- Maybe You Need to Write a Poem about Mercy, and: Vegetable Gardening, and: Above the Prairies Now Plowed, and: My First Winter Here, I Go Skiing Near My New Home, and: Watching My Daughter Sleep, I Remember When Doctors Said My Breast Milk Would Become Toxic, and: In the Bar Bathroom
Maybe You Need to Write a Poem about Mercy
after Robert Hass
Start this one with the woman standing at the edgeof the woods. Or the desert, it doesn't matter,what matters is she's standing under a darkening skyand she knows, at this point, having spent monthsin the hospital, that there's nothing she can do—no threshold between threat and tranquility,no demarcation she can draw around herselfor her child for protection, everything is actuallyeverything else, the stone just kickedand whatever comes next are the same.And, knowing this, a great emptiness swellsinside her stomach, an airiness she could float away on—and the night bellows and the sun rings once morethen slips under the horizon. Maybe then:a humming of an old tune, her own handstroking her red hair. Mercy.
As in the story the man on the bus told meabout his late wife, how by the end she'd forgottentheir wedding, even, and their children's names,and once she went missing in the depths of winter,dead bent on saving the cattle from the blizzardthat years ago left all the calves frozenon their sides. He told me his wife saw angels.It was her last day, she was at home and the nursecalled him to the living room where the bed was.His wife asked, Do you see them? And he said,Yes. And together they counted the wings.When he told me this story, the man wasn't sad. [End Page 11] He had just picked up groceries to make bread—he missed fresh bread, he said, and sohe bought yeast and flour and fine kosher salt.He wanted to watch the dough rise.
Because the man wasn't sad, I tried not to be sad,too. He smiled and got off the bus. Out there,the streetlamps flickered and the cold night grewand off he went to warm his kitchen. I wavedand wondered if there's a word for the wayjoy and pain are the same, how, if we're lucky,they thread us like an electrical wire cuts a tree,and there we stand, tender and green, reaching,charged, humming. [End Page 12]
The birds wake me from another dream of loss.A marriage. A parent. My daughter builds a mausoleumfor ladybugs on the south-facing window ledge. Surely,she knows they're dead. One she finds on my pillow.Two more by the front door. Her small fingersturn them over, lift without breaking a single wing.I let them be. What peace they may bring, these bodies.We don't know. What else should we collect but shellsvibrant and short-lived. I don't know. The daylightis sticking around now. Evenings I drink wineon the steps by the cedar garden frame and waitfor the soil delivery. I planted seeds in paper boxesand left them in my office under a reading lampmeant to mimic the sun. I'm sure I'm doing this wrong. [End Page 13]
Above the Prairies Now Plowed
Above the prairies now plowedto farmland a wake of buzzards circlessomething dead in the field.
It is July. My grandmother has died.We are returning to the hills.
In the front seat, my mother'sshoulders rise and falllike creek water
trembling over a boulderleft a billion years agoby an ocean we believe in
because, although it is dry now,it seems right that we comefrom granite and sea.
When my father, driving, explainshow it happened—the bleeding—
we pull over so my mother can be sick.In the ditch by the exit for Plankinton,
the sun is as hot as I remember it.Soon, we will reach the...