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

Can You Imagine

 

“Can you imagine?” she asks,

which my ear receives like the SKRITCH

of a match head and WHOOSH, my brain

is alight like dry wood in a pool of kerosene,

erupting into phantoms not my own but another’s,

crackling with inventions of sights not seen and

sounds not heard, like fabric caught on a fence that

shreds in the wind to become a siren’s hair wafting

below the surface of the sea whose rolling foam

is salted by tears spilled from cheek to river to

the wide gulf between joy unknown, grief unparsed;

an apron cinched tight round a thickening middle,

an ember clinging to the smoked down butt fished

from the grass and passed pudgy hand to pursed lips,

dishes clattering from table to floor, baby’s cry and

dog’s howl mixed with the half-tuned jumping song

sung over and over and over to the beat of Ked’s

and rope in the driveway, the fireflies flashing their

idolatry to the stars. Angels and demons swear like

sailors and refuse to release their hold so these

unstoppable thoughts keep coming

because I can, indeed, imagine.

 

© Dana Hughes  4.9.18

Taking the Measure

A span is the width of a hand outspread,

a cubit runs elbow to middle finger tip.

An inch is knuckle to end of thumb,

and the height of a horse is hand

upon hand upon hand.

 

The first rulers were our parts and we

took the measure of things with what

was on hand, which was a hand,

or the limbs attached thereto.

The lines that march along the length

of a yardstick are precise while

the reach of fabric held nose to

outstretched arm is a yard of trust

that the one who measures

measures true, and the flesh of

any nose and the bone of any arm

is close enough.

 

Beside you towering over me I feel

less than though my foot is a foot

despite my knuckle telling otherwise.

Notwithstanding the evidence of

discrepancies in size I must trust that

we are equal, my brain no less nor

more than yours, each heart moving

the volume of blood we contain

so the depth and breadth of us paired

doesn’t tip, unbalanced, like a scale

when the finger lingers to raise

or lower the price.

 

© Dana Hughes 3.30.18

 

The Mending Bones

Executing a perfect layout in a game of Ultimate

and landing on his shoulder, he heard more than

felt the bone snap like a chicken leg in a dog’s mouth,

and the teammate that grabbed his hand and pulled

him to his feet was shocked by the changing colors

in his face as his knees gave way and sat him down.

At the Emergency Room the nurse failed to ask or

notice his level of pain and walked him the length

of a merciless long corridor to radiation where the

x-ray technician reduced him to lip-bitten tears.

 

No break is simple, despite the diagnosis as bones

though hard are living tissue and not impervious

to injury, and even with their ability to mend, it is

the process that keeps the afflicted suffering while

the raw ends with marrow exposed begin knitting

together again, producing a net of fibroblasts that

spans the divide like a bridge under construction,

mortar and steel inching from solid ground to the

center of air with an engineers confidence that the

two will meet and the weld will hold.

 

It’s the reaching, the intuiting by one jagged end of

the other and cell by cell, recreating a whole from

pieces that causes every breath to catch like ours does

in the effort to align what we have sundered through

the years of leaps and layouts made with full knowledge

of gravity’s pull. I’ve held my breath against the hurt

as long as I can, but regardless of how far the healing

has progressed, I can’t not inhale.

 

© Dana Hughes 3.22.18