Elevator in the Forest


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Machinery grinds, an elevator
descends and comes to a stop;
doors open onto a forest
and a woman gets off; the elevator
goes up and vanishes.

She walks into the forest,
among the oaks, among the sycamores,
taking off her clothes as she goes;
mirrors with ornate frames
hang from the branches,

they don’t show her reflection;
she sings, her voice harmonizing
with the murmur of the stream
and the whisper of the wind
in the trees.



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Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1952

The back of the garage, dim, dusty,
was my father’s makeshift workshop,
a table set between the lawnmower
and the rakes, hoes, pitchfork.
One fall afternoon when I was seven,
I found him there, wearing
his gray and maroon wool jacket,
repairing a lamp. I told him
if he didn’t stop doing those things
to me, I would tell my mother;
he looked at the ax on the wall,
said I’d better not.

Back out in the sunshine slanting
down on our peach trees, next door
the apple orchard, last of the fruit
picked over by birds, I forgot
for forty years the things he’d done
and went on doing. In the garden
the chrysanthemums, ruined by frost,
had been cut to the ground.

Close Encounter


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MacArthur BART Station,
Oakland, CA, 1979

Deserted, sunny, the courtyard
in front of the subway station,
diagonally I started across
towards the entrance,

a black man, no one I knew,
walked out; our gazes met
and an image flashed
between our minds:

arms wide, we ran to each other,
lovers reunited at last
in an embrace,
then collapsing in laughter;

movie moment over,
strangers off to separate destinations,
unknown lives;
even now the memory
stirs wonder and delight.

Small with Everything


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La Val's PizzaIn Anne Lamott’s book Stitches
she quotes Ram Dass.

Ordered my pizza, small
with everything,
sat down with my book,
annoyed by the loud young men,
voices too big for the room,
shouting about sports; my table
beneath the speaker playing
a song for people decades
younger; my view the parking lot;

as my pizza arrived, I read,
we’re all just walking
each other home,

and heard the joy
in the voices and laughter,
felt the beauty of the music
soaring golden above me,
saw late afternoon sun
shining on trees beyond
the parking lot, and remembered
yet again my life is small,
but with everything.

Ice Cream for Everyone


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Dorothy Jean (Willow) Schmalle, Bobbie Laumbach, Mary Anne Laumbach, Connie Laumbach, Karen Durham, Lynelle Durham, 1948 or 49

California and Utah, 2009
Photo: Albuquerque, NM, 1948 or 49,
me on far left, Lynelle on far right

My cousin Lynelle was dying,
I heard; remembering when we were children,
her big green eyes, smile sweet,
a bit crooked from a bad delivery,
five years older, so kind
to three-year-old me I thought
she was an angel;
that night I visited her in a dream,
in her hospital room in Utah,
kissed her cheek, told her I loved her;

standing all around, next to the walls,
my mother, Lynelle’s parents,
our grandmother,
Aunt Zulema and Auntie Irene,
all departed years before,
there to welcome, console, help,
I didn’t know which;

later on, Lynelle’s daughter wrote me
that the next day her mother was fading
in and out, but one time
she opened her eyes,
gestured at the empty room,
and told her daughter, as though the time
had come for the highlight of the picnic,
“Get ice cream for everyone!”



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The ancient yogis said the universe
blinks on and off, and many of today’s
quantum physicists believe the same.

A neon sign blinked
outside the hotel window, rundown,
downtown LA, Rolling Stones
our background music,
while my boyfriend and I,
abysses of inexperience,
managed to have sex;
blinking neon, on and off,
much as the universe,
from being into void and back,
each blink a chance to
change and change again, so

how did Mick already know
that we would get no satisfaction:
paying for the hotel room
meant I would pay and pay,
talk of other women
manifested as affairs,
I would stay,
darkness would descend
and cloud his mind,
and all felt like the pull of gravity,
of fate, inevitable, forcing
us down the only path we saw

while outside the window
blinked the universe,
birthing other universes
with each blink?

On the Breeze


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Opened the window yesterday,
from off the bay, a breeze,
cool beneath the sun’s blaze,
blew in and brought me
laughter from next door,
overhead, geese honking,
from the street, tinkling music
of an ice cream truck;

then images, like dreams,
drifted through the window to me,
the last a steep hill,
long grass blowing,
the far side of the hill a cliff
that dropped off to the sea,
beyond, the pinks of sunset fading;

on the cliff’s edge,
facing north, a house;
I live there, sometimes at peace
and sometimes lonely,
sometimes lifted
by exhilarating winds
that sing to me.

Past Life in Scotland


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Sixteenth century

In castle high
upon a stony Highlands ridge,
I lived for my clan;
my father and I septs, outsiders
accepted by the chief, allowed
into the brotherhood, blood brothers
I would give my life for; the clan
meant everything to me, to all:
home, family, safety.

One evening, as we rowdied
in the dining hall over venison and beer,
my closest friend, returning wounded
on his horse, named the clan
that did it, and then died.

While mother and sisters wailed,
so young, seventeen, dying
for a blood feud centuries old,
cause long forgotten,
bagpipes skirled,
the chief planned our revenge.

With moonlight
guiding us on rocky trail
around the mountain,
we found their camp,
guarding cattle;
as we attacked, they sprang
to their feet, ready;
with dirk across my throat,
I passed from this world,
my day of honor:
I died for my clan.