river in November light between bare woods and mountain
We do it the old-fashioned way again: 
pen and paper (not GPS), you looking at
the map and me writing down the turns
I should take when I have to drive you

to and from early morning surgery
next week. I recall an evening
over two decades ago when we
were new in town, leaving the car

dealership— You drove the rental,
slowly leading the way so I could follow
in the just-bought blue compact car, lights
blinking on in row houses that we passed.

It wasn't my first time behind the wheel,
but my first time to drive in this new country
of four- or more-lane highways and unfamiliar
street signs. My heart did its best to keep

from pounding or being flustered, to not
be distracted by fast traffic. We pulled into
the lot of our new apartment. I loved how you
smiled, how I was proud to have done well.

The Dream

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
There was that dream in which 
I led my white-haired mother
out of a labyrinth of spears—
we crouched behind boulders
as spectres patrolled the field.
When I woke, I was so sure
it meant her coming death.
But when I think about it again
now, and remember how her face
shone as she looked back at me,
I'm not so sure anymore who was
the guide, who was being led.

On Celebration

river in November light between bare woods and mountain
All the used clothing in drawers; the underwear; a mystery fez;
bandannas, socks, scarves, wrist warmers. Shirts that barely

close anymore when you button them—couldn't fix,
didn't want to take the trouble. Things were once new;

everything sparkled, often bought in duplicate: leitmotiv
for this culture of excess. I fear becoming a portmanteau,

ghost of previous and imagined selves. But I was always taught
history doesn't tell a dispassionate story. Who gets the spoils

is landlord, treasurer, archivist; barrister, warden, exterminator.
Jane, my friend, reminds me to always watch my back. LOQ:

keep personal information safe, preserve your self-authorship.
Like a marathon, this is a race hard to run, requiring bravado.

My resolve is not to shatter under the weight of colonization,
not to be erased, not to drown in the waters of futilitarianism.

Our daily oracle directs us to the voices of the ancestral,
pray for their protection; believe in the power of the potluck,

quash rumors of our failure to survive. So we celebrate birthdays: Benj,
Regin, & Ron—three cakes, relatives from east & west coast; sashimi,

sushi, oysters, & martinis. After seasons of mourning, we brandish
the gumption to cheer loudly, twist & shout, stuff the leftovers in one bag.

Until it's over, it's not over. Yeah, why not wear that frothy puff,
velvet vest, polished shoes? Confession: I wasn't born before my time,

want to party as hard as the rest of you; twirl beribboned.
Xylophones tinkle to signal the ice cream truck's arrival. Epic

yearning = epic expression (sometimes). So let's do without that club
zigging around in the electric slide—anything else, tell the orchestra.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
We were at a cedar barn for the wedding 
of our nephew, with rows of chairs set out

on either side of a trellis overlooking a man-made
pond. The left was for members of the bride's party,

and the right for us; except we were vastly outnumbered by
her family's many relations and friends. All this made me recall

stories about my parents' marriage—it must have been a feat
of rhetorical and other kinds of persuasion, considering how long

my paternal grandmother held out before she gave her grudging
consent. My mother was only a farmer's daughter. But she was

aware of the ways of a world that wanted to put people in their
imagined place. My parents' union lasted over thirty-five years,

until my father's death. My mother, never the favorite
to begin with, counted as victory every year she outlasted.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
You know what it's like when you step into a room 
and every head swivels in your direction? How quickly

the comfort you've become used to as you move around
in your skin, in this world, can be unsettled. You follow

the GPS map, wondering why a wedding rehearsal dinner
would be held near a cemetery—but this is a small town

in the midwest, blond as the silk wrapped around the corn
growing thick and high in summer. After three wrong

turns, you pull into a driveway hoping to ask for directions.
There is a subgenre of horror whose elements include

an isolated rural setting, superstition and suspicion;
folk who band together against outsiders stumbling into

their community. This is the point where the odds are
even: either nothing could happen, or anything could happen.

You'd hear the wind blow through the fields, an animal bleating
in the trough; the click as a weapon is chambered and cocked.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain
On the roof of the shed, 
under a bough bending with leaves,
one of the neighborhood cats likes
to stretch out in the middle of the day.


Once when we came home,
we saw another nest flung from
the high pine—night herons
pummeled by wind.


Even the ghosts of cicadas are tenacious—
the shells they left behind as they pushed
their new bodies out remain
hooked to leaves.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

You could say the sunflower
is one of my emblems—for how it tracks
a brighter beacon across the skies
through the day, for how it angles its head
toward some hidden aspiration.
There is another, smaller flower:
bright yellow and orange, but broom-
brittle. Women string them into garlands
and sell them as a kind of amulet
against time. Their name, the echo
of promises made by lovers. Or a life
sentence—how faithfulness ordained
can become the fate the flower
petals into, that roots it to the ground.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

Though anything can happen, in my own
early days of motherhood I tried so hard

not to believe we weren't meant for more easeful
things. Who was always telling me to be more

careful, to keep something back; not to spend
the whole paycheck, not to put a whole sweet

in my mouth, not to draw open the blinds without
the signal for clear? I wasn’t the only one raised

with these instructions—Pin your hopes high
on the wall, but learn how to carve out a closer

space. Yet the gods, quick to perceive tendrils
of joy, knew I’d point out the hills when they were

clothed in lavish shades of green; and in the colder
months, studded with brave breastplates of sunflowers.


river in November light between bare woods and mountain

One of the outside
motion-sensor lamps is bent
out of position, which means

it takes a while 
for its pair to flicker to life.

My tendency is always to want 
to find a way to replace what 
is broken, the same way I am 
anxious to lay a path
of light where I can. 

Is the moon not enough?
No, the moon is not