In Iowa (Two Ways)

My writing instructor at the festival said a write finds form by the process of writing, can trust the creative process to yield the shape and pattern words should assume. I wonder if love is the same? If the act of loving reveals the shape of that love.

My love for my son is warm like hot honey tea, a belly-filled feeling, not a shape, unless the shape is the shape of me. I loved my mother: the curve of her tidy nails, coffee-smell teeth, white stomach folds, each petechia and freckle and insertion point of every insulin-streaming needle. I cannot re-love her now, yet still feel the pattern of her prayers like fingertip taps on my back. She drew me toward sleep by drawing shapes on my night-gowned back–a frying pan with eggs and bacon, our cat, a heart. My father, his hands. My husband a house. Not our house, but the home he builds around me. When I leave the door open in a rush, he never changes the locks.

I am greedy for love. Maybe it’s age, but I want to try love out on everyone. If I can leave love along with signing my name on the waiter’s receipt, I will. I will two-hand grasp the odd man’s outstretched hand after briefly meeting. Meet a stranger’s gaze with a grin. Maybe I’ll just repeat I love I love I love I love I love I love until my heart picks up the rhythm, picks out a desire line, beats one foot in front of another down a path leads me there to love, but I suspect will lead here to where I am. — What is a vessel if water refuses to fill it? — leads me to circle only myself.

I Want to Tell You

I know it
doesn’t matter, no matter
how I spin it.
And I suspect
you don’t need
to hear it. And I suspect
you don’t want
to hear it. But I want
to tell you–and I
am just sad enough, because
of the gray sky
or maybe all the lost dogs
and definitely the dead
children, that my membrane has
thinned, supple now,
penetrable as the vulnerable
new skin over a newborn’s skull–
that I miss you.

A Woman’s Work

In this bleak midwinter, the women
set the table, breathe
deep the histories of their mothers,
their dreamed mothers,
put a roast on a charger.
Sound of Music on the television,
on the stereo
a scratched record
of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing
Handel’s Messiah.

On a day when it rains
rather than snows,
the women pour
cups of coffee, burn
toast in distraction, move briskly
from stove-top to counter-top to table
stirring roux, rolling dough, taping
corners of gift-wrapped boxes, set
the table for a feast
of memory.

In the memories
of their children, the women
strike a match, burn the day
like bright embers, like stars,
a pale glitter at dusk. Who knows
what might be remembered,
an extra scoop of cream, a present kept
aside until a quiet time–
“I found this
for you and thought
you might like it.”
alone, the threads
of bounty like sewing strings
knotted into being.

What lasts
is the work of women
who cannot know but hope
each note links
past to present, a song
through sorrow, a comfort
she might live
into her children’s
tomorrow.

Immersed

The light in our room is dim,
an undersea 
          soft saturation
so you might soon 
                  please sleep.

This is our new 
house, a place
         for new 
beginnings, to shed sadness
like snake's skin, 
like snow melt.

This is not 
the house
you came home to, round-eyed,
reddened baby. This is not

     the room of your first
     seizure, your first
     birthday when the weight

of your compromised life
lay heavy on my heart, 
                       heavy
on our hope. You are not

the child I imagined,
not the child I wanted, 
          and sometimes
not 
the child I want.

This new room is ours, 
broad
expanse of windows, morning light,
we two love long, lazy days
lounging 
on our shared bed.
It is our safe place.
          "Olly, olly oxen free!" 
This marriage

bed is now a place to parent
in my own soft way.
(You may disapprove.
You will disapprove.) But
I am tired. 
Ten years and I 
imagine sleeping 

and seizing
descend similarly, stifling, static.

You grab my hand now, 
                     pull it
toward your chest, as you cross
the threshold, unwilling

I am your link
to the awake world. I watch you
                                transform, 
again a baby--pink
lips and starfish hands
curl, flex.

I lay beside you,           holding
my breath, and watch
you traverse the nocturnal

waves

that carry you from awake--

          "up, up" you say
          "no tired" you learn to say

to sleep, the snags and snaps
that trip your tricky brain.

But tonight you slide smoothly
into somnolent dreamscapes.

Your long legs 
        bisect the bed,
a little boy's legs now,
thick at the thigh, 
no baby. But then you 
        draw those legs in,
a turtle hatchling, furled,
you make room
again
for me.

That years' long 
fear manifests again, 
fear like a fizz 
in my stomach,
you might never wake and I

will be left in the shallows,
                             no air
                             no air
your dolphin laugh echoing
like a lost recording, 
just so much oceanic static
no proof

     I once heard what I heard 
     and saw what I saw.

              ("You wouldn't believe!") 

I once loved a love
both rare and roaring.

Flicker

I do better with a thousand small lights, draped
tactfully over my sharp edges, like I’m a humble
Cape Cod dressed up for the holidays, haloed.

I prefer to turn my face up to a chorus of light,
a sunflower in the longest days of summer, before
its seeds grow heavy, its visage morose. For awhile

I loved the white, hot glare of your spotlight.
It warmed me instantly and too much, but I felt
the cold all the more when you turned away,
uncomfortable yourself with all that you’d seen.

In the Beginning

First, I tried ticks, their bloated bodies like blisters,
round bellies, black blood splats on the sidewalk, burst
by bicycle wheels. Then leeches, when I was ten, feet
damp in the well of the boat, water splatter as the motor
roared, slick bodies, slick, bold mouths groping, gaining
purchase. I couldn’t leave them long enough to bleed me

dry. Picking scabs only stung. Shaving legs with dull blades
run up my shin, skin shallow divots welled with wet, more
plasma than platelets, like runoff in the narrow ditches
framing the fallow fields of my father’s farm. I slid
a sharper blade along the inside of my thigh, coke-line fine,
skin paper-thin and soft like the belly of a bee. The blood

ran in rivulets, dingy windows streaked with clean. I lack
the courage to go further, palpate the pocket of my pelvis,
find the femoral vein and knife-slice it like a steak. Instead,
I write this poem, imagine I was proud, or foolish, dive deep
into this wreck, pick my bones, such meager meat. Still these
animal-lungs inflate the cage around my stupid tender heart.

Petrifaction

Blame it on the years, she said.
I harden with each
page flip of the calendar.

I am strong but not
courageous, she said. I do not move,
instead endure. No shame

in withstanding the weather
beating rain, beating sun
Yet I yearn for

impact, she said. Expose me–

long lost under layers,
firmed sediment, pressed powder,
insidious sand–

to the wind. It takes more
than your pitying eyes
to crack me open–

she plead. Fuck me
like you want to
break me.