Before breakfast, music,
then silence, over and over;
couldn’t make out
the interrupted song
or where it came from;
opening the patio door,
woman singing Tonight,
from the house behind me,
where my neighbor’s wife died
two days ago: music,
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,
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!”
They show up in dreams as I shop for flower
pots, or peer down from above, crowded
by golden angels, or arrive in my study
like silent thunder. Tell my mother I’m fine,
or, Tell my children not to cry, I’m in Heaven, or,
Say I’m with them all the time. The messages
I sent to families met with silence, even anger;
my courage faltered. The dead review
their lives and see
things in new ways, though they lose interest
in earthly doings and come rarely.
Last night my husband came from a place
or time so distant, he was the faintest
from a burned-out star. He couldn’t
speak at first, but finally in a whisper
said, I’m sorry. In life he’d thought
I didn’t love him, and gouged me
and withered me with silence, but now at last
he knew I cared. My old friend Kathy,
gone twelve years, came too, an angel
in a long robe, gray-blue, with curly hair
and wings of paper mache
the color of antique brass. She blessed her children,
leaving them at last. She had asked me to tell
them she was there, but I never did. She forgave me,
glided past the steeple of an old church and said,
I am at peace.
How steep the rocky path, how dark,
how often Orpheus must have longed
to look back and reach out his hand;
Finally he turned around, only to see her
become a shadow,
arms outstretched toward him,
floating down, down.
The I Ching says
I must not write or call you;
it says your love for me
must draw you up the path, must
overcome your fears and doubts.
I must not look back,
reach out my hand.
Washington. DC, 1945, Los Angeles, CA, 1958
Alameda, CA, 2014
Their clothing, exuberant Technicolor
reds and greens and yellows,
mother, father, three children
boarding a streetcar in San Francisco,
old friends of my parents,
unseen for fifty years
until this dream.
Smiling, laughing, they wave and call to us:
my parents, long-dead, my sister, and me,
Guilt caught my heart, stopped my breath,
when I heard, age twelve, that their first,
a daughter my age, had died in her crib,
while I had lived. Two more came to them;
the first left behind.
We moved to L. A. that year,
visited them; not a swimmer,
I stood in their small, tree-shadowed
pool and wondered,
unhappy thought of the unloved,
if they hated me for breathing.
But there she was last night,
tartan skirt, red sweater,
taller than the other two,
caught up at last.
I had no words for what I did;
born with a light shining
in me, I knew, even as a child,
I was to help everyone
in the village;
their well-being was my work.
Snow everywhere, always cold,
those are my memories, as I walked
from one home to another,
wherever illness called me.
I was small, too slight
for the fire in me, a candle
burning much too fast. Thin
and always thinner,
I never bore a child.
My husband, big and brown
as a bear, expected me one day;
I never came. He found me
—only time for a kiss.
The light in me so great,
my body was warm for days;
I looked like I was sleeping.
Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA
O Fortuna, began the Carmina Burana,
drums pounding like the blows of Fate,
you are against me. Went to the concert
with Vissers, slight, pale, sardonic; no one
called him Jim. Afterwards we kissed,
ended up laughing, just friends.
One rainy evening, sitting against
illuminated pillars, he said his mother
refinished a child’s rocking chair
for when he had children. He laughed
as though she’d been obtuse, said,
I’ll be dead before I’m twenty-five.
I’ve always known that. I didn’t know
what to say; what would I say even now?
The next fall, he was in the hospital
with a heart infection, said he was on drugs
all summer, never slept,
asked if I saw a black girl named Sharleen,
to tell her hello, said he was tired,
needed to hang up. I called the next week,
but by then he was dead. O Fortuna….