Sibilance

This small room holds more

Life than I can understand.

 

Her body rumbles.

An odd sibilance

fills my ears with drones

and soon to come death.

 

Not sleep. Not coma.

Surely not life.

 

A pall spreads within

my heart’s chambers

As I know she is not

long for this world.

 

You sleep on a cot

your breath even

though sometimes you snore,

mimic her rattle and hum.

 

For a moment you, her child,

breathe in unison with her.

Your life in communion

with hers as it was when you

were born fifty nine years ago.

 

Bereft, I alone witness

your corporeal union

Just as I alone witness it’s

cessation at her last breath.


For Maureen, who left us on Saturday, May 17. Thank you for your life, and your son who is my love.

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This Prison

600px-Spring-dying-leaves

this prison that claims
me feels a lot like life.
death is close. breathing
into me. this life is death.
on dark days I would rather
death be still closer.
if the sands were truly
running out, would I struggle?
if life shortened would I feel
the same? or would I fight
break bars, break time
to live in the moment.

*About the photo: The leaves of Live Oaks fall in spring as the new leaves push the prior season’s leaves off the trees. These were an amazing pile of color and contrast which entranced me.

August Night*

August palmetto moon

Heavy air
hangs in darkness
surrounds
the sleeping world.

Unconscious,
they miss the smells
carried in the womb
of the night.

Gardenia and magnolia
wax myrtle and ginger lily
pluff mud and marsh.
Native and import.

Fetid smells;
ripening garbage
horse piss and dog piles
mingle with the sweet.

Charleston at night
sultry and quiet
creates a landscape
on the edge of morning
in the density of night.

*I wrote this impressionistic poem many years ago after walking in the historic district in the hour before dawn. The still, humid air amplifies all the scents. Wax myrtle has a wonderful spicy aroma. It was used by colonists to create bayberry scent. The ginger lily is incredibly sweet; some would say cloying, but I love it. Same for gardenias and magnolias. Mix the “bottom notes” of the scents of decay and feces and urine and you have the scent of Charleston in the heat of summer. I took this photo one recent August morning while out for a pre-dawn bicycle ride.

She is Just Away…

Forget Me Nots in my Mother's Garden

My mother is in China.
Visiting Tiananmen Square.
The Forbidden City.
Viewing 800 ceremonial buildings
containing 9,999 rooms
and a courtyard for 100,000 people.

She walks through Beijing’s ancient narrow hutongs
Learning about the daily life of the ordinary.
Then the Summer Palace, where the Imperial court lived
Every year from April to October.

On to the peaceful valley of the buried Ming emperors
Later to the Great Wall,
Undulating up and down the Badaling Hills
Marveling at great stone towers she learns its
Curves are to defy devils and demons,
Who only travel in straight lines.

At the Temple of Heaven
a series of elegant circular structures
Reaching for other realms
She hears of rituals of servility
for release of sins

I follow her progress in the itinerary,
subject to change.
With no telephone numbers,
no hotel address,

There is no way to picture her
visiting these places.
I have no photos, no book
to show the way.

I am reassured that she will have
a welcoming dinner of traditional Peking duck
with a lively acrobatic show during dinner,
after which she can relax during the evening
and gather her memories and new friends.


This poem was penned in 2003 when my mother was in China. Each day of her trip I tried to picture her doing some of the things that were described in the very formal, old-fashioned itinerary that was provided by the tour company. Some of the phrases in this poem are “found” in that I lifted them directly from the itinerary. While she was gone, I realized that I had no way to contact her, no way to communicate. And it struck me that her traveling to China was giving me a foretaste (way in advance I hope, as she is still wonderfully vital and active) of how it may be when she is dead and gone. Then I’ll have no way to communicate with her, no way to see her, no knowledge of how she is. The formality of the itinerary and its stiff language made me think of the Victorians and their journeys and then of Victorian era poetry. The title of this poem refers to James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “She Is Just Away”. If you aren’t familiar with his sentimental Victorian poetry, you might find this Wikipedia entry interesting.