Poetry

Carolyn reading at a benefit event for Japan after the September 2011 earthquake and tsunami

Birthsong

I am of water, and of air.
At three weeks old
holy water bathed
my brow, and they say

I was an angel, that


I lay serene and calm while
the priest held me awkward

blood rushing to my head

along with God’s water.

Sometimes angels stand
on the tip of a needle
or along the ridges

 

of a woman’s comb.
Sometimes angels are at baptisms,
indecipherable chants
underneath the world, singing,

You are held,
you have always been held.
You come from sea creatures,
who flew on ancient wings.

Your feet were fins,
your arms lush feathers.

Don’t trust the land doctors.
Ignore the priests

when they intone over you.
You are more water
than land, and inside the cells
of your body lie great stretches

 

of uninhabited sky.
You can swim, or fly.

And when you are called
you will return, floating

into the opened legs of your mother,
where you were born
in a splash of breaking waters.
Sea mists will welcome you home,

to a world as heavy and light
as the moment
just before the moment
you were conceived.

(From Sisters Singing, 2009)

 


Hospital Guard

Is this how it was for you?
Watching over us through kindergarten’s fence,
rushing to protect from bullies
and rough-handed adults?
I sit night watch, guarding
against nurses with pinpricks
and beeping machines,
who may or may not
have hands of grace.  I’ve learned
to present my daughter-bear intentions early,
call out orders before they near your bed.
And yet it is impossible,
as you must have learned all those years ago,
to keep you from your life.

 

Here on my trembling cot,
sitting up at each entrance,
standing keenly over you
as they change your midnight IV –
I pray, too, that I may accept
the rest of the mother bear’s knowledge,
the part that knows
at some point you must
run off ahead of me
on your own.

From Inside Grief: Death, Loss and Bereavement, 2001

 

Amazing Grace

We have done this before.
Moistened the cloth
with warm water and soap,
wiped her body clean.
But then she moaned, and sighed,
and her arms did not
have this heaviness.

Still we sing the song.
Wash her hair, anoint her body with holy water
she herself brought from Ireland.
We wash her entire
her feet last, each part three times
and we hum the tune
while her skin is still warm and moist,
her face translucent.

 

Perhaps she has never look more like herself
than in this final moment,
her spirit hovering above her earthly body.
The last creases of earthly care on her brow
smoothed to a fine glow.

 

Her priest says to pray for her easy travel
through the heavenly gates,
but I saw my mother’s face
as she made that transition,
I saw her glow into the Great Heart
at the center of the world.

 

Final fluids rush from her body.
We wipe them clean, roll her to one side
then another. We touch her brow
like we are touching a holy relic.
We kiss her one last time
and watch them take her from us,
her face still glowing, even as
they zip cold plastic up to her neck,
even as they take her out the door
into bright sunlight. And we her children

 

watch her go, weeping, arms outstretched,
leaning together heavy inside the doorway
as though an invisible hand holds us,
and we are not mean to follow
into the brightness she is headed.

(From Inside Grief: Death, Loss and Bereavement, 2001)

 

Take a Walk by Your Town

Begin at 30th Avenue,
once trail for deer,
brown bear, and wild cougar
among great live oaks
and tall pines. Walk past
pale painted condominiums
and small bungalows on the black-wet
road slick with winter rain.
Come to Portola Drive, ease across
four traffic lanes
to the ocean side of things.
Continue on, past Corner Pocket Billiards,
the Fluff-n-Fold Laundromat and the 7-11.
Pass a woman crossing to her house,
keys and milk carton in hand. She asks,
Aren’t you hot in all that gear?
Her smooth arms jiggle
as she smiles, walking past.

Keep on. Walk down 30th
to a hidden place that leads
(if you know where to look)
to a trail through a eucalyptus grove
along a running creek. Walk
through the rounded gate,
pass the old apartments, follow
the path until it widens
among tall pale trees
leaning in the rainy breeze. The trail
is forest leaves and duff,
your feet tramp contentedly
by the muddy creek. Then it opens:
a wide door, an invitation,
a moment of witness – you have been led
to a great, open, gushing place.

Creek waters rush forward,
harsh rains pour deep into their hunger.
A great white egret flies
out of the mists,
and another is suddenly there
in great wings of flutter and light.
Follow them to where the creek flows deep
into a five-fingered stream.
Stand very still in the rain,
eyes on the true world.

Then, perhaps because you are lucky,
or because you were born
under a difficult sign
but with a good heart,
the path winds round to Moran Lake, which flows
under the bridge of East Cliff Drive,
and into the crashing white-blue ocean,
which is before you now.

Walk onto the sandy beach.
Tie your hood as winds come up
and raindrops fly sideways
to your eyes. Walk to the surf
among sudden sprays of water and air.
Stay a while, your coat
and pants collecting rain.

When it is time, turn around,
cross the road, pass the lake,
walk again along
the wide wet creek.

Back at your house, make tea
at your table. Pour the hot cup,
sit and be still. Let the wild continue on
inside you, with what remains–
the ancient, absent pines
above your dining table,
the white-winged creatures
flying towards you,
always out of the mists.

From The Pedestal Magazine, Dec 2004

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