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

How Long O Lord

Because they were DOCTORS, she said,

I believed they would help me, believed

in their knowledge, in their experience,

their Hippocratic oath, our common humanity,

for God’s sake.

 

They saw me arrive full and leave empty

again and again through years of trying

to bring just one child into the world

and they shook their heads and shrugged,

muttering

 

something about how these things happen,

it’s normal, nature’s way of taking care

of what isn’t meant to be, but after number

nine fell out in the fourth month, it seems they

might have seen

 

a pattern; done an exam before the end began

instead of after. If my color matched theirs,

they might have said CERCLAGE instead of SORRY

and BEDREST not BIRTH CONTROL,

but we weren’t

 

and they didn’t, and my hands that ache to hold

the one thing in all the world that I would give

my life for are clenched rather than clasped

in prayer as I beg the Lord to forgive whatever it

was I did

 

that made those babies slip from my womb’s grasp.

I think of Sara, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth,

and wonder how many lives they lost, expelled

in a field or by a stream, not because they were barren,

but ignored.

 

© Dana Hughes 4.18.18

 

On The Bus

Sitting by the window of the bus,

she was trapped by the man who

took the seat at the aisle as well

as her voice when he placed his

meaty hand on her thigh and kept

it there knowing he had her for

as long as the ride might last,

certain from a glance that she

would hold still because she was

raised right, a polite girl who

avoided strangers but could never

be rude. She said nothing, of course,

only stared at the window where his

reflection leered with the smug

pleasure of a cur that has cornered

its prey. When at last he rang

the bell and was gone, she exhaled

the breath she’d held for blocks

as tears of rage sluiced down her

cheeks, salted with fury that with

all the proper behaviors she’d been

taught, she never learned to scream.

 

©Dana Hughes  4.17.18

Windstorm

That crow attempting to fly with her mate

in the midst of a windstorm that has thrust

her aloft into the vortex of feckless flapping

and furtive glances down where he flies

perpendicular to the ground, for the most part

in control but unaware that above,

his darling has lost hers,

is fully aware that though their species loves

to kite on a fine updraft when the sun is warm

and nothing but pleasure comes to mind,

this buffeting squall snapped the tether and

she is not kiting but kite, with wings outspread

and still, ascending like the Virgin only faster.

God alone knows when or if she’ll return.

 

© Dana Hughes 4.13.18