Oak Harbor, WA
Living room windows are many things:
reading glasses one of them.
Ten feet of glass hold cement
the size of Big Foot’s coffin,
framing Fir trees that split the yards
into rumors of turbulent turf. Here,
museums of dog DNA left by night’s
anxious tongues save dreamers from harm.
And so, the days’ rinse & repeat does
what to wash away the fear of setting
each other on fire? Lord, I am a cold,
wet cloth on the face of a burning world.
Or at least that’s the last thing I saw
During the Pandemic, I Turn Our Shed
Into a Writing Studio
Because space. Because the universe
of my family was burning nebulas
onto my paper and every poem
was unwritten and pulled into a blackhole
I never saw coming. Because
coffee cups on my poetry books,
not on coasters. Because television, radio,
a conversation about breakfast, French toast
or eggs. Because those I love are loud
and happy and want to tell me a story
about our cats. Because lawnmowers
can live elsewhere. Because a neighbor
gave me an old desk. Because I added
a window for light. Because a little insulation,
a space heater, and a long extension cord
from the house. Because sometimes we need
to sit with quiet. Because I know how to
paint, tile the floors, make space for art.
It’s six in the evening. I’ve brushed
my teeth and taken the bath
I’ve been thinking about for three days;
put off vacuuming again and sorting
and straightening papers and books
When Simon says “they” have run
into supply line limits for making vials,
a demanding and time consuming process,
vials which must be glass for viable storage
of vaccine, “the vaccine” being
the Corona virus vaccine, of course,
But there are so many of us now
so many that need the vaccine
that the timely delivery of the earth’s store
of sand for making glass becomes now
a significant, perhaps fatal, snag
in our mission to save us all,
The all, that is, the too many we are now
pushing other species to extinction
whether bee or coral or pangolin
the too many of us being
why we are in this botch
together, unable to curtail
our own species reproduction
even to survive on earth
our only and last home.
In Praise of Stay-At-Home
Our days used to begin in a frantic rush
led by Mom herding everyone to wake up,
wash up, eat up and hurry up out the door.
Everyone except me, I never got to go.
My days were spent alone in the house
waiting for everyone to come back home.
I’d make my rounds, look under beds,
check the bathrooms and kitchen then
nap on the couch for the rest of my day.
I live with Mom, Dad, Sissy and Bubba
on a street full of families and their pets.
Our pet is me, a boxer. I answer to Bob.
I don’t know why or what happened, but
everybody stayed home one day, all day
and every day since. I am one lucky dog!
I get more walks, more bowwows with my
buddies and their masked masters, though
not close enough for our usual social sniff.
More snacks, more playing, more petting,
more snuggling, best is not being alone,
but I do miss my long naps on the couch.
Home on the Roslyn Ridge
We had watched from the trail
for their speckled purple-brown.
Still, when we came upon them,
their modest beauty startled us.
A gathering of chocolate lilies
hidden at the foot of the pines,
their heads bowed down
like monks in morning meditation.
We rested, stood there in silence.
Even the birds quieted for a moment.
And then, a pulse of prayer among the trees.
Pines, lilies, birds, our uncertain selves.
My Classroom Changed
My classroom has changed this spring.
Thirty-two years of four walls are the only constant that I see.
Creating lesson plans the day before to make sure they are posted by 9:00 AM.
Setting alarms just in case insomnia from the night before doesn't make me "late" for class.
My bed is my new office chair and my computer, my updated desk.
My morning coffee is a keeper as I read through e-mails, deciding if I should or need to respond.
Pajamas and a robe are my preferred clothing these days.
Wondering why students or parents don't respond to my phone calls or e-mails.
Wondering why I feel so stressed.
Wondering why it's okay for teenagers to be working outside the home but not doing any school work.
My office chair needs sheets from Macy's, or maybe I need a new chair.
I want brand new work clothes too, my pajamas have holes, and my pink fuzzy robe looks dingy.
Thank goodness that I have a backup pair of work shoes, satiny black slippers.
Yes, my classroom has changed this year, and so has the teacher.
Sophomore Year in the Midst of a Pandemic
I had to move out of the college dorms. Stripped away from my friends,
Away from the coffee shops,
Away from the classrooms,
Away from the study spots,
Away from the house parties,
Away from all social interaction.
These are supposed to be the prime time in our lives. To do stupid stuff, to be young.
I am now in my childhood bedroom.
With the old paint and posters on the wall.
Surrounded by things that remind me that I am no longer an adult again.
In the beginning, it took a while for me to adjust that I didn’t have my freedom anymore. Living
in the heart of Seattle and now living in the suburbs somewhere in Washington. The springtime
on campus is so beautiful.
But this is the new reality. We are living in a pandemic.
Studying through a pandemic.
Studying in my childhood bedroom instead of the artsy coffee shop with my close friends.
I miss it, I do.
But I understand that nobody could’ve predicted this,
That we just need to do our part to stay at home,
To go back to doing the things we really miss.
The Unheralded Junco Becomes a Star
These months without our teams, we convert
a dose of sport-spectator energy
to the closer study of our feeders hung
for kitchen-window viewing. We predict
a Pacific wren, a western tanager, a waxwing.
Someone a little flashy or rare. With a crest
or dazzling yellow plumage. Always the crow
will be captain, the Steller’s jay and starling, the crew.
A robin who tugged off a strip of birch bark, presumably for his nest,
almost won, and I love the Calypte annas, but they aren’t in contention
since the salvia's out along the side path,
hidden from us while we eat.
How to explain my choice
when it is not the brightest who wins my affection?
Not the life-list novelty? Not a record-setter?
How, from the rear, emerged an unexpected hero,
an unassuming little gray-brown body,
black-headed, with a surprise of white
in its tail at departure?
It chips at the seed cake I made.
It pecks in our clover yard.
It hops up the front walk as if to join us inside for tea.
It likes what we set out for it in wire baskets,
and flies in and out of our lives repeatedly
each day if we’re lucky. A wild thing
for us to see.
A place to relax
Now it is a place of work
How can I go back?
My Life as a Chair
Before the pandemic,
I would flee the honey-dooz—
the paint flaking from the trim,
the loose boards on the fence
waiting to be nailed,
the invasive species that has
taken root in my backyard,
the hedge in need
of a haircut as badly as me.
Now I'm a piece of furniture
trapped in my own house,
as wooden as the desk
at which I sit writing these words.
I may write a poem
called My Life as a Chair
because I am learning the feeling
of simply occupying space,
gazing out the window
at the same patch of grass
waiting to be mowed,
the same flowerbed
wanting to be weeded.
My wife and I hardly speak.
We're not mad at each other,
just numb, as though we've
been hit with a zombie stick.
She sits in the living room
and listens to audio books.
I sit in my study
and scan the headlines
on my laptop news feed
for signs of relief.
But all is bombast—
a fat face like Jabba the Hutt
telling me I'm old, expendable,
that facts are fake news,
that snake oil cures all
and nothing's as bad as it seems.
It's an alternate reality
like an alternate fact
we imagine until it becomes true.
The people walking past
on my street look lost.
We're all pinching ourselves.
We want to wake up.
Thunderbird flaps his wings as I prune near the pond, lost in thought. Aviary drumbeat awakens me from arboreal slumber as I rise.
I’ve learned to trust oneness with pond and garden, so I float on lilac scents, drift to the beat of wings.
It’s not what I’d think or any plans that I’ve made.
I brush tips of evergreens as I float to cirrus clouds. White mountains below are shockingly bright. Himalayas beckon me as stars burn holes through black sky with crackling distraction.
I drift until I wonder why I’m wet, see I’m on a skiff blown by hurricane winds. I really don’t care.
A turquoise eddy ahead becomes a whirlpool I cannot avoid. I gush downward to a bright blue jar that overflows with mammoth rainbow-hued marbles lying along ocean's bottom. They roll out of sight in turbid graywater. Swishing sounds and swirling colors surround me.
Water rages with thunderous force but I casually mount a surfboard, glide toward the round smoothness of more mega marbles. Crash into them but am surprised by softness, slip back to whooshing water madness. Struggling, I swallow what surprises me by tasting of apple.
I am flummoxed by familiarity. Certainty is sudden. Marbles are continents.
I pop put from the sea to a tall masted ship, one of three close to an empty shore. The first mate speaks a familiar but foreign tongue. I have a crew to command and must be decisive.
We drop anchor, I handpick the best, leave trusted ones to care for the ship. Have no hope to return. We row away from the bay, nearby trees twice as big as I’ve known.
We row until well-worn hands have hard-earned blisters. We row until land is a dream, all that I knew a memory. I join the wind.
I rise on the back of Thunderbird and float through wispy white clouds. Hypnotic wings flap me awake. I know he is right and continue to prune.
Counting What Counts
Upper Okanogan Valley
This place perfect for us.
This landscape we’re connected to
Has everything we needed
Rocks and trees
Lakes and rivers
Flying, walking, slithering
Our community of people
All the spirits below and
Here in the middle.
Our home place gave us
Our language and music
Our songs and poems
Stories and prayers,
All of our feelings and
She left out nothing.
We’re one not two,
Forever a continuum
And it makes me laugh and cry
Like the coyotes in the canyon…
That money won’t free us
But could actually kill us
And every living thing it’s made from.
This House Has Seen
fun” by visitors
and passersby – the house
Lived and loved and embraced
and yelled and screamed in delight.
As well as anger with this family
for fifty odd years.
Kitchen redolent with smells divine.
Pungent, garlicky with pork,
fishy with brine and smoke.
Unbearably sweet with apples, cinnamon,
mango, honey so fresh the nectar
carries still the scent of bees and lavender.
The walls share space
shaped by hands over many years.
Spaces of men and gods,
promises of life;
of sky and stone
and earth warmed by sun
sheltered by those cedars
planted by the boys in childhood.
Bamboo and hedges of unknown
Caressed by life of azaleas petunias, banana,
tomato, squash, peppers, even lemon trees nurtured in pots
through challenging winters of sleet and snow.
In this space,
Squirrels daily race the dog to safety
In the cedar, knowing she never wins but
granting the thrill of chase to
breathe life to her dreams.
Jays and crows scold demanding food or something.
Robins and tiny sparrows
Break the night stillness
with sounds of enduring life, for that is the
order of things in the outdoor spaces.
rice and chicken and pork and shrimp
and Persian saffron, crimson with promise of sex and life.
Transformed into Spanish paella
fashioned with a hint of Ilocano and Ktunaxa
For good ethnic balance in this
household of voices singing
Family and family and family.
The walls -hung with paintings
Of children, women, flowers
Eternal glimpses of
to contain joy and
pain, love and passion within.
The weeping of agony and loss
Overcome always by the soft, smooth warmth
of your being, coaxing greater
Cries of passion and love
Escaping confines of this house.
a small but significant footnote
forcing time to breathe, sleep, contemplate.
Long from now we will tell
Of the time of great fear,
Overwhelmed by the Greater Joy.
My Pandemic Life
Since its Thursday, do yoga series 5; check Amazon deliveries; weed the lettuce; check the on-line medication order.
Listen to news. How many newly dead in the state? in the nation? in the world? Check CDC website for updates. On-line newspaper updates, Facebook updates. Send donations to Church and to Food Bank.
Since its Thursday, remember Zoom cocktail party with F & V at 5:30. Check level of gin.
Wash hands. Change from singing “Row Your Boat” to “Mary had a Little Lamb.”
Ignore the calendar. Don’t count the days.
Check school district website. Is there a change? If schools are open we want to be there. Research Kawasaki Disease.
Since its Thursday, put on gloves, mask, take car for its weekly drive. Don’t think about the olden days, when drives to restaurants or movies were every day easy.
Buy new hair trimmer; I’m sure it was the trimmer’s fault that J’s hair turned out that way.
Find flour. Buy some on Etsy? Email K for bread recipe. Search for Mother’s recipe. The scent of baking bread evokes stability, safety, security.
Since its Thursday, do Facebook post so the rest of the family knows we’re still alive.
Tell R about dream of trying to attend five different on-line funerals at once. I’m learning part of our love used to depend on our coming home to each other from different work worlds. Find some new reasons to enjoy each other.
Check with F. Can she Zoom babysit Sunday afternoon? R and I need some time together – alone as a couple.
Call bank. Check on options for partially paying the mortgage.
See if any TV channel has Korean baseball.
Since its Thursday, put out the ballerina costume; tomorrow is my Bin Isolation Outing.
The Guilded Shelter
Home structured in place
words from books with golden leaves
coverage of stories bless me
singly sitting in my cabin of flight
where I land, many galaxies at night
coverage of imagination blesses me
gardens of tenderness
green shoots with compost, the everlasting church of the garden
coverage of fresh growth blesses me
red flannel bedding cleanly washed
a glorious featherbed waiting to hold my body
coverage of nighttime dreams bless me
I am the boat in the water of my bathtub
a temple of sea-salts soaking
coverage of wellness blesses me
cooking in the kitchen
transformation served up on plates
coverage of nourishment blesses me
the gilded shelter unlocked
paying attention to my soul
coverage of “its nice to meet me,” blesses me.
Homage to the Winter Moon
Apple trees stripped
of their summer fruit
squat like ancient mothers
fingering the intricate lacework
of their own moon shadows
slipping into their solemn world
feel the evening’s strident headlines
as the peace of this place
of this moment
sifts down into us
drifts into its own elaborate design
weaves deep within us
its own magical pattern
to carry us through
the days ahead
Where would you go
If nothing could bind you?
A flicker whispers in my ear.
I listen to the rain
It takes me to where I want to be
outside these four walls.
I become a tree.
Standing still in place
Branches up, reaching out
Trunk, and leaves growing
Touching the clouds
Standing in place, not moving.
Sheltering all kinds of life in body
Hugging the earth with my roots
In this confinement,
I find the path;
I am alive
A witness to these trying times
and all is good
In the first week
I was full of plans:
Language, songs to learn
bread to bake
murals to paint.
Long-neglected house projects,
suddenly front and center,
standing tall. Proud to be
I would use our collective
to rethink the balance of
and my place in it.
Now, eight weeks in,
I stand transfixed:
watching a hummingbird
hover and strike in the air
a flash of ruby red
at her throat.
has left me unable to rise
from my chair.
But the dog comes and shoves
her muzzle into
my curled fingers.
My children sleep and grow, sleep
and the sky is bluer
than it has ever been.
first published in the San Francisco Chronicle, 05/09/2020
What is happening to our hearts?
In our hearts?
We wake in the night to think of our loved ones.
We feel the enormity of our love for each of our dearest.
We call. We forget what had appeared broken.
So too even unto ourselves.
Love reigns as she opens our eyes to the beauty in each of our beloveds.
And in ourselves.
As we know, when we encounter those we don’t even know, what we share:
A longing to touch. To connect.
Moments of thanks, and preparation, should we need it, for goodbyes.
As we slow, to enjoy preparing and eating.
As we plant, in our victory gardens,
little rows of hope.
As we see young fathers walking with their children.
How long we have waited to rediscover the simple.
To come home.
Seeing our homes and having time to dig deep into dusty corners,
To clean and polish,
Touch our homes with affection,
Until they gleam.
Through panes messages are collected
while door to door delivery drivers are
warm houses melt into cool space
as the walls that protect us confine us
Marking the Days
Perhaps I’ve marked each passing day in isolation
a pencil hashmark on a window sill.
Perhaps I’ve paced a line inside the chain-link fence
until the path is worn bald.
Perhaps I’ve fixed a meal of
The hashmarks join the arrows
marking the sun at sunset
each solstice, each equinox.
The fence protects against the tumbleweeds
from the neighboring lot.
Maybe these changes are recent, I don’t recall
but I’ve long been known
to love potatoes.
~ for Kessler 04/02/2020
sit vacant in the gray
light of morning,
reminders of where
we sat yesterday,
our first visit in months.
This virus, armed with wedges
places an ironic twist on the adage
Divided We Fall.
Now it’s Divided We Live,
so, no hugs
when we spotted you
on the street, despite
desire so strong it hurt.
Instead, laughs, tears
and the feeling I sit with
today, writing this poem:
a knowing that if we don’t survive,
instead become statistics,
that you loved us
as deeply as we loved you;
that these chairs outside,
weathering spring sun, rain and hail
are not vacant at all– despite
all appearances, they cradle
of cherished lives.
Cutting Each Other’s Hair During the Corona Virus
We are two women who got married
seven years ago
but that is not our story of courage.
This story is about
sitting in the yard
in a plastic chair
an old towel around my shoulders,
clippers, scissors with teeth
on a side table
and my wife
with an anxious face
coming toward me
with sharp, small scissors.
If you think
we have no training for this job,
you are wrong.
We watched an old guy
with thinning hair
cut his own
on U Tube.
my wife lifts the clippers
to the back of my neck.
The goldfinches in the apple tree,
dapper in their bold spring plumage,
Our dog watches
from the sidelines,
face filled with alarm.
The clippers buzz their way
along my neck,
then she grabs handfuls of hair
on top and lets the toothy scissors
munch on each clump.
When we switch, I let the clippers
linger and a bald spot
glares on the back of her head.
when we look in the mirror
my formerly fluffy hair
is flat and the back of your head
is too close to bald,
but we glitter
smiles to each other
as if we just renewed our vows.
Some Things I Really Like Right Now
Upper Okanogan Valley
Guzzling cold water out of a bucket from the hand pump well.
Getting up in the morning and feeling the heat off the cook stove on my forehead.
Sipping the first two cups of coffee off the stove.
Walking around the house with the dog pack, smelling
Douglas fir smoke wreathing from the chimney.
Standing barefoot in our creek.
Smelling sagebrush crushed in my hands.
Smelling a burning smudge of sagebrush wafting through the house.
Watching clouds form up like spirits returning to the canyon above the house.
Listening to the whisper and sough of the fluttering aspen next to the window.
Following Chong’s suntanned legs up our creek.
Watching Chong nap on our hot granite bed in the afternoon.
Starting a new poem, finishing it, recrafting it again.
Sitting on a rock with a notebook and beginning a new sketch.
Enjoying that moment when the sketch says: “You’re finished.”
Sleeping in the grass with Wolfie and Luna the German Shepherds, and Dong-ee the Rottweiler.
Corresponding with Mike Robinson, creating new poems, learning from him as mentor and counselor, friend.
Laying out Okanogan Poems volume 4 on OneDrive with intrepid fellow steward and old friend, Okanogan poet, Walter Henze.
Emailing George and Patti Baumgardner about life, poetry, Earth, and the stars.
Talking with David, Hanna, and Sarah Kliegman about landscape restoration, homesteading, cooking, and trail and park making.
Emailing to Victoria Jones, Bob Goodwin, Carey Hunter, Walter Henze, George and Patti Baumgardner, Todd Thorn, Mary Koch, Dan Hulphers and Bobbie Hackett about their poems, about life and the real things that happen on the land.
Relearning the Español with my faithful neighbors and friends, Celso Pacheco-Pascacio and Carolina Ramos.
Eating never-the-same, so-called-routine breakfasts and dinners that Chong makes day after day.
Listening to Eagles concerts on YouTube with Chong.
These are some of the things I like right now.