool as she might wish,
Out into too much sun or too much rain; from
Under the kind roof of a porch she'd built,
Leaving tool after tool there to gather
Dust and webs, marks of a new will to

Neglect. Beyond the weed-bent fence, an
Orchard of sorts awaits her care, each
Task having skipped two years at least. 

Hands grasp lopper and saw. She visits
Apple, quince, pear, plum, cherry, clipping
Vines, tall weeds, watersprouts, suckers;
Even designates branches for her stove.

As the forenoon warms, she strips off
Now her hat, next jacket, shirt and gloves,

Old skin offered to thorns, thistles, 
Rough bark. Really she'd meant to hire it done, 
Children of neighbors being short on cash.
Habit, she could call it. Habit, and the way
Apples come best that see right sun,
Ripe enough to pay her for some pains.
Do a thing yourself to see it through.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Who lives

She drags her rusty kneeler as way opens
amid plants knee high, wetting her blue
trousers in dew, as clouds decide 

to open or not, as the morning star
recedes and hides itself, with a sliver
of new moon, in day. Poppies

have not yet awakened, nor daisies.
She kneels and kneels again, eyeing
potato vines, chard, kale, spinach, beets

to see are they hiding pretenders beneath
their skirts: thistle, geranium, nipplewort,
even nascent blackberries, ash trees, an oak.

Most of all, she seeks out bindweed, a long
vine snaking from place to place, climbing, 
smothering fruitful things. She knows

she's prejudiced, but her rationale is: 
bindweed's not for eating; raspberries are. Her
hands elect who dies, who lives today.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


She went to fight bindweed
among cabbages, peas,
borage, arugula,

potatoes, raspberries
and such. Distracted by
thistles, as they are more

easily removed, she
worked an hour, then eased
ponderously into  

her cracked resin chair, out
of breath, watching two gold-
finches having it out

on a mossy fence post.
What is not said in six
syllables is silence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

These are not the tomatoes

These are not the tomatoes she wanted,
Heirlooms such as Cherokee Purple, or
Even Brandywines. But the clerk only
Sells what's brought in, finds labels, wands
Each three-inch pot through as she would

A bag of chips or box of three penny nails.
Really, the old woman muses, I should have
Ended my day at the seedsman, but it's not

Near here -- what, twenty miles? So I've
Opted for the discount store again, to buy
These things that hurt my soul: hybrids.

There's this about them, they do produce
Heavy fruits that please her folks and friends
Easily enough, and in larger numbers. But

To her there's something in them lacking.
Old varieties taste of the eyes of young
Men, of weeping, of laughter, of
A child's anger at being teased, of
The confusion of having one's braid pulled.
On the hybrids she can't say as much.
End to youth, beginning of sameness; a
Safety that came to her too soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The cool-weather plants

The cool-weather plants have bolted, and she
Has had to gather the saddest cases.
Even kale, not last year's but this year's, and 

Chard are defying the routine she has,
Over decades, established as garden law.
Often she walks through now, knife in hand,
Lopping flowering stalks, vainly trying

Whether some leaves can be kept soft
Even as the heat chases her dream of spring 
Away again. Like last year. Like the year before.
There's something to be said for radishes,
Her bowl tells her, which is that it is not
Empty. With arugula and rocket, leaves
Ripped from already woody stems, snipped,

Piled loosely, steamed lightly, stirred
Lazily with duck egg on hot iron
And tipped out onto a wrap, she'll
Not starve today. Not that she would;
Times were, she, younger, put things by.
Shelves filled, bins groaned. A fear of

Hunger to come, of poverty, keeps her
Away from the cellar nowadays. She
Values what's to be had from sun to sun.
Even in real winters, there had always

Been something to scrape for under snow.
Over her now emptied bowl she, sated,
Lingers, watching shadows move. It's 
That sun that worries her, drying
Even early crops. Could even her
Death come as rain, that would bless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

At her western window

At her western window, she's stitching.
The needle pricks her sometimes. She moves

Her hand aside to not bleed on silk.
Even as she works, her waxed thread in
Rows appearing like commas, she sees a

Western meadowlark pounce in tall grass
Ever growing, unmowed, outside. When
She stops, peering over thick lenses
To note the meadowlark has a grub, to her
Ears come, faintly, short songs of its mate.
Reaching for her scissors, she snips a tail,
Nudges it out of sight behind a stitch.

When this row is done, she'll ask her mate
If it will do. If not, she'll turn her mother's
Needle and pull thread, loop by loop 
Down to the place her mind wandered.
O meadowlark, I must look away!
Wonder does not always aid one's work.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Five plants in

Five plants in, her back gives out, an
Ill omen, given her age. This
Very thing, her father had predicted;
Even said: you will lose interest in

Planting, in harvesting, in putting up.
Lately she sees what he meant: politics
And global change have consumed her;
Now she sits much more, immobilized by
Things she can only warn of, not repair.
She feels some obligation to the young

In all countries, even of peoples she will
Never meet. Some tell her it's not

Her business if some foreign child drowns.
Even were that so, she would still feel it,
Rummage in her purse, send something.

Back in her garden, unfinished flats
And pots of spring greens wonder where she is.
Could she have died at last, that old thing,
Killed by her curiosity, and left their roots

Groping for water, circling round
In dark commercial soil? The 
Very weeds miss her companionable warfare.
Even the birds and squirrels, not chased
She has let down; they lose their edge.

Out in the mailbox, seed catalogs pile up.
Under the house, leaks spring.
This is how it is. Life moves on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How she knows

How she knows she is not useless yet:
Old cornstalks must be shattered right
Where they stood green, to feed worms

She knows are waiting in darkness.
Her hens wait too, for water, for feed,
Especially for deadnettles, nipplewort,

Kale and comfrey. Some hummingbirds
Now arriving check the lilac for their
Own nectar bottle that hung there
While last spring, summer and fall
Slipped past. There are wasp queens

She finds sleeping in her woodpile;
Her heart skips a beat as she sees
Each one, for she fears them, yet

Interests herself in their rest and
Safety, for the good they do her garden.

Now she mucks out her barn, for
Of her things she values rich mulch, almost
To distraction, most. But slowly;

Under beams and eaves hang cobwebs,
Sacs of eggs suspended in each, waiting
End of winter, not to be disturbed.
Lest she forget to serve all equitably,
Every bucket of soiled barn water
She carries to her trees to tip out: 
Something to stave off drought.

Yes, she's earned the right, she thinks,
Even in this so solitary place,
To call herself an asset to her friends.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spring springs

Spring springs upon her unawares;
Perhaps she thought snow would drift
Right up to her window, as it should
In February, as in her memory
No such month escaped some white.
Going forth in a sleeveless shift

She pockets up seeds for flats,
Pulls out dank bins of soil,
Reaches for small pots, sets hope
In light. Such April ploys are
Not to be counted on, she knows --
Guessing random frosts
Still may spring upon her unawares. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What was hers, but is not hers just now

What was hers, but is not hers just now,
Having suffered a rising tide of voles
And other rodents (she does not doubt), is
The potting shed/solarium, a domain in

Which she'd reigned, she thought, for decades.
All of it, she'd built herself. Gathering
Slats of rough hewn barn wood, windows,

Heaps of antique bricks, a long green bench,
Ever more pots and flats, bins and trowels,
Royally she'd treated herself to her heaven,
Seedlings doing as she'd have them do.

But then: disaster. Peas and beans tucked
Under skeins of soil vanished by ones and
Threes -- whole flats of corn plowed up.

Is there nothing to be done, she wonders,
Short of slaughter by nefarious means?

Not the first option. She casts about among
Old tosswares in corners and on shelves.
This rolled-up screening might do. Shears in

Hand, she measures as one measures cloth,
Ever minding the selvage, to create caps
Rodents might decline to chew.
Slipping these into place, adding to each

Just one stone per corner, using
Up the Buddha cairns she'd made
Stacked here and there round the room.
The precept honored, she waters all,

Not neglecting to sprinkle stones.  
Outcomes must be as they must be.
We find well that find we do not reign. 

It begins with mare's tails

It begins with mare's tails: wisps of ice
That spread, ghostly fingers from

Beyond the southwestern horizon; her
Ears feel the chill as she is planting bulbs.
"Go inside," her chapped hands urge her,
"Inside, your steaming kettle waits."
"Not yet," she replies. In her mind's eye
She watches thousands of daffodils bloom

Where grass grew. She must plant hundreds
If her dream will breathe. Altocumulus,
Those clouds like schools of fish, arrive.
Her hands are hurting her now; cold clay

Milking moisture from gapped skin.
As she bends, shovel in one hand,
Round brown balls of life in the other,
Each destined for a hole along her fence,
She senses wind lifting skirts of

The cottonwoods and willows. Raindrops
Are arriving now, slanting through trees,
Investing her sleeves and hair with wet.
Leaving off at last, she, crutching on her
Shovel, pivots toward tea, book and fire.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

That time when there is yet nothing

That time when there is yet nothing,
Her skills being at rest, synchronized
And sympathetic with soil's sleep --
Timid buds of lilac or jonquil still

Tucked within themselves -- she wonders
If she's even a subsistence woman, is
Mistaken in that as so much else, as when
Even deep snow cannot efface what

Winter erases when it is nearest spring.
Her hands stretch to packaged seeds;
Enter into bargains with their quietude.
Now? Now? Now? Now? she asks them,

Though she knows they will not move.
Here by a cold window she spreads
Envelopes on her table: peas, beets.
Radishes will be first, nearest the house.
Even now she smells them, lifted, bitten.

Is there nothing that can be done?
She asks for the hundredth time.

You'd think the mud would dry a little,
Evenings come later, mornings earlier,
The birds nest and sing, daisies open!

No. Tools rest in their ranks, sharpened,
Oiled. Clouds pass, low, lightless, sulking.
The arbor's done, fences, orchard, 
Heaps heaped. All she needs today
Is that this blank month turn a little
Nearer sun, before her plot of earth
Grazes on forgetfulness too soon.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


This time of year that room is not much visited.
Its herringbone-patterned floor of worn bricks
tilts here and there where rodents have made inroads.

Homemade flats lie heaped in corners; stacks of cells
lean sleepily together; insulation dangles;
tools hang, festooned with webs and dust. Sometimes

when the door has been set ajar, a towhee wanders in,
becomes confused at light from so many windows,
beats itself silly, then rests, is eventually found

and shown the way out. There's not much
an old lady can do but wait, watching for
earlier suns to rise, for petrichor,*

for that sudden dislocation brought on
by stepping into sunshine by a southern wall.
Then, after one jonquil blooms by way of

affirmation, she'll step in, rearrange things,
dust her work bench and stool, bring seeds,
open the soil bin, grab a pot, begin.

*The odor of dry earth moistened by rain.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Weather is a thing

Weather is a thing, now, she tells herself,
Every day surprising -- week, month
And season. When, whether and what
To plant, or how to schedule visits with
Her friends or family, across a pass or
Even in lowlands. Storm clouds will
Roll in, blizzards, fire, a tornado. She

Is sure there's easy weather somewhere
Such times as freezing fog, wind, or

A heatwave shuts her in. She'll admit

There are good days for her yet
Here beneath her patient apple trees.
If weather is a thing, so is simplicity.
Never waste a calm day, she says:
Go see trilliums, bespeak beargrass,

Nod to daisies, curtsy to wise willows.
On such days, forget falling trees and hills,
Water rising. Love life while you can.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Decembering in the orchard

All that is left is the Granny Smiths; she 
Loves that they cling to their shivered tree,
Leaves long gone. Even the hens have left off

Trusting the sky to toss them sugar, and
Have retired to their tractor, pecking
At storebought feed in its styrene bin.
The winds whistle through, rasping 

Ink-black twigs together; the apples nod and
Stub their green bellies. She

Lifts ten or so down, as if they were 
Each one of her own breasts, tenderly
Filling her small basket. In the kitchen
They will sit shyly waiting their turn:

It is the season for other foods; in 
Stoneware bowls, nuts and citrus

Talk among themselves in distant tongues.
Here her hands make outland meals,
Even finding work for lemon skins.

Granny Smiths are not much favored,
Really, by her guests; in festive mood, if an 
Apple is desired, they'll reach for waxed,
Not thinking of that one tree, struggling
Night and day to keep for them fresh joy. 
Yet she knows she cannot blame them;

Shy apples do their best in pie.
Moonlight limns the fruit she did not pick;
If some green globes remain at large tonight,
The morning light will prove, tomorrow,
Holiday for those that cannot buy.
Squirrels and towhees will know what to do.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What to do with leaves

What to do with leaves, if one cannot leave them
Here beneath aspen, gum, maple and birch
As what they become in winter, a kind of skirt
To warm and feed fanned roots, is gather and

Toss them on a garden. She spreads hers
Over bed and path alike, with straw, with

Dead grass and weeds, barn bedding, the contents
Of kitchen bucket and tumble barrel, along

With any foliage that comes to hand, even prunings
If too small to bother with for her iron stove.
This is for worms and all their small companions
Heaving aside the earth of path and bed alike,

Leveling and loosening, making untilled tilth.
Evening comes and she stills, listening
As the city of humus thrums toward spring.
Very likely it's best to interfere not
Even this much in things, she tells herself, yet
She's always loved to tell her children: eat.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Or otherwise

Beets are a thing, she mused; all summer
Every seed she'd planted out refused
Every opportunity to sprout, but 
Those in flats thrived, just as those
Seedsmen told her they would not.

As for after they were transplanted, well!
Rare was the beet that was not found by gophers.
Even so, some were left not quite finished

As the gophers waddled away, and

Those she was grateful for. She brought in
Her greens; made wilted salad; then
In winter came across again the muddy half-moons.
Nothing is better than gifted beetroot steamed,
Gopher bitten, she told herself, or otherwise.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What to do about trees

What to do about trees, for she had room:
Have an orchard. But isn't that thinking
About twenty years ahead? So she went
To the tool room for her spade in November;

Took that and four apple saplings down
Onto the flat by the road, and began. Years she

Did this, working up and around the rise
Of better ground. Pears, cherries, quince

Abounded, but the plums got blight, and had to
Be started over. She was too old to harvest
Or even get shade from nut trees, they're so slow;
Uncoupling crop from objective, she anyway set
Them out, along with all the rest. Last, she 

Thought of mulberries. The hens could have
Really used those. Oh, well. She ordered,
Even this late in life, and planted once more,
Even as those old hens looked on amazed:
Something to offer folks not yet alive.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The rhythm of the work

The rhythm of the work is to set down
Her padded bench, a flat, and trowel at the
End of a bed and drop as if in prayer,

Reach for the trowel (bent for her old
Hand at right angles), dig, then grope for a pot.
You may see each hole is deep and wide enough
To exactly take the root ball. She carefully
Holds this in her shade, tips the damp
Mass in, packs with trowel, repeats all -- three

Or four times -- then stands. Behind her, some
Four plants glow green in any six feet of bed.

The rhythm of this work, when best, resembles
How monks or nuns in supplication glide
Easily to the floor, centered, unconcerned

With body or mind, then rise, then glide again,
Outcomes not sought, nor merit earned.
Right to the end of the bed she goes,
Kneeling to simply do with her rough hands.

Just about her favorite thing

Just about her favorite thing is to
Unseal bright papery packets and
Set out flats of germination soil
The length of her bench, then scratch in parallel

Along each flat, with a stick, five lines for seeds.
By and by, the covered infant sprouts appear;
Or don't, in which case repeat until satisfactory.
Under her grow lights, not great ones, but good enough,
The seedlings make two leaves and then two more:

Here she makes more flats, with this time in
Each flat eighteen pots, filled with dampened
Rooting soil. A hole in each pot waits

For one tiny plant; the soil to be pressed
Around the taproot and tiny rootlets, then
Very gently watered -- from below, pouring
Over the flat's lip a tea of comfrey.
Really she overdoes it, making hundreds,
In every kind, of vegetable starts, far more
Than she can plant, but is fine with that; most
Everyone she knows will willingly give them homes.

That's her means, in old age, of making
Happen a kind of revolution. There are
In towers far away, those who would
Not have us eat what will not make them rich.
Go, little plants! Feed free souls free food.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's more than luck

Padding along among roots and stobs in shade,
I take the north-slope path to see old friends:
red huckleberry and mountain hemlock

subsisting on nurse logs amid moss; vanilla
leaf, false Solomon's seal, sword fern, bracken,
sorrel, twinflower, wild ginger, salmonberry,

maiden-hair fern, ninebark, viney maple.
They seem well; it's steep shade and deep
mouldering duff. Enough rain has alighted

upon this slope for centuries to build tall firs,
straight cedars, twisted, hoary, wrangling maples.
Yet the riverbed below seems troubled, shrunken.

Stones I never see have suddenly shown
themselves, shouldering past dried caddis cases
and empty snail shells, standing in dessicated air.

Here no trout hide from tiring current,
awaiting mayflies. No osprey hovers above,
awaiting trout. The river has shifted from

its bed, lifted past every thirst, and gone
to fall somewhere in the world as flood.
A slug has blundered into dust in broiling

sun and is in trouble. Not one for caressing
slugs, I break two twigs for chopsticks, and move
the mollusk to, I hope, a better place.

In fellow feeling I expound to the slug
my sunstruck orchard, panting flock,
failing well and kitchen garden hard as ice.

We'll all of us start shifting soon, I tell it,
as ants shift from a burning glass. From here on
you and I will need what's more than luck.

Monday, October 19, 2015

There are rooms in a life

There are rooms in a life that may sometimes
Have someone in them; but they are guests there.
Even when one most loves, one may find,
Really, a solitude that begins at this wall,
Ends at that wall; the rest is not entirely ours.

As years turn and suns, moons and stars
Rise up and fall like rain by every window
Even one's hands will shrivel soon enough

Right at the ends of one's arms, as hands
Of strangers. But to fret at this discovery
Of emptiness arrived at and emptiness 
Made clear by moon's dance with water,
Sun's dance with dust, by endings never sought

In even that one room that is one's own, is
Not worthy of even that we call our life.

All our guests deserve from us restraint.

Little enough we can offer them as it is;
In a short while each vacates each room,
Feeling for the light switch as each goes.
Evening comes. Do not grieve the door.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Walking four miles

Walking four miles with my friend is about
Ailing knees and ankles. Also hope. We do
Laugh about this, but we are being stalked, we
Know. So we walk. I need black walnuts
In my forage bag, for dye; her small dog
Needs exercise to keep from growing frantic;
Good reasons, but we need no reasons.

For years we have wanted little talk; just to go
On for several hours, in file or by two as the trails
Unreel before and behind. Perhaps a stop by
Rapids or a view with hippie nut bars and a sip.

May be another mountain will call to us soon,
If we can trust our knees. If not, may be we'll
Let our knees lie, and try it anyway. Wilderness
Even, and if we come not back, do not mourn.
Say instead: those two were what friends are.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


In August, but this year in July, Gravensteins:
golden fleshed, generous, kind to cook,
ciderer and ring-dryer. She tries everything,

but mostly butter: a large crockpotful
of peeled rings, quartered, lightly cloved,
cinnamoned and nutmegged will make

six pints and one short jelly jar. After
that, the old Egremont Russet, Cortland,
Honeycrisp and Jonagold come all together;

what can she do but slice them all in quarters,
toss them into her dedicated shredder,
pour pomace into a burlap bag

and hang that, with her father's pulley
and old hemp rope, to a maple branch?
Juice will run for hours, collecting

in a tub beneath; at evening she dips gold,
pouring through filter and funnel into quarts --
forty-five glass jars or more, most years.

Last, she'll think of cider (but not too much),
making in a cool jug by adding wine yeast.
In seven days or less she will sing to trees.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Much, much more

Rattling around in her potting shed once
she came across packets five years old;
had not heart to toss the things away.

Popping the lid from an empty parsley shaker,
she tipped the packets' contents in and stirred.
Ten flats she sowed at random with this mix,

come March, that first year; a month earlier
thereafter, as springs grew warmer. Bits of green
appeared, some here, more there. She'd prick out any

that went to a second pair of leaves, and give them
each its own square pot. What might they be?
Some Red Russian, curly or Lacinato

kale, some radishes, turnips, beets. Six kinds
of lettuce, collards, cabbage -- Dutch or red --
some spinach, also chard. Carrots, kohlrabi

and parsnips never showed, but she allowed
enough's a feast. Those that proved up
were hardened off in April, then set out

in beds on a grid, each as its turn came next 
from the flat. That shaker lasted half a garden 
half a decade. Nothing the catalogs

had taught was even tried. Whatever she thought 
they'd said to do with seeds, well! The seeds 
knew more than seedsmen, and much, much more than she.

The grace at the heart of the world

She's not much for recipes. The bowl sometimes
invites her, and she oils it, cracks a duck egg 
or two, throws in a bit of stock or well water,

maple syrup and leavening, and says to it:
sit there and I'll be back with something for you.
"Something" might be a beet leaf, or an apple,

or a spray of young mint -- once it was a whole
handful of chives. Chopped and thrown in,
the whatever might vanish under oats or rye,

buckwheat flour, or crumbs from the last loaf,
and then salt -- late, so as not to insult the yeast.
Last, she may tug the spelt barrel from beneath

the counter, and dip a porcelain bowl into
the cool brown powder five -- six -- seven 
times. She stirs the makings between heaps

with a pair of chopsticks. Never quite
the same thing twice! In summer she'll oil
a crock pot and turn the lump in to bake;

in winter, a Dutch oven. In either case,
the secret is prop the lid onto a chopstick,
letting a little steam out over time.

The end is not the prettiest bread you'll ever see,
nor the best tasting, she'll admit. But slice it,
add a little butter to it still hot,

and sit, eating slowly, in a western window
as the sun goes gold, then falls. Are you not
now the grace at the red heart of the world?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

There is no reason not to do so

There is no reason not to do so, I guess,
Her father told her years ago, meaning
Even a girl could lie out nights watching the
River of stars twist slowly overhead.
Eventually she'd made sense enough,

If quietly, of popular science books,
Star charts, reports in a yellow-bordered monthly,

Not to be much bemused by Venus' popping up
Only near two horizons on the ecliptic.

Reaching you her binoculars, she'd show you
Europa, Io, Ganymede, Callisto -- 
A string of pearls never still; or perhaps
Saturn's ovoid appearance, or jeweled
Orion's belt, depending on times and seasons.
No one she knew in that town was so into

Night, at least for gawking upward. She once drove,
Only herself in the car, to Palomar and climbed,
Tentatively, up a catwalk by a darkened window

To squint at the mammoth instrument in repose.
Old now. The years were kind enough; great job,

Dear friends, good spouse, grandchildren. Still,
Often she joins star parties. And then finds

Some pert lad at hand, showing his Andromeda.
Oh, she might say much! But lets him have his way.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Learning to walk

It's not that she hasn't been doing this all along:
She'd walked to school as yellow lozenges, oozing screams,
fumed past her along hot asphalt. She'd splashed the creek,

anxious for a path, then built it herself, kenning
to use her father's axe without lost blood.
She'd walked from Springer Mountain north, chatting in

her offhand way with bears, a big cat and a ghost.
She'd walked the halls of academia and then the hills,
big ones, bringing seedling trees to snug up to

the raw stumps of firs machines had eaten.
She'd walked to a job for decades, block after block
of homes with eyes of black glass inching

past her tired, angry shoes. Now, late in life,
she keeps a small dog bereft by her parents'
breathing stopped. The dog has taught much:

when to stop and sniff; how to attend with one's
whole being the business of squirrels. Bound
by the leash, that necessary thing, they two as one

take in, absorb, imbibe, inhale, entaste
all the arriving and leaving of the living things.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The things to do

The things to do: bring an egg from her
Hens, a found apple, beet leaf, cat's-ear foliage,
Ensuring freshness even in October.

The skillet she heats, oil frisking.
Here's egg: break yolk, turn once or twice;
Insert chopped fruit and greens, with salt and pepper;
Now turn again, wait, remove from heat,
Give all to a spelt wrap. As she sits to her meal, a
Sun rises, invests her eastern window, spills in

To caress and warm six thick maple boards
Of her grandmother's table. Whatever remains to be

Done's already forgotten: the meal an emblem
Of all her morning cared to be.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No bucket. No water. No moon.

Chiyono married very young. She gave one child,
then lost her husband, and, as was the custom then,
she was dispatched to an abbey to begin anew.

Thus vanished, she married wood and water,
chopping, carrying, blowing through a tube
to brighten fire beneath the rice and tea,

hoeing radishes, sun and moon her companions.
Work done, which seemed seldom, she would sit
as the black-robed women sat, hands folded,

and this attracted kindness from an elderess.
"What are you doing?" "Gathering Mind," said she,
"as I have seen them do." "There is no Mind,"

the Old One chided, "that is to say, none
to be grasped, either by sitting or not sitting.
What's to be done is the same sitting or carrying

wood to the cooks. Do you wish instruction?"
She did, and studied with this nun for years,
while not neglecting any menial task.

One night, while making use of moonlight
to bring to the cistern her ancient bucket, full,
she watched in horror as it sprang apart and spilled --

then stood amazed, free. "This," she later
said, "in spite of my ceaseless effort, was
how it was. No bucket. No water. No moon." In

after years she shook the world of Zen,
founding five abbeys, taking in
homeless women, teaching strength and grace.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The first few fires

The first few fires of autumn laid by me
Here in this stove aren't much; I acknowledge
Even the hummingbird's still caressing blooms, so I

Feeling only a brief dawn chill, build accordingly. 
In thickets of summer I range about,
Ratcheting my long-handled pruner among stout sticks,
Stealing from oak and ash, letting in a little light.
These I pile in the long room where that stove squats.

Fueling it with paper and a stack of twigs, admiring
Even the least hints of gold and vermillion therein,
We sit back, warm enough for one dark cup of tea.

For awhile; then day overtakes us, ready
In sweater and chore coat to see to hens;
Really, we shuck those soon enough, sweat on our
Ears and eyelids, summer reborn briefly in our knees.
So; until the ground grows cold that will hold our graves.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Nothing can stand still

Nothing can stand still. If it were to do so
absolutely, I could not see it; if I 
were to cease scanning, I could not then see;

therefore change is all. These were my thoughts
as I walked our dog, watching a year run down.
Apples were falling; I chose one to eat.

Hips blushed fiercely; I stuffed my pockets full.
Ash and maple and willow turned and turned.
Restless mice and voles risked their all

for seeds. We reached the river; a trout rose, an
osprey plunged; they met and rose as one.
An osprey will turn a trout head first in flight, 

you know -- for improved aerodynamics. I 
disbelieve it; surely the bird is kind. 
It turns the trout to show it what's to come.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

She likes red in September

She likes red in September. Viney maple, poison oak;
Her plum trees dress well in it. Where she lives, all
Else goes brown. Except the dog roses 

Leavening hedges with their hips. She stuffs these
In her pockets on every walk, then does research,
Kindling a ken of potions, liqueurs, oils.
Easily, drying comes to mind; to prep for that
She'll split each pod and rake away hard seeds, 

Removing them to her freezer to stratify;
Else they might not emerge come spring. She
Digs out also myriad tiny hairs,

Irritants if retained. It's a slow business,
Not for the impatient, which well describes her;

She know of this but means to tough it out.
Each hip's a silent mantra: she'll
Push, pull, twist, scrape, sort, and set aside
The emptied husks for drying or infusing.
Eventually the pile is done, just as light fades.
My eyes, she tells herself, are getting on,
But this I can still do. I'll make rose tea;
Evening will fill my cup of mindfulness.
Really, there's nothing more than what there is.

Just enough

The ubiquity of Queen-Anne's lace annoys her;
it's not the plant's not doing its job; her soil
is loosened and enriched; in time of human 

hunger, roots, young leaves and even umbels
would have table use. But there is so much 
of it; her chickens dislike the stuff, especially 

in its second year, allowing their yard and moat 
to fill with cohort-ranks of pungent spikes. 
Her friend keeps bees and tells her they will feed 

on this exclusively, bittering his honey, 
bringing down its price. So he watches; 
when the umbels bloom he moves his hives. 

She'd like to query those who thought of Anne;
these tiny droplets in a sea of lace
Need not have been a queen's: she tells herself

her own blood has fed this thorned and rock-
embedded acre thoroughly. So, queen
of weeds, she! Or queen of just-enough.

It is quiet out there

It is quiet out there now. She
Takes her hat, stick and forage bag,

Into which she slips her pruners, then
Slides her feet into green clogs, feeling

Quite exurban-agrarian, ready to look
Under brush piles and into cottonwoods --
In every place that might consent to harbor
Even a hint of birds' music. They have flown,
The silence tells her; those that haven't died.

Out along the roadside she waves to cars,
Understanding her neighbors have to drive,
Then pockets up her apples, rose hips, leaves

That now are turning away from green: cat's ear,
High mallow, chicory, plantain, sow thistle, her
Ears pricked for passing flights of geese.
Really, thinks she to herself, there ought
Even now to be more birds. There are 

Not so many feral cats round here as that. 
Or could it be the sprays? She supposes
War has been declared. A war on song.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Terrified of them

Terrified of them she was through long
Experience being swarmed with stings,
Running, her hands over eyes and mouth,
Running to the house or jumping in the lake,
In whatever way possible to stop the punishers.
For years, she made herself their nemesis
In revenge, setting nests afire! Or in
Evenings inverting a glass bowl upside
Down over their holes to watch them starve.

Only in recent years, as her ways have slowed,
Finding in books their part in the scheme of

Things as helpers in garden and orchard,
Has she learned to move more gently
Even as they light on her cidery hands,
Milking fingers for juice, never stinging.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

And now it sings

She stands in wet and likes it; drips rolling 
around the brim of her split-bamboo conical
hat to fall on thirsting clay. Here's

weather at last, there having been sun,
sun, sun, a lip-cracking and tree-splitting
dry, since the vernal equinox. Nothing

had been vernal about it, and her land
knew so. The very fir limbs sulked;
willows on creek banks browned up and died;

birds fell everlastingly silent, dropping
on needle-sharp tufts of what had been haymow
beneath their perches in rattling cedars;

fish sought pools deeper than any there were,
crowding in together, fin by fin, 
gulping and grunting, then rolling over

to bump along hot, slimed rocks and lodge
somewhere, stinking. Her crops had miniaturized,
flavorful but insufficient to pay her labor;

She'd lost heart and let vining morning glories
into her cracked farm at last. And now here
comes weather. Not enough to top off the well,

maybe, and certainly not enough to start the creek.
But here she stops, catching chill -- watching
a goldfinch settle on fence wire with a twist

of foraged thistledown. It drops the meal,
opens its beak, cranes skyward. And now it sings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

These are highlands

These are highlands, in a region of highlands, so
not especially notable. It takes a long 
time to get there, though the graveled road

is short enough; park and walk -- not far,
but bring a lunch and water. Sign in; it's wilderness
according to the kiosk and its map.

Immediately you have shade. These are
Douglas fir, mountain hemlock, perhaps
some red cedar. Beneath, on both sides the trail,

a scattering of vine maple, ocean spray,
rhododendron, and, in the draws, willow.
Sometimes bear grass is in flower;

not this year. As late season turns, first
vanilla leaf, then devil's club, then red
huckleberry, then the blue, will shade through

gold to sienna to cranberry: cool nights.
Kinnickinnick under foot will be your sign
you are straying; do not lose the path.

Along the way are springs, but they are dry;
near them are holes of mountain beaver,
a town like that of prairie dogs. You will

not see them; they go abroad at night.
Admire twinflowers and trilliums, though
they are past bloom. So it is as well

with gooseberry and false Solomon's seal --
they are tired now, and long for snow.
As your path turns upon itself and climbs

rocks and trees will change to andesite
and alpine fir; soil to red dust, shrubs
to ceanothus. Now you discover that view

eyes come here to see; a mountainscape
of scree and scarp and what remains of ice,
not far away as the crows fly, yet leaning

over miles of air, blue with smoke and firs.
You may eat, and drink your water, leaving some
for your return. Wait here for me a bit

while I go to see a stone nearby
where both my parents' ashes lie at rest.

Where are the potatoes, she wondered

Where are the potatoes, she wondered, watching
Heat shimmer across her corn block, its leaves
Each rustling against other, turning brown.
Right here they were planted, next bed over,
Evenly spaced, in two long lines, eyes up

And covered in soft soil, mixed with compost --
Really exactly as she had done these fifty years.
Early next morning, she reached for her mason's hammer,

The experiment with the spud hook having failed, and
Heaving her old bones down onto her gardening stool
Exactly at the end of that mysterious weedy bed;

Pulled block after block of solid hexagonal clod
Over, busting up each as she went, feeling for
That coolness she knew as round starch balls
All her life she'd depended on. It's not
That she hadn't watered and weeded, no,
Or fought those gophers well, newly arrived.
Earth could not drink for once, it seemed.
Some spuds appeared. They were even

Smaller than those from last year. Some felt
Hollow. Some were cracked. Some were
Even green with poisons though they'd grown

Well deep enough never to have seen sun.
Oh, well, she thought, I'll take what I can get;
Now we'll have barley for every other soup, with
Dandelion to help stretch out my kale. This
Earth, she told herself, never did all,
Really even in days of rain. Barley I bought.
Ere I go forth from here as buried flesh or ash, I'll
Do as I have done: work with what is.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

She has work to do

She has work to do, establishing
Her anchor threads, her frame threads,
Even her bridge thread and all her radii,

Hub to be ready by dawn, herself resting --
All-powerful, so far as any lacewing can
See. Seeking out the ripest berries, she 

Works not to eat drupelets, but entirely to
Offer them as bait to fruit flies and their ilk.
Right away along comes another
Killer, a ladybird beetle, seeking the berries

Too, and for the same reason. He's caught,
Offers resistance, is overwhelmed, rolled up,

Done. Whatever comes in, if protein, her
Ovum will accept. Death it is brings life.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Clearing the knotweed

Commonly, this is done with herbicide.
Leery of that, she tried a chain saw. That was
Easy enough, but made fumes and sets fire to
All the earth's air over time. Electric clippers
Ruled the roost awhile, but that, we know,
In the scheme of things is but a longer tailpipe,
Neither the labor direct nor personal. She's
Going to have to simplify further. She takes

The hand pruner with her to the patch. It means
Her time in blighted shade, bending, will be
Extended, reaching to each stem in turn,

Killing with a snip and twist, dragging four or five
Not so much weeds as small trees outward
Or upward from the dry wash, toward hot sun,
Toward the roasting garden, into the paths
Where they'll be tossed as instant mulch
Entreating the drought to respect their shade,
Entreating irrigation not to evaporate,
Dimming, in sacrifice, the roving eye of Death.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Trying to protect the house

Trying to protect the house from heat,
Riding ladders, she paints a white roof,
Yes, and during heat waves, hangs tarps.
It is her ambition to refrain from power,
Not to use the loud machine that sits
Gurgling in every moneyed window.

This is privilege thinking, of course.
Out across the world, they that live

Pounding cassava or rice in stone bowls
Rarely think of heat but that it's there,
Older than plants, animals, themselves:
The other side of cold, a condition imposed
Everywhere at once. As if a fish
Could think of water, or a bird, air.
The privileged swim in personhood and ease,

Toss a ball and kids in the van and go,
Heavy foot on pedal, wheel and tarmac, so
Even changing the very taste of seas.

Have you nightlong sat, polyester off,
On your hand nothing, sunset to sunrise
Under the stars' turning, wordless, empty, yet
Satisfied? Her roof gleaming, she would dare hope
Even a little thing may help pound rice.

Other mother's day

She is almost thirty, and arrives
Here, where waves are sold to tourists,
Ever stronger, ever more sure than

I, who look back, now, most of the time.
She stretches, cat-like, knowing as she does

All time and objects are hers. How am I? I
Lie a little, watching a gull sail off,
Mention the easy sunrise, hiding a limp
Or cough or skip of the heart, or plan for
Shedding of things no longer holding me,
Things my hands once understood, or

Things I knew to say, sing, throw, mold, be.
Here is a sand dollar. It's not chipped,
I'll take it to her. I'm a passageway now,
Really a conduit, a path, a test, a mirror.
The young one looks back, smiling.
Yes, I have evidence. I've done well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Three deep breaths

Three deep breaths, palms together,
Here in her room, or elsewhere, she may
Rise and take. A habit she has formed,
Even as most of her ideas, ideals,
Even her so cherished findings, hard found,

Deducted, inducted, reasoned, debated, polished,
Even those most like faith, as taught her,
Even those most like science, measured, observed,
Peeled one by one: a human desert, she.

By three deep breaths, she centers somehow: how?
Reality itself a question she's no longer asking,
Eating and sleeping themselves provisional.
All she bothers to call caring is now to listen
To breath, room sounds, outside sounds, to
Her friends, their worries unpacked, their voices
Spending both hope and pain. She bows.

In season

What she will do today is walk and take in
Hand her apple staff, leaning on it
As she does now, more and yet more
The nearer arriving to a last heart beat

She comes, and check for vegs and berries.
Here are yet more peas; she's not as
Eager for them as three days ago.

With a bit more busy-ness, she'd go
In for blanching those. Onions and
Leeks too small yet; almost out of
Lettuce; tomatoes on the other hand

Doing well, and some ready already.
Oh, she could cut kale, collards or chard

This morning like any late spring morning,
Only she's hungry for something more.
Do what she will, there are yet no pears,
Apples, zukes, potatoes, corn, or beans.
You must make with what you have.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

French Pink

There are two climbing roses by her gate,
one to each side, with velvet blooms, small,
but heavily scented, suitable for soaps, salves

and potpourri. They blossom out together,
several hundred, perhaps a thousand whorls
French pink, shading to cream, the haunt

of matching shy arachnids. How tall they'd grow
she doesn't know, having twined an arch of willow
whips atop her gate, to bind them to.

In her middle years, her family took this place
and named it for the stony creek, dry
in summer, rolling through between their house

and garden. A storm year came; that garden up
and vanished down a river to the sea,
leaving them three dead plum trees and a rose.

She started fresh, gardening by the house,
planting new beds and trees, then moved the rose,
a monumental task, involving pick and spade,

wheelbarrow, calluses, and a tan. She chose
north, a shaded wall, and while the rose
liked a hidden spring there, for drinking,

it never cared for the paucity of light. It'd
stretch its greeny fingers roofward, up
and over; send roots drilling left and right;

make awkward shoots. Shift it one more time,
she thought. Maybe both sides of a sunny gate
she'd build, with an arch. The spot she had in view

she could muse on from her kitchen window.
Again two days of digging, and with her bowsaw
made one rose two. Would they take another journey?

It seemed they would, though they'd always want water;
She'd have to remember to make the hoses reach.
She wouldn't mind if the roses wouldn't mind.

Monday, May 25, 2015

She knows the weeds will win

She knows the weeds will win. Sometimes, at night,
Hearing them grow in her dreams, she'll wake, grasp
Even in her two hands, a phantom thistle, or

Knotweed, errant blackberry, or teasel.
Now not able to turn and sleep, she'll rise, throw
On her robe, and step out into night;
Walking the way the slim moon shows her,
She throws aside her garden gate and listens.

There might be corn and tomatoes chatting,
Having about as much to say as farmed things.
Even a whisper among the kales and chard --

Whatever such things say. Beyond are beds
Ensnarled in dock, barnyardgrass, bindweed,
Everlasting morning glory vines.
Dire straits; but there's no sound there.
She knows they're biding their time,

Watching for her sudden return, sickle
In hand, fire in eye, seed packets in mind.
Level them, they fear she means to, or
Leave roots drying in summer sun.

Well, that's tomorrow. She turns now; steps
Into her lightless house. She'll give this up
Not soon, yet knows how it must end.


"身心脱落" T'ien-t'ung Ju-ching shouted,
finding a sitting monk half sleeping.
He meant it kindly, but his urgency
cracked air, a thundernote. "You must
let fall body and mind!" the old
man pleaded. Dogen, sitting nearby,
felt himself moved from a stuck place
toward a resolution he had sought.
He then traveled home, determined
to teach his people the simplest way to let
go. "Sit," he told his students, "just sit.
In doing so you are already Buddha;
there is nothing further to obtain."

What effect the shout may have had
on the sleeping monk, we are not told.

A path

Along the new trail, built by no one I knew, 
acorns had fallen by thousands, more than enough
to leave creatures dazed by too much fortune.

Conkers have tumbled among them, each
experimentally chipped and then rejected
by some set of tiny teeth. Hazel nuts

were better, it seems. Should an adder pass en route
to denning, amid this rich mast, amid 
this late fall of goldened leaves of ash

and beech, I might merely step aside, 
unalarmed as any fattened squirrel. 
Across the pasture, I remember, past

the partly shaded ferns, cowslips, bluebells, 
buttercups of spring and summer, where 
falling water, catkin-patterned, drowned out

the cygnet's cry in an otter's teeth (witnessed 
by a kingfisher, two low-flying larks and a heron),
a willow had leaned to hide that tiny sorrow

and also shade a loafing spotted newt.
The hill behind, where bees sought nectar of a kind
from sunburnt heather, swept up to a copse of oak,

wrapped in a druid's dream of mistletoe and ivy.
There I had paused for dandelion wine.
Perhaps the trail will help some find this place. 

My children, do not forget there is a world.

This was written in response to a report, by the great writer Robert MacFarlane, of the disappearance of certain words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Two titles to be found in first characters of each line

(Praying for rain)

Perhaps the seedlings were better off inside,
Really. She's never sure what's best for them,
All down the years trying peat pots, blocks,
Yanking down flats from storage, penciling markers,
Ingratiating herself with baked soils,
Now trying perlite, vermiculite, moss,
Getting out lamps and heaters, rotating flats,

Fighting intruding snails, mice and rats
Or even knotweed and bindweed
Running their tendrils up through brick.

Right now, she wishes she hadn't hurried.
All her helpless babies in cracked clay!
If it doesn't rain tonight, she tells herself,
Never again shall I call April May.

(Waiting for the rain to stop)

While watching forests comb those wet bellies,
All grey and louring, of the heartless clouds,
I wondered how the heavy earth breathes
Thus more than dampened, more than drowned
In so much rain. The very snails could gasp,
Nudging toward such daylight as they might,
Grudged them by the endless drops, dropping.

Fear for my crops, standing in chill pools
Or bent, prostrated, shambled, lying left and
Right, I feel, yet not enough to go and see.

There are tree branches, if I go, ready to pull
Hair, poke eyes, and shower me to my skin,
Every direction, along each path and bed.

Running streamlets ease a darkening land
All river-bound, discovering the slightest slope,
Inland being anathema to them,
No place like home, their wide and welcoming sea.

There all streams meet, mingle, and play.
Ocean the lowest place, where rain may end in

Stillness some times, or leap about, yet bounded.
There it may stop awhile, then one day mist forth
Over the waves and shores, plains and mountains
Putting forth life and death again, a cycle.