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October 3

“ Most of our lives we’ve been encouraged to be elsewhere, in plans and strategies.” Stephen Levine, from A Gradual Awakening

Most of our lives
we’ve been encouraged to be
This is why we love
maps, recipes, guidebooks,
instructions of all kinds:
Turn left at the sunflower field,
Add sour cream and bake,
Take two at bedtime with water.

Put down the paper, the spatula, the cup.
Put away all the scribbled directions.
Let go of the pen.
With empty hands
where we are. Not elsewhere at all

Waking Up Slowly

at the kitchen window, early
rinsing a coffee cup
before the long litany of this day begins
Layered kitchen noises running water radio news.
The neighbors, their houses still in darkness.
something inside
dips into the deep well of
Tenderness — the well which always waits—
Quiet, in love with this street
this small still sleeping world


What You Build

“Moment to moment, the mind is building some image of who it thinks it is.” Stephen Levine, in A Gradual Awakening.

Today, for example,
You could be anyone arriving
To shrug on the costume.
Is it the you who smells like lilacs,
Dresses only in green and eats acorns
Wrapped in spicy basil leaves?
Or the mama with a cookie jar?
Or you? In its endless inventiveness,
Some days it is the bossy you, the petty,
The forgetful, the needlessly cruel. And while
You may hope for another, today it looks to be
The adolescent with that unfortunate superiority,
The you who has perfected the eye-roll. Oh,
Come closer, you. Despite your disdain,
I have made us mugs of tea to warm our hands.

Memo Of Understanding

Author Alice Sebold, as quoted in today’s Writer’s Almanac, (she) “gets up every day at 4 a.m. to write because, she says, “If you start in the dark, the judges are all asleep.””

More a fond note to my caretakers
rather than a business memo, I write—
Oh my darlings, my judges,
who have given me so much
(who else would stop the various
disasters of fashion and faux pas
you steered me away from?)
What I need of you now is a certain
We are all getting older, including you,
Including me. We all need our rest and our work.
Let us understand each other.
When time appears with a poem curled
in its palm, a small span a snippet
a smidgen of time holding a handful
of the right words (words here and quickly gone again
a poem or a dream) could you, my sweet ones, my protectors,
my worried helpers, my kind curmudgeons, please
Please nod off? Gently, drift into your leather armchairs
and doze whenever they knock.

Rules For Cemeteries

Flower pots must be biodegradable
No dogs allowed
Flags only on national holidays
Don’t disturb the spiderwebs, as they are good luck
Fix your family’s cracked headstones. Otherwise,
there is a fine, or a fire where you didn’t want one
If you stumble over loose stones, hurry home. Someone is calling for you.
If you drop your house key…Well, don’t drop your house key there.
That would be best.
Leaves blown across your path? Your grandparents are
thinking of you and smiling, while turning in their graves.

Poetry Vacation

We had different definitions.
I planned time away with poetry—
new notebooks, favorite pens,
a few igniting books, a workshop,
comfortable sandals.

Clearly, Poetry Vacation meant
something else entirely to you, poetry.

You’ve wandered off, down to the river and away
while I was sharpening pencils.
I’ve stopped searching, okay? I’ve been outside
all summer, so I’m tanned and warm. And home.
Nobody loves the desperate,
we all learned from bitter times.
So I’m not. Not yet. I wish you well.
I wish you nights with orange moons,
fragrant festival food, convivial companions.
I wish you tents and boats that never leak,
I wish you horizons full of temples or oceans or mountains
whatever it was you wanted of a vacation.
I wish you enough hours and ink to find your way home.

Violet In Bad Kettle

Seeing the name written down was the worst. When Ian first pointed to their new town on his creased and battered paper map, Violet shivered. And when they arrived, as they drove past the “Welcome To Bad Kettle” sign, dread was the circling word, drifting through the open car window on a perfect summer day.
They both hoped for the best, a new beginning.


By October, Violet won’t walk by the river anymore. She sees faces in the rocks, skulls in the stones. Ian tries to talk her out of it. Perpetually late for work, over the weeks he has gotten attached to the shortcut of the river path. But Violet shakes her head, insists. They both skip the path in favor of the main road to downtown, with its traffic lights and lumbering beasts and hot scent of fuel, though it adds ten minutes to the route, each way.


Ian suggests new strategies, worried he’ll be fired for tardiness. Ignore them, he says. Or give them names. Or walk with your eyes closed, letting me guide your steps over the worn concrete.


Violet, usually so agreeable, refuses. Don’t name them, she warns. Ian relents, changes jobs. Violet is so convinced, and so convincing, that all their friends start avoiding the river path too. Now everyone they know is ten minutes late, all the time, for everything from work to dinner dates.


Eventually, the rumors spread beyond their circle of friends and nobody uses the river path anymore except tourists and the seven crazy homeless men. The city of Bad Kettle adjusts, shifting time by ten minutes. Now between Central Time and Mountain Time, there is a new time zone. Bad Kettle Time.


The path crumbles, is covered by grass. The slope to the water grows slippery with moss.  Left to themselves, the rocks begin to open their eyes in the quiet hour at dusk.

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