Requiem

In the middle of the lake where the geese gathered,

a lone gander rode the eddies in silence,

head tucked to wing in the sleep of no waking,

great black feet straight and still, reedy calls

of his mate unheard as she paced the snowy shore

knowing but unwilling to join the skein who made

their peace and paddled in widening arcs away

while the sun slipped it’s perch and sank, as at last did he.

 

© Dana Hughes 4.4.19

The Sparrow Tree

The weeping cherry is a sparrow tree

bristled with birds and other small things

that shelter within the unkempt tangle

of the crown, spilling in knots like Medusa’s

locks would if she slept poorly and couldn’t

get a brush through the nest of snakes that

bare their teeth as I do with you when

you’re too long gone and this refuge recoils,

licking empty air with a thousand tongues.

Look away quick. Stone comes to those

who stare at the writhing that warns

without hissing. This one sings.

 

©Dana Hughes 1.14.19

Swinging

Like a pendulum I have coursed

from here all the way to there

and then reversed and come back

to this very spot worn like the ground

beneath a swing where small feet have

scuffed the grass clean away before

lifting skyward in an arc that simulates

the ecstasy of Icarus just before the wax

warmed and gave him over to Gravity

just as I was in the instant after letting

go in an exchange between up

and down that I swear sounded like

a voice saying NOW, when flying

became falling and the ground

rose up, indignant at my temerity.

Yet as before when breath returns,

I’ll be up and at it once more.

 

©Dana Hughes 12.31.18

Close to the End

It was close to the end when Daddy said

get her out of here, though he’d insisted

he could manage her care, which he thought

meant fixing a plate of runny-side-up eggs and

limp bacon every day (neither of which did she

ever eat because in her mind, when it was still

a mind, that shit was never what she would call

food), and settling her onto the couch with a blanket

and a cup of coffee so he could watch TV and she

could need nothing until dinner. So he was undone

when she never again made it to the bathroom in time

and the sheets were always in the wash, and when

the combative days came on like a thunderstorm out

of her clear blue eyes so she screamed when he woke

her and called him every god damn name but the one

his mother gave him, flailed as he dressed her and sent

the hated eggs sailing in an arc that mimicked her

decline, he threw in the towels: bath, dish and paper,

and confessed she was more than he could handle.

We came with assurance that the move would be swift

and she would be happy which was code for “someone

who knows what the hell they’re doing will change her

diapers and feed her and treat her like the baby she has

become instead of the surly wife you think does what

she does to spite you.” We packed a bag and bathed

her and when she handed me her teeth I understood

Daddy in a way I didn’t want, then scrubbed with

janitorial fury anyway and tucked them in fast to

cover the naked gums she had never allowed her

children to see. As we drove to the place where

she died six weeks on, she kept asking, over

and over and over again, “Do I know you?”

 

©Dana Hughes 8.25.18

At The Wheel

The potter at the next wheel turned a ten-pound lump

of black clay into a bowl of perfect grace rising from

the base in an arc like opening wings, while the clay

I worked refused to behave, wobbled drunkenly and

did not mince words in letting me know that whatever

I thought I was making would shortly be lump again

as the whole spitting affair collapsed, a squelching

glob to be scraped away, wadded up and not thrown

away but set aside for an hour or two to stiffen up

for another go at becoming something other than dirt.

 

Clay has its own mind, and persuading it to assume

any shape takes practice, practice, practice, with nothing

but failure assured until a truce is struck; potter and clay

having their say and yielding, one to the other, in an act

of co-creation. The Genesis stories only hint at how this

was done, omitting the part about first, second and third

attempts at making a human by a deity who hadn’t done

this before, as well as the moment of divine glee when

Adam was finally pulled from the mud, followed by the

less joyous moment when the man of earth grabbed God’s

nose and gave it a painful tweak.  It wasn’t biting an apple

that stirred up all the trouble, but the raspberries Adam

blew on that day he was formed, sparking the wrestling

which will continue as long as the wheel turns.

 

©Dana Hughes 7.20.18

Copperhead

Bent low over the young copperhead making his

way across the street, I noticed the pattern on the

scales looked like God was chewing tobacco when

he spit in the clay that became this kind of snake,

a pattern that offered impeccable cover amid pine

straw and roots. But this guy was on asphalt, not

leaf litter, and he was gasping, each slender breath

a struggle from wounds at neck and tail, two gashes

opened by tooth or talon from which bits of viscera

emerged. So his position in the street had naught

to do with crossing, and all to do with dropping

from the height achieved by whatever snatched

him up and changed its mind. With neither donkey

nor denarii, I used a dogwood stick for hospice

transport to a quiet spot beneath a stand of trees

where, blending nicely, he died in peace.

 

©Dana Hughes 7.16.18

Ghost Farm

Just this side of Amarillo where the clouds that sailed

east and unspent over petroglyphs and earthen sea

snag on the topmost twigs of trees, their broad blue

bellies torn and spilling day after day across the prairie

where the green begins, there sits a tumbledown house

scoured gray and roofless by grit-born wind. Glassless

windows stare at the crows hopping lintel to chimney

to the splayed limbs of cottonwoods that in death as

in life lean sharply northward. It’s a ghost farm where

the spirits of Plenty and Want stand shoulder to shoulder

like a Grant Wood portrait, pitchfork raised and ready

to turn scats, dirt and memory piled against the boards,

from which a wisp of dust rises over this weary patch

of crisp yellow weeds and slides away to disappear

as the farmers’ did, like a sidewinder moving on.

©Dana Hughes

Her Epic Quest

On the day she raised a hand to her liquor-fisted father,

the treasure map appeared like magic, dotted lines looping

from there to where an X marked the spot farthest from

the beatings she would staunchly refuse a berth in the

warehouse of memory, though her dreams left the back

door ajar. With the first step she was out, away, and gone.

As in all epic quests, there were talking beasts and god-sent

friends, a ship of fools — forgone husbands at the oars,

and children she adored who unwittingly pulled her off

course for the decades it took to mother them up to lives

of their own. By then the map was mislaid, and a forgetting

fog rose to steal away the part of her that wished to travel on,

yet even as she sat unspeaking, staring into the distance

unblinking, with a brow pencil she traced the route straight

from arch to arch and on to a place beside her ear where

the target whispered, “Almost there. Almost there.”

©Dana Hughes 6.21.18

 

Osprey

ALL ARE WELCOME in ten-inch letters

on the sign by the road where traffic

passes the church invites wingless

visitors to enter and sit where they

choose among smiling members

who claim no pew. But let an osprey

build her nest beneath the cross

of Jesus on the roof where no one

ever goes and hatch a clutch of fragile

chicks that she feeds fish just as

the Lord fed the disciples after he was

raised, and all she’s created will be

swept from the spire like storm-blown

trash with the shove of a push broom.

Her shrieks will shatter the glass of the

lying sign, letters tumbling amid broken

boughs, down, and the pale remains

of innocents not welcome.

 

©Dana Hughes 6.12.18

Launching Day

I’d like to know, my darlings,

if you felt pushed to grow, and

spread your wings, as it were,

to tumble to the ground outside

a dormitory at a school in a city

far from all that you knew?

 

Was it hard to find food, warmth

friends, and interest in all you did

though it wasn’t always what you

wanted, a way to make a small room

and a complete stranger feel safe

enough as a temporary home?

 

Were you fledged enough then and

full of confidence, or did it seem

the farcical pin feathers you sprouted

would never lift you high enough

to see what was coming or where

in the world you might be going?

 

I ask, my dears, now that you are

fully on your own, building nests far

from mine, as this is launching day for

the tiny sparrows who live above my

door and now spill from the warm cup

of twigs that’s held them since egghood.

 

I put them back, of course, and within

an hour they were out again and gone.

I begged them to say something as I searched

the grass, but soon I knew they would not

peep for me; I am not their mother, and

their future is in other hands than mine.

 

I’m your mother, though, and this

tableau of nature’s severity takes my

breath and makes me wonder if you feel

that your launching was appropriate,

and when you hatch chicks will you

choose to deviate or do the same?

 

© Dana Hughes 4.20.18