Four Poems

 

LAUREL PARABLE

 

I crush

the brown pod

with my bare heel

to release

two bright red

Texas mountain

laurel seeds

for my twin

daughters, who

take them

and try

to put them

back in the tree.

 

 

NEIGHBORING

 

This afternoon I believe the shadows.
In the November hour before the hour
when windows blacken,
the shadows place their faith in our kitchen
rather than the weeping persimmon tree
or the train tracks in the gorge
behind the house. The backsplash
and knife block, it seems, have been waiting
for them: the cold tiles flicker as if lit
and the wooden knife handles show more edge
than I’m used to holding in my hand.
Soon I’ll chop garlic for soup. Soon
the rats will come to nestle and curl in the nest
they’ve built in our attic. There was a pang
I used to feel when I thought of nests
but I know now that I wasn’t thinking of the nests
of rats, or how, if I followed an overgrown trail
down to the train tracks, pushing through mistflower
and beautyberry and crossing a dry creek, I would arrive
at a filthy blue tarp strung between brambles
that was obviously someone’s home and turn
and run. Of my neighbors in this new place, I know
the stone in the leaf pile, a stump
crawling with ants beside the back gate
and a neighbor girl almost tall enough to climb
our fence. I’ve asked no one to come to dinner
though each night the rats arrive
at dinnertime and scratch at the ceiling
with the insistence of providence.

 

 

IN THE AMERICAN WEST

 

I saw the Pacific once. The ocean pushed against the shore;
the sun spilled a little of itself over the water as it set. The water
looked so solid that I could trick myself into thinking I stood on water
when really I stood on sand, wearing a scarf against the wind.
When I raised my finger to gauge the wind’s direction
the sky balanced on it before tipping into night.
 
I loved a carpenter once. Our love was a junkyard:
planks, table legs, a section of unpainted picket fence
tumbled behind his shack. A handsaw nestled in grass.
Was it music or the marsh in the distance
that that we danced to? We invented a dance that required me
to lift my knee to my hand and slap it down again.
 
I walked through the desert once. My shadow companioned me,
gently heaving over the chicory and velvet mesquite
and over the corrugated metal of a sun-bleached trailer
abandoned in the brush. I held my hand to my face to protect it
from weather. The sky so blue I thought it might be water.
My legs were bare in the chicory and velvet mesquite, which tore.
 
I made small talk with strangers in the Sierras once.
Into this joyous abandon of talking about nothing rushed a storm.
The clouds spilled out from under themselves and weirded
the light into a golden range. The gold gathered our breath.
Even the small things we said about oil and thirst
glimmered in the scree that glimmered in the hail.
 
I swam in a turquoise lake once. Like swimming
in the sky. To dry myself, I lay one leg on the warm ground
and then the other, because I’d come to believe that the earth
couldn’t take care of all of me at once. Two dead trees
by the highway suggested the shape of a body falling
on top of another body, in love or in hatred.
 
I loved gravity in Death Valley once. Isn’t gravity stronger
near the center of the earth? Isn’t gravity proof that the earth
still loves us? The wind blew dust into my eyes, nose, and mouth.
I folded my hands into the shape of a meadowlark and held that meadowlark
to my chest. I panted to the top of a sand dune and threw
my hands in front of me, but nothing flew.
 
I lived in a trailer park once. In the daytime, my neighbors
watched me dance to the sound of gravel. I invented a dance
that required me to reach behind my shoulder as if I had a bag
of rocks to carry. At night, darkness was a reprieve from the dust
and glare. While the lights of a small town flared in the distance,
I could only stand to light a candle, which flickered when I coughed.
 
I wore a red skirt in a canyon once. When I spun,
the skirt twirled to the tops of the high grasses that locals called
gambler’s bliss. A freight train creaked through over the ties
cut from lodgepole pines in a lynx’s forest.
Shit streaked the cattle cars, graffiti streaked the hopper cars.
I cannot recall the presence of any meadowlarks.
 
I stayed in a small town of boarded up brown houses once.
Desperate for color, I chased a turquoise pickup truck.
Secretly I touched an old woman’s purple church blouse
at the elbow. As I stood in an abandoned gas station, it began
to snow. The snow fell on the dry pumps and fell in the forest,
where there were still lynxes to carry the snow on their backs
 
I went to a dance in a social hall once. I reached out my arms
to dance with gravity but caught a stranger’s shoulders instead.
The deer heads on the wall watched us through oracular eyes.
The stranger and I invented a dance that required us to be kind
to one another. Even though we didn’t deserve it, the earth
would hold us a little longer. There were balloons all over the floor.
 
 
IF YOU WERE TO BUILD A COYOTE
 
If you were to build a coyote with your child, you might begin
with a leaf pile as big around as your child’s arms.
You might place the leaves into a trash bag.
You might cut out triangles from brown paper
grocery bags using the blunt-tipped scissors with purple handles
that your child can use to cut by herself. You might guide
her hands. Two triangles for ears, one upside-down triangle
for a face. A piece of brown twine you found in the garden
for a tail. If you don’t make legs
for your coyote, she can’t run away from you,
you might tell your child, who solemnly nods and hugs
the crackling animal she’s made. The coyote,
you might tell your child, figures greatly in American Indian mythology
as a trickster. The trick is that the coyote
hunts the rats and the pomegranates rotting in the grass
or pushes her black nose through the soft shit-steaming diapers,
coffee grounds, and avocado peels we put outside
our house. The trick is that the coyote has learned to live
with ryegrass and trash cans, mountain laurel and the moist low places
in the garden. You might tell your child that at night
the coyote drinks the rainwater pooled in the smooth white stones
outside her bedroom window. With a rough warm tongue.
If you wake up in the night, you might hear her lapping, and it sounds
like water dripping in the sink. If you step out of your bed
and go to the window, the coyote will turn to you
with hazel eyes, regard you coolly until she sees
that it’s you, the one who made her,
and then she might tell you about her night, and yours.