I wrote this poem seventeen years ago, after watching one of my daughters standing on a stool at the kitchen sink. A few things have changed in those years: that daughter and her brother and sister have grown up, I’m happy with blonde hair and I’d settle for an eight-minute mile. But everything else still holds. My bargain with the planets remains the same.
– Alison McGhee
The newspaper reports that at twilight tonight
Venus and Jupiter will conjoin
in the southwestern sky,
a fist and a half above the horizon.
They won’t come together again for seventeen years.
What the article does not say is that Mercury, the
dark planet, will also be on hand.
He’ll hover low, nearly invisible in a darkened sky.
I stare out the kitchen window toward the sunset.
Seventeen years from now, where
will I be?
Mercury, Roman god of commerce and luck,
let me propose a trade:
Auburn hair, muscles that don’t ache, and a seven-minute mile.
Here’s what I’ll give you in return:
My recipe for Brazilian seafood stew, a talent for
French-braiding, an excellent sense of smell and
the memory of having once kissed Sam W.
Then I see my girl across the room.
She stands on a stool at the sink,
washing her toy dishes and
swaying to a whispered song,
her dark curls a nimbus in the lamplight.
The planets are coming together now.
Minute by minute the time draws nigh for me to watch.
Minute by minute my child wipes dry her red
plastic knife, her miniature blue bowls.
Mercury, here’s another offer, a real one this time:
Let her be.
You can have it all in return,
the salty stew, the braids, the excellent sense of smell
and the softness of Sam’s mouth on mine.
And my life. That too.
All of it I give for this child, that seventeen years hence
she will stand in a distant kitchen, washing dishes
I cannot see, humming a tune I cannot hear.
This one goes out to all those for whom tomorrow, for any one of many private and public reasons, is a hard or frustrating or painful day.
– Osip Mandelstam (1920, translated from the Russian by Christian Wiman)
Take, from my palms, for joy, for ease,
A little honey, a little sun,
That we may obey Persephone’s bees.
You can’t untie a boat unmoored.
Fur-shod shadows can’t be heard,
Nor terror, in this life, mastered.
Love, what’s left for us, and of us, is this
Living remnant, loving revenant, brief kiss
Like a bee flying completed dying hiveless
To find in the forest’s heart a home,
Night’s never-ending hum,
Thriving on meadowsweet, mint, and time.
Take, for all that is good, for all that is gone,
That it may lie rough and real against your collarbone,
This string of bees, that once turned honey into sun.
—For more information on Osip Mandelstam, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/osip-mandelstam
– Ted Kooser
Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass an the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.
You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.
The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,
for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened
and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.
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Signing My Name
– Alison Townsend
An artist always signs her name,
my mother said when I brought her my picture,
a puddled blur of scarlet tempera
I thought resembled a horse.
She dipped the brush for me
and watched while I stroked my name,
each letter drying, ruddy,
permanent as blood.
Later, she found an old gilt frame
for me at an auction.
We repainted it pink,
encasing the wobble-headed horse
I’d conjured as carefully
as if it were by da Vinci,
whose notebooks on art
she was reading that summer.
Even when I was six, my mother
believed in my powers, her own unsigned
pencil sketches of oaks and sugar maples
flying off the pad and disappearing,
while her French pastels hardened,
brittle as bone in their box.
Which is why, when I sign my name,
I think of my mother, all she couldn’t
say, burning, in primary colors –
the great, red horse I painted
still watching over us
from the smoke-scrimmed cave of the mind,
the way it did those first years
from the sunlit wall in her kitchen.