Returning Home to East Yorkshire
I had forgotten the shape
of chestnut trees, the deep green
hedgerows, crows on clay roofs,
stone walls dividing fields,
sheep scattered on slopes.
I had forgotten the mosaic floor,
bordered with red and black
squares, deep pit excavated
beneath the orchard when I was four,
remnant of a Roman fort.
I had forgotten how I dawdled, plucked
daisies on grassy mounds,
one now found to house an Iron Age queen,
blue glass beads and chariot wheels
speed her to the after life.
We must all bury the dead.
Your gravestone looks fresh.
It must be the constant rain
that keeps the mottled marble clean.
I kneel to place pink heather
in its plastic pot. The florist said
it would last a long time.
Roses are in bloom again, with all their redolent memories,
trellis flushed pink against blue delphiniums that crowd bright borders.
House sparrows splash in the stone birdbath, carved limestone bowl
set on four grey columns, solid in creased photographs before I was born.
Of course we knew there would be suffering: late frost
kills the apple blossom, the hawk cracks the cuckoo’s neck,
a gunshot or a last hospice breath ends a life and only then
do we understand meaning belongs to the feeling world
that lawmakers cannot bear to inhabit, do not dare to hear
the cries of a caged child separated from the mother, terrorized
by dreams—black robes fly like ravens in the moonless sky.
Yet in the spaces in between, in the rustling of leaves, in the garden
pulling weeds, in the kitchen chopping onions, in the faded
photographs, in the changing light at dusk life finds us.
All my childhood in the cuckoo’s song,
frost-tinged grass at daybreak.
The sun marks a path across the stone
walk to the beech tree: young leaves
poke from old growth, uncurl
like a newborn’s fingers.
Do not listen
to the doubts of old men.
The pear tree is heavy with white
blossoms that shift in the breeze like plumes
of a goose grooming itself
beside the canal.
The muscular flap of a swallow’s wings
guides it to eaves of the brick house beyond
the garden: blue carpet of forget-me-nots,
daisies dress the grass like yellow buttons
on a baby’s white jacket. From the doorway
I hear my mother calling.
What Do We Know of Time?
Without realizing it we had begun to feel
the scorching days, ninety degrees in our garden,
would never end.
The houseplants wilted. I sent them out under the portch,
healing Aloe and Peace Lily, hosed them down
in the tarnished copper tray, remembering
a fish restaurant in Wellfleet last summer, pink
popsicles of allium, blue spiked delphiniums, lavender’s
purple haze among corroded metal tabletops
where my husband amused himself squeezing
a lemon, watched as the black surface dissolved.
I poured vinegar onto the discolored planter and waited.
Small bright golden spots emerged then coalesced
to shape what looked like Pangea, supercontinent
that held for one hundred million years.
What do we know of time? Stars survive
millions of years at the edge of spaciousness.
Small stars, our sun, blaze on for billions.
The world gains luster as it falls apart:
Our friend has been told they can do no more
for him, perhaps three months, maybe at most a year.
He is a physicist, aware of relativity, of the slowing
of time as gravity increases, how a moment
in the bright light of morning can expand into forever.
We sit with him in the sun, drink
tea and savor small bites of homemade
chocolate cake, crumbs scatter on the paper plates.