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Expiration

You existed as a living mandala
Indelible, gifting the child
With your quiet compassion
Happy to be an arm’s length away
Her warm hand all you needed
While you basked in time
As if there were no end date
Your lack of concern
So maddeningly feline
You commanded the days
As if they would last
And she believed you!
So how can I tell her
That you were old?
Broken?
How can I tell her
That you are in a better place?
When she knows the truth.
You were fathomless
All fur and warmth and love
Now gone, suddenly
Instead I’ll tell her
That there are fields where dead cats play
Having lived long lives and short
And you are among them
Young again
Fur lustrous, eyes bright
Playing with sunbeams like you used to
As fathomless as ever

Ache

Time gives us numbers
and the photo of a face
that rises up
from the ribbon of years
so familiar
like cold window panes
in an old house
a vacant place
where pain should be muted
yet it's fresh and new
raised raw by discovered confessions
that cracked the foundation
of your supposed-to-be life
stranding you in that moment
and in the dust
swirling at your fingertips
which trace the edges of her face
on the fleeting, faded paper
I know she would be proud
of your strength
and if she could
she would
wrap your brilliance around you
a cloak of protection
and whisper, "my Mary"
in a voice exactly like yours

Mournful Tree

I am a tree
by the river
lost in solitude
rooted to the spot
I am caged
watching the water flow by
heading to a promised place
filled with salt water
and possibility
while my roots dig deeper
and my leaves begin
their own inexorable journey
towards bright autumn splendor
then death.

Fast

I am that flock of blackbirds, startled
taking flight
in a synchronous wave
the blast of air carrying me,
getting up under my wings
but I'm not afraid of speed
or a sudden change in direction
because I have the flock.
I am the flock.
And the road is the sky, unwinding
endlessly before me
I am that horse
whose pasture rolls along, green
hills with a rising crest of mountains
I can run fast
very fast
surging past the earth, barely
touching it
As I join the herd
I am the herd.
These aren't fences that confine me
they are doorways
swinging open with each beat of my hooves
I am a clockwork woman, switching
my gears with every hill
and drop
I bend with the road
bounding forward on round legs
feet immune to the rocks
that want to slice open
tender human soles

Creek Locks Road

I pass the boat launch, muddied,
littered with beer cans
patterned tire treads crisscrossing
the earth in undulating waves
You were afraid to swim there
for fear of fish hooks in little feet

That first double hill was so hard
on my first ride
I had to walk the bike up
embarrassed, breathless,
I discovered the wine berries
ripe, guarded by a battalion of poison ivy
I picked them anyway
Then rode on,
past Amy's house
with its procession of white geese
and bright yellow flowers

And on
envying the houses
with their view of my river

And on,
past the desolate place
where the old locks, now overgrown,
follow a straight line beside the river
There is an iron gate here,
With gargoyles,
and more wine berries grow by that tired mailbox
held to its post with frayed duct tape

The road unspools like ribbon after that
the river fading away
replaced by a tiny farm
where guinea hens once crossed
a dozen in all
I had to stop my bike
next to a school bus to wait for them.

And on,
under the thruway
where the roar of traffic
is an endless wave of sound
confusing my senses
making me feel somehow exposed, disconnected
until the river is back,
just at the tip of my sight
And I'm almost to Rosendale

It's easy here
I coast down the last mile
until I see the bridge
where bike and river finally meet
The Rondout, rushing underneath me.

And on, still,
into the small streets
where my hardest climb awaits
but first, more wine berries
the biggest patch of all

Bike ride after the storm

I hear the rush and babble of water
where brown rivers still threaten
just out of site
The sound is everywhere
drowning out birdsong
and the familiar whisper of my tires
as they fly on storm muddied roads
reminding me that the weight of asphalt
is an illusion
a borrowed convenience
impervious to rain and traffic
and the tireless wheels of my bike
but not to the river rising up
in sudden, unprovoked rage
dismantling roads like Legos.
Now I know our monoliths can fall
in August and September storms
and with them, my absolute certainty
that the road will always be here

Bad Dream

First smoke against blue sky
then screams
and the TV goes blank
Still, I see it again and again
that plane at the left
flying low, too low
As the city watches
And I turn away, pretending
I don't see the buildings fall
people running through streets
That plane, a fireball
Hitting and hitting and hitting
I close my eyes

The building shakes
I don't see her at her desk
half-finished cup of coffee, ignored
I don't see him step off the elevator
I don't see them huddled
in the back of the plane
I don't see her in the bathroom
on her cellphone, saying goodbye

With my eyes closed
I don't see the torn metal
or the giant sky
I don't see him leap to his death
I don't see her burning

I don't see them walking over bridges,
Walking over bridges
Out of a city covered in ash

The New Garden

Your garden followed you
Its vibrancy and persistence
Marked a path to your new door
A bright line of summer lilac
And purple coneflower
Pointing towards home
Like sunflowers drawn to the light

He must miss you
Must see bits of you
Beside the decaying remnants
Of the old garden
The butterfly bush and hyacinth
Now overgrown, abandoned
Still attracting butterflies

But these gardens are our own
We can choose to plant them together
Or let one spend all the effort
Too much effort
While the other walks by
Ignoring all the signs
Until you are forced to rip it out
And leave the earth bare
Ready to plant something new

The hardest part of all
Is walking away from the pieces of you
That lie with every painted flower pot
And stepping stone
But what's more tragic
Than holding onto things
That keep you from knowing yourself?

Worm's Journey

The air conditioner's hum,
Always the hum
Keeps me walled off
with its curtain of white noise
I miss the silence
and the gift of rainfall against my window
Reminding me of those worms
that fought to cross the saturated road
The one that's always covered in shadow
When I climb that hill
It's like I'm riding inside the Earth
as much a worm as anything
Fighting their way from one side of the narrow road
to the other
trying to find the end.
Tiny, blind creatures
rolling and scuttling along
caught in the tragedy of morning sunshine
the kind of weather that dries out roads
Still, I will veer and guide my tires
away from their pointless struggle
to split one in half
is a bad omen, I'm sure

First Life

In my first life I was a child
the memories lie
like a layer of snake skin
translucent and fragile
its pattern infinitely delicate
just an echo of who I was
It's all there
the tire swing that hung
above that patch of trampled dirt
my fear of spiders
and of my father
the way the backyard felt like the whole world
because what else was there?
I'd like to think I loved that life
but I always looked forward
to the next one
when I would be grown up and free

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