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SNOW, AGAIN

Like a spoiled brat, it always
tries to take over the party—
Look at me—I can twirl
shake my curls, tap-dance and sing!

Ignored, it throws a tantrum,
howling Me! Me! Me!
What a bore!
Yet how charming it can be
when it chooses—garlanding
the fence in white fur—
giving the garden statue
a splendid Cossack hat—
transforming the terrace table
into a giant wedding cake.

Watch me, it whispers all night,
by morning I will have conquered
the forsythia and the firethorn,
and lo, even the pine-trees
will bow down before me.

AUGUST BUSY-NESS

A tribe of spiders has colonized
the screen porch, spinning
its filament castles
in every nook. Pinhead-size,
each one lets drop a heap
of debris bigger than she is–
moth-carcasses, egg-casings
shiny excremental pellets.
How do these busy little
bodies do it all? I hate
to sweep away such diligence.
My broom’s a tsunami
they don’t deserve.
Outside, I shake it off
gently as any god
into the flowerbed. Where
I won’t step on them, where
they may live to spin out
their short days.

Henri Rousseau Explains

Sundays, after dinner–comprenez–
I take little Henri with me and go
to the Jardin des Plantes. We prefer
the lion house. Peaceful and hot.
I sit on a bench to observe–
the lions, yes. Also ladies with parasols,
children dashing from cage to cage,
men stuffed into their best waistcoats.
I may smoke a pipe or two…

Was it in March? Yes, last March
I observe a new fellow sweeping
sawdust between the cages.
Young–dark-skinned–graceful,
his long smock flows back and forth
as he works. They have two lions now
and three lionesses. Understand–
I know them like friends. Like family.
The biggest, Bernard, is Henri’s favorite.
Really a fine specimen– everyone says so.

Yes. The keeper’s trailing smock—
the lion’s yellow stare—the stately
arc of his tail–the heat—the jungle reek…
Little Henri runs his fingers along the iron bars,
“Papa,” he says, “when will we go to Africa?”
Well, what could I tell him? Imaginez-vous!
My long days at the Customs House
—the clatter of the franking machine—
the clerk at the next desk with his perpetual
hacking cough… Impossible! Not to mention
Marthe with her migraines…we might
just manage a week in Normandy this year.
No sea voyages for us.
The Jardin will have to suffice.
“Maybe next year,“  I tell the boy.

Home then on the tram, with the other
Sunday families, swaying and bumping.
Smells of wet wool and stale beer.
Henri nods off, his head against my arm.
How to explain it? In the rain-dark window
I see the keeper’s image change, transform–
into an African—a Bedouin woman
asleep in the Sahara. That blue smock
now a striped robe, spread out on sand.
Her water-jug beside her. Her mandolin.

The pale moon hovers above her, and watching

over her sleep, fierce as an angel, The Lion.

RETAIL THERAPY

                                                            Homage to Berryman

Happy Harriet walks through Walmart

no end delighted. Whatsit ya want,

Miss Priss, her alter hisses–make up

your mental. So many stuffs, such a too-

muchness! Wanting it all oh every which way.

Choice-challenged. What if she

gets it wrong? Shame on you, greedy girl…

Home now Harriet heavy with goodies. Bagged.

Unpack me quick! Gadgets galore, bath-towels

Madly Mauve, batteries enough to batter

the moons. Our poor Harriet, Walmartyred

hides all in most bottom-some drawers.

Folds receipt into origami shipshape–

of fools. Deep-sixes the lost day. Time at last

for her aching feet. And the evening noose.

After the Bombing

A chilly Spring unfurls itself

–most beautiful, more

heartless than hail

City pear-trees lift up

their foamy heads, hopeful as ever

the magnolias preen

brief-blooming, filling

their delicious creamy throats

with purple wine

And the willows–

oh, those grievous willows

luminous now at road’s edge

their pale yellow streamers

greening day by day

Everywhere you look

this new leafing-out:

each morning’s merciless

unfolding

sharp as shrapnel

FIRST FLAGS OF MARCH

This is for you, O plastic bags,

translucent beige and pearly-green,

caught up, netted in the bare treetops.

You’re the heralds of city Spring–

like those other harbingers

soon to come–the dandelions

bursting out of every sidewalk crevice.

Even as we know you’re ugly,

a defilement, and long to clean up

or weed out, something in me joys

in your boldness, your homeliness,

its wayward beauty. Tribe of truants,

ready to party, may you float free

over the dirty slush and the sparrows.

WORLDLY GOODS

Those teachings about Impermanence
–I know, I know–  yes, but what to do
–right now, I mean–
with this flood of  leftovers
—these lifetimes muttering
in every cupboard?

This set of open-work ivory linen
we bought in Florence—place-mats
runner, a dozen napkins to match
My  parent’s wedding silver—complete with
twelve oyster-forks, ten butter-knives
& six egg-spoons washed in gold

And here are the cigarette-boxes & ashtrays
we used to put out for parties
here the leaky beautiful Raku vessels
from my days as a potter

Nobody wants our Danish Blue wedding china
or the treasured record collection—
Casals playing Bach Suites, Burl Ives,
Dylan Thomas–   (oh that bardic, drunken voice)
The Play of Daniel, Guys and Dolls, Candide…

And what to do with videos of birthdays & graduations
boxes full of photo negatives—carefully catalogued?
These journals of trips–each day recorded
with notes, addresses of people we met
receipts from famous restaurants–
The Dordogne—Sicily–the Fjords of Norway.
Guidebooks– Indonesia & Mexico & Greece?
And maps, oh those marked & re-folded maps…
His pocket Atlas–
our cancelled passports

And then there’s this mountain of books
Who now will want
Masefield’s Collected Works bound in leather?
The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1948)?
& all the slim volumes of essays & poetry,
fly-leaves inscribed with the names
of old lovers & dead friends…

Ah tell me, anyone–how do I travel light,
all these beloved useless things
clinging to my legs like so many children
babbling their stories?
Are they afraid of the dark?
What shall I tell them…
how can I comfort them?

 

To Compassion

(After the shootings at Virginia Tech)

This is for you, Avalokitesvara, you
who sit, one arm draped across a knee
one foot touching down onto
our human earth.
Listen: the mothers, the fathers are crying
and the crying goes on and it will not stop.
The father of the murdered girl who loved horses
and wanted to become a veterinarian,
the mother of the silent boy
who took up a gun to speak for his anguish–
she weeps for what he could not say.
I tell you their cries require answers
that have not yet come into being.

On the evening news
they’re showing a 20-year-old
soldier with brain damage trying to learn again
to pronounce the name of his wife
they are showing the latest images:
refugees in Darfur: the children’s legs
brittle and black as the stalks of burnt trees
old men hunkered like insects in the dust.
Then comes the weekly Honor Roll
the names, the ages–18, 22,19–
and the places they came from:
Valdosta, Chisum, Red Lodge, Slidell…

Compassion is called a trembling of the heart
in the face of suffering:
you are poised in a swirl of robes
your right hand reaching out always, your left foot stepping
down always into the mess of our existence:
Show us how to go on bearing this endless weeping
You have seen it all, tirelessly borne witness
to our confusion–our murderous urges–our griefs–
and witnessed too our wish to shut it all out.
Can’t I just go out to shop for a new toaster, 
browse in the bookstore? Can’t I just plant
more daylilies next to the fence
and write a check to Amnesty International ?

What I need to know is this: after I turn off the TV
where does that stream of images go?
Is the ether polluted with suffering the way
the atmosphere is filled with carbon dioxide?
And if so tell me how do you,
compassionate one that you are,
go on breathing..?

-Geraldine Zetzel

Sea Grape

This watercolor, Sea Grape, was done on a trip to Vieques, P.R.