My favorite aunt was unmarried, half deaf
and lived alone in a smoke-filled room
at the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis.
Once beautiful, she still had her vanity.
Her hip, mangled in surgery,
gave her a spasmodic gait, she flapped
down Oakland Avenue to visit us
like a tall crane who’d had a few.
I loved the sight of her, ran to
the frazzled, overpermed head, the
too-bright ruby lips, the strong perfume.
For all the appearances of inutile femininity,
she was to me, a half divinity.
The auntness of aunts, their
bemused, hat-askance objectivity.
They belong to no one and to everyone
and can offer a child another reality.
How many times she took me home
to her apartment hoping to give
my busy mother a small reprieve
handed me a pencil and drawing pad
then made me feel like Michaelangelo.
Now thinking back, I wish I had
given back just half of what she gave to me.
You were thrown out of a moving vehicle
on a dirt road
in chilly winder downeast Maine,
little fur scrap, and I hope you don’t
carry that memory with you,
but the hunger, the deep fear
that you’ll never see food again
is still there five years later
when you are huge and sleek,
a sumo Buddha of a cat.
I’ve seen you, after a big meal,
heave yourself from a sound sleep,
pad into the kitchen, launch your bulk
onto the counter, and check the food supply,
then crouch there chewing and chewing,
green eyes empty, concentrating
on your burden, your compulsion,
doggedly eating, whether you want to or not.
There are stories about Holocaust or
Depression survivors whose refrigerators
and pantries are always full, just in case,
how some of them still wake in the night
and check their abundant supplies,
run their hands over the packages,
or eat without hunger, just because they can.
Cat, I stand in the dark kitchen
stroking your broad back,
wishing I could banish the fears
of one small, common creature,
those bad dreams that awaken you,
that hollow place in your memory
which can never be filled.
Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,
between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”
Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend
and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,
and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing
that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder
or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,
but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,
—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.
The rain falling too lightly to shape
an audible house, an audible tree,
blind, soaking, the old horse waits in his pasture.
He knows the field for exactly what it is:
his limitless mare, his beloved.
Even the mallards sleep in her red body maned
in thistles, hooved in the new green shallows of spring.
Slow rain streams from the fetlocks, hips, the lowered head,
while she stands in the place beside him that no one sees.
The muzzles almost touch.
How silently the heart pivots on its hinge.
You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.
I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out–at work maybe?–
having a good day, almost energetic.
We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative
by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?
So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you–warm brown tea–we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.
Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.
Now the bumbling bees that hover
Over loveliness in flower
Important with their store of pollen
Have had their hour;
Time has come for you to shed your
Silken petals and declare
Whether you are apple, cherry,
Plum or pear,
And all summer take your pleasure
Nourishing the ripening fruit
With the sun and rain you welcome
Through leaf, through root.
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.