Inside Lives






Manly Mythology

Love Lines

Second Set

Memorial Day DC-10




Solomon in All His Glory
Aging Child



Waiting Room*







The woman stares at the wooden dolls

knowing how they nest largest to small,

all her past selves in one old body.






Her earliest recreation is space—

between the fingers of her mother’s hands,

between dust motes, pine cones, piano keys,

odors of magnolia and chickens, stitches,

scrapes, candles on cake. Radio comes only

at dusk—The Shadow Knows—and TV still

gestates in the womb of electronic invention.

Space lies between lines, pages, pauses

of family tale-bearers, bones of story.



I do not take the word bones lightly

says her teacher, who has received notice

that her seventeen-year-old soldier

husband’s Jewish bones

have been found 24 years later

pickled in a jar and labeled

with his dog tag. For the space

of a lifetime the girl remembers that story

and another, the tale of a dancing skeleton,

the way death can take away your breath

one minute and leave you laughing the next

when its own bones shake.



She spaces her babies for the love of each,

nursing them all. NASA has nothing to do

with her, with generation, with generations.

The moon means light and rest between days.

Visitors stay in their pickup trucks for the space

it takes to herald their arrival, for the time it

takes her to tidy up the sofa, start the coffee.



She remembers space as a lost period of grace.

In the deceptive space of old age she watches

a little girl fence-perched by a roadside ditch

watching horses and how the wind blows.

She waves and the girl waves back, both

waiting to see what will happen next.




                    For my father


Riding roadward

Pa and I paid calls.

He cured sick men

and I kept company.

We sang and played,

pretended rich,

talked snooty what

we’d do with money.


He aged less than I.

We watched car-lights

gobble up black dragon macadam,

watched the southern sun

drink the road grasses’ water

till they curled and crackled,

heard silence suck up afternoons

while worried family friends

swatted flies and children,

and he fixed bones and wounds.


Long later I found hearts he lanced,

and learned the crack in the man,

and knew my mother’s pain,

waiting at home.



                For my mother



Creek water wavers over her womb

swollen nine months in the southern sun,

aching, aching, water snakes circling.

Sunk in mud for relief from high noon’s

heat, she goes into labor, struggles

to the car, into the clinic, too fast to

anesthetize, too fast to sterilize, but

gives to the burning world a girl child.

Ripped to her rectum, she lies panting,

blood steamed and sweat congealed

under the ceiling fan, its blades

churning a revolution of birth.



Sad-eyed Jesus-faced fans wave

to beats of the preacher’s promises

of hell, as sizzling Sundays smother

her. In a hot-flash flight to the attic

she stumbles over toys abandoned

by children grown and gone, sees

peacock feathers from tails unfolded

in times past, holds a Chinese ivory

fan so old its linen links break upon

opening, and finds a photo of her own

mother smiling at her from behind it.



Recalling how window fans once pulled

in nighttime sounds of cicadas, how desk

fans twirled the air inches from her face,

she wheels from her odious air-conditioned

cubicle to the nursing home courtyard, baking

beneath a wide-brimmed hat and praying for fans

to ease her last shimmering suspension of breath.





In the closet

are six rich coats

my mother bought

to guard me

from cold.


In the bank

are numbered checks

my father signed,

saying please endorse

his love.


I have within me

my father, my mother,

but cannot divorce myself.





My grandmother's

giving things away,

old things—garnet and gold

rings that fall off my fingers

and roll across the floor,

photos of serious faces

with stories untold, slow

things that her father carved

from wood and bone, lonely

fans, linens folded in fours

and crocheted at the corners

by long-ago friends, tin

boxes locked with tiny keys,

clocks, books, baby cups with silver

dents from children's banging for years.

Her children are quieter now,

tucked into their own houses.

These things of hers are silent.

They fit nowhere in my room.

What shall I do, store them

and close the closet door? They

make the new things look too neat.

Old things are for holding, worn

and torn and mended once more,

softened and smoothed again

in my grandmother's hands.

Now no one has time to hold them.



Manly Mythology


You've fought or befriended

just about everybody, but

you're still warm and wanting more.

Irish in the eyes, New York

in the nerve, tongue on the move,

you jump stairs two at a time—

trouble doesn't come in ones.


If you knew all that's on my mind

you'd load the ark for a long ride,

with marines from your proving ground

lining the rails, room to stow

your Olympian relatives, bunks for

personnae picked up on the way,

and a secret garden central in the ship

to meet and love them each.

Whatever mountain you land on

seems yours by laying claim.

You keep it while you live it

and lose it moving on, busy but

for occasions of the heart, of

opening bottles of beer

and shaping hero sagas

from the air.



Love Lines

                For Michael


Sometimes love rhymes.

The lines in your face and hands

rhyme with mine, the lines

of our bodies easily entwine,

the lines of our minds fine-tuned

to similar rhythms.


In time

you have lined the space of my living

like string sculpture infinitely extended,

a design that defines our space with

gracious whorls and swirls and spheres of

shining strands soft-spun, silken lariats

that sail across skies, catch clouds on the fly,

a magical rope that unbinds and sets free,

yet doubles as a life line on the sea.

Our feats are not lettered in epics—

love is not metered in regular beats,

but when it’s refined,

sometimes love rhymes.



Sometime before the parish records burned,

the heirs of nothing left County Offaly, its

rocky soil sown with rotten hopes, and shipped

their restless genes into the ever receding west.

We found the graveyards left behind,

so many names the same, Irish prey

of English translation, saintly tradition.

Your clan stared back from the stones.

And from the landlocked center of Illinois

the new crops call, spring to fall—bluebells,

bleeding heart, columbine, poppies, phlox,

verbena, viola, primrose, trillium, lilies,

sunflowers, bee balm, cone flowers, asters,

all menaced by weeds, beetles, blight, drought—

and still you till, luring frail leaves through

layers of husbandry.  Dig, my darling, dig.



Second Set


Blue cellophane hoods the spotlight over

a homemade stage, moths float through open

doors, the Irish pub’s a stone’s throw from

ocean waves, where ghosts of salmon follow

moonlit trails.


Inside a kitchen far

across the sea three decades past, washing

dinner dishes for the hostess, we first

kissed, though you were host—



now seated here

beside me, our hands wound in Celtic knots

of memory and song as guitar strings

sound midnight and the crowd calls,




Memorial Day DC-10

For Vicki—American Airlines #191, O’Hare Airport, May 25, 1979


Silk-shirted woman with Chinese skin

you have passed into oblivion, torn in

a terrible tenuous flight unlike the glides

you made down Michigan Avenue, eye-

fully, eloquently, exquisitely patterning

your people and places in unique blend.

There has been, since then, no one designed

like you.


Quickly you went, but backward,

cloth to moth, one second dressing for the plane,

the next, naked on fire. We are left with fabric



I will never feel silk without you

slipping through the fingers of my mind. Silk

is suddenly the quality of come and gone.




                For Denise


Infant cells struggle to survive, catching at each

other below the surface. Slowly they grow,

safely concealed, reaching, searching for space,

hungry. They nibble her inner ear, eat pieces of jaw,

devour half her brain till the slender face falls

to one side, bloated and floating over thin limbs

like a bulbous moon over drought struck fields.

The pain is unspeakable. There are deaths and

there are deaths. Where is the logic of health,

the Darwinian scheme in a cancer that kills itself

as well as her? Or did it skip across the room on

her last breath to be born again in some remote

crevice of flesh as infant cells?


We mourn her in a rebuilt barn used for such

occasions as weddings and funerals. It is lined

with her homemade quilts. She is, after all, a farm

girl, wholesome again as earth and ashes. We each

take a swatch from her patchwork bag, safety-pin it

to our clothes, and watch photos recycle her life

on a screen filled with aging stages of face and body,

over and over on automatic, childhood to hospice, rites

meant to heal us as she could not heal. For every

person crying in the hall, this death revives them all.


It is the three daughters who resurrect her then, born

of her cells, infant cells grown, searching for words

from the breath that has left us one life shorter, three

lives longer, wanting more.





The days after death has pressed me and moved on

lie buried deep in a body slit and sewn.  Incisions

ache with abandoned plans, memories of undimmed

energy.  Nurses bring mercy with sharp needles. 

Words no sooner read or spoken roll out of reach. 

How will I find them, how will I walk the halls,

tied with tubes and draped with bags of liquid

dripping through my veins?  The pain eclipses

time but cells still multiply, malignant or benign,

as pulsing minutes open, close, open, close, open,




She had practiced death, it was going pretty well,

limbs and will loosening, lungs and veins stilled.

Not so bad, she thought, I can do this—relieved

at her capability.  In the cluttered hospital night

a rare quiet grew.  Here it comes, she thought.

Among beeping machines leaped points of light,

faces glowing over them, angels oddly familiar.

So it’s true about the light, she thought, but music—

she didn’t know about the music,  didn’t know

that angels sang Happy Birthday when you died.

Overhead florescence switched on, nurses bore

toward her a chocolate cake celebrating her 66th. 

Blow them out, they said, blow them out and make a wish.

When the day shift came on, they brought another cake

yellow with pink icing.  Hey, we forgot the candles,

said the young one.  Are you kidding, said the old one,

with that oxygen, we’d blow the place to kingdom come.

She smiled and the rest of her life, never breathed

a word about the night shift’s secret.



When your oncologist says that death

is a mystery, minutes begin to sing.

Whoever is in charge of such things,

thanks for giving me a day. The wind

blew from the south

and I had a good lunch. 

Either would have been enough.




The headlines catch her eye but the stories hardly hold her

any more.  It has all happened so many times before.

She has happened so many times before.

She has transformed the noun remission

into a verb and re-missioned herself.

It is turtle work, halting and shelled by uncertainty.

But without a turtle’s weight, she buzzes like flies.

Fly, the noun, degrades.  Fly, the verb, uplifts.

What is the life of the remissioned?

And what incarnation awaits the humble fly?

A spider dances its art of air and thread.

Aren’t spiders also caught within their webs?

The news does not answer

old questions, so she folds it

neatly for recycling.


Solomon in All His Glory

                                (Matthew 6:28-29)

She opens the door to a closet crammed with clothes

(it’s hard to discard occasions though they’re old),

considers that she’s no lily, but toils and spins

(aware of closing petals and season’s end),

and tries to grow past fear of losing breath,

and hopes for fields of grace to nourish death,

for more than rain to quench her earthy thirst.

She’ll turn away and take a book down first

(the words that Jesus said arrayed in red)

and leave her life on hangers, and go to bed.


Aging Child


Where are your spirits

my mother, my father?

Are you separated as far

from each other by place

and disease as when you died?

I am searching for something.

Do you know what it is?

If I tried to pray, would you

assume the faces of God,

the first faces I ever found?

If I made a door would you

come through it?

I am nearing something.

Do you know what it is?

Here is a window of smoke.

I am begging you, see me.




the twilight tiger

waits beside a well-worn trail

he’s hungry tonight




These are the things that haunt her:  Jack and Virginia,

two china dolls, their strung bodies lying in a darkened childhood; 

the way she lies in a shuttered room for hours without sleeping,

unstrung by what she has not done and does not do;

how the past stares at her with glass eyes even as she cannot bear

to look at the color slides her father took with his black-box camera,

photos her mother arranged neatly, year by year, so that someday

someone would see them;

how she cannot let go what was hers, a pliable body

and words published, remaindered, newly unwritten

in the mind’s darkening room.




In the bedroom hang two photos, 1931, 1942—his

and her baby pictures, the first tinted, the second sepia—

want or war roaring around their families and the camera.

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Each face is hopeful and open, unaware of the dust

they will share someday on the same wall watching

themselves change clothes, change their minds, turn

over in bed, turn white-haired. 

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Unbaffled by tears of illness, breathings of relief, they

stare evenly at their namesakes who, coming and going,

will remove them when the faces once open have closed.

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 




We have forgiven

each other’s

getting old

but dying may

require mediation.


   Waiting Room

How long does it take
for the doctor to tell me
if you’ll live or die?





We linger over crab heaped on brown bread,

a glass of Pinot Grigio, a cup of cappuccino.

At pier’s end, the Atlantic is choppy.

She speaks of her husband

a fisherman who filleted our favorite

black sole in their now-closed restaurant.

23 years, 3 children—not an island

of bliss but a deep harbor.  Disease

submerged one body part at a time,

beginning with his amputated leg.

She has enrolled in ballroom dancing.

She wears flamingo pink.

Her voice bubbles.

She is breathless

but will not

no, will not

go down.



He could ride a horse and tame a hawk

and hold a snake.  He could squirt milk

from a cow's teat straight into the cat's mouth

though maybe the cat missed.  He could make

us laugh when our parents broke.  He drove

the jeep across the back fields till our tailbones

rattled.  He was a forester, a storyteller,

a father, a friend to everyone he met,

even the oddballs, even his sister.

He asks his grandson’s name.

He wakes his wife at night worried

about getting the work done tomorrow

though he's forgotten what it is he can't

remember, that thing he has to do.

He sits in the tractor and wonders

how to turn it on.




coming going what

is the name of the mind cloud

she has forgotten




Slight white flowers of the night sky

blink against galactic winds,

expending their scent beyond our ken.

We point to their petals past the rim

of vision, extending wishes to them

like cosmic rain reversed to nourish

godly garden beds. The stars

are still our covenant with spring.