© mary vollero, 2017

Finding Harriet

I can be putting on my socks
loading dishes
washing clothes
and I’m back in that dark house
finding her
in my cell phone’s flashlight
the navajo diamond pattern
of her gray robe
wedged between counters.
After I called her name
and prayed she had fallen asleep.
After shining the light on her bed,
after checking the bottom of the stairs,
after finding my way
between baskets, boxes, books, masks,
past the stack of tapes, DVDs,
her “Viva la Vida” print in a gold frame
my cat painting hanging on a door
next to the pow-wow jingle dress.
After finding the Madonna and a skeleton
dancing on a Christmas tray in her kitchen

where last she sat–

in her tall director’s chair
with her gold handled papercutting scissors,
notebooks, lists
wilted yellow lilies
in a blue glass vase
on the window sill
that looks out onto tall spruces,
sagging branches,
red winter berries spotting blotchy snow–
and poured McDonald’s coffee, two creams,
into her orange ceramic cup,
and her heart stopped
and she fell forward
neck bent
face hidden by her long gray brown hair.

“Please God, NO!”
Every time I see it.

But she would say,
“Oh, Thank God! (who is a woman)
I wanted to go quick!
After dancing at Elk Creek,
After Carmen, champaign and cake.
Quick as a whistle
and stomping my feet
in red cowboy boots.”

Planning Meeting

The Dean of Education said
We do not need offices or books anymore.
My voice cracked when I asked,
Are we really having this conversation?
I’m embarrassed
at the depth of my feelings
my lack of acceptance
my lack of understanding.
Budget limitations
restricted funds
I look up at the screen
eyes glaze over
cost savings
I pretend I’m taking notes
but really
I’m writing this poem.
My voice cracks even when I am not speaking.
My eyes glaze again.
Do not question
where we wake up
each morning
over a book of poems
with bird drawings
I bought before
you kissed my hand
and the voices
in the air say
I say
I say to you.


On my way home
I stopped for gas
ate most of a bag of
sour cream and onion chips
in the parking lot.
Till I felt sick and
mad at myself.
A boy called to talk about an orange light
in an orange sky
a full moon
a crazy dog
while I finished the chips
and hated myself
So I called my love
who isn’t actually mine
but is a thousand miles away
and doesn’t answer.

I fell asleep with a kitten on my heart
and dreamed I confessed
that my mouth was full of potato chips
and I was fat, which explained everything.

In the morning dream, thank God,
I was in Italy.
A large man in a white chef’s suit and hat
wrapped two sprinkle cookies with white icing,
in white paper,
tied with a white ribbon.
Two ricotta cookies,
Two lemon drop.
“Two of your healthiest fig filled cookies, please,
even if they don’t taste as good,
and tie a bow for my love.”


At sunset under blue herons circling
we gasp
how light they must be
on the highest tree top twigs
that do not bend
when pull their wings in
and stretch their necks up
to land
as we lean
into the fence to see…
…My God
a heron stuck in a fish net
she fights then freezes
gets more tangled
with every step we make
her wings more mangled
and I panic
that struggle
before letting go.

A Miracle

Even though he’s been gone
for near nine months now,
I dreampt my cat Joey died.
He was on his side, bloody.
His insides removed,
a failed attempt to save him.
I carried him gently to the tub.
Rinsed his paws,
his soft white belly fur
blood fading pink in warm running water.
Then his legs began to twitch.
I told myself it must be some sort of reflex.
But, he grew heavier,
squirmed, turned to me
with his gorgeous gold eyes.
Snuggled on my neck
like when first we met.
I held him tight
as I asked you
and my Dad
and my Mom
and Nancy and Sue
if it was really true.

May Day

I need a miracle today
like when the hemlock needles drizzled over me
like when the bear appeared
stuck his claw paw
in my mind’s eye

Soft from April
my boots sink in the mossy path
rhododendron trunks
curly vines trip me
to cool my fingers
in muddy spring puddles

Two eagles circle
white tails on the bluest blue
A third eagle hovers
wings flapping

I hold my breath
as the heron glides
folds in to land
curls an “S” silhouette on the sunset
above the pond’s
evening peepers’ song

The pink moon
lifts from the ridge
full behind bare branches

I close my eyes and see
We are the eagles.
You hover over paradise
in the spotlight of the sun.



One morning in a snow storm
I hid in your arms long as I could
as the bucket man
from the power company
top down
a branch at a time
my maple
summer shade
taller than a church
just to run a new line
down the drive.
from my window I yelled
Save that branch from the chipper
put it on my love cat’s grave.

Last night in a dream
that tree returned for me
it’s solid gray truck
bare limbs reaching
weaving up together
under singing birds
when I saw a big cannonball bomb
strapped to its trunk
and thought
If I strap myself there, maybe…
but too late
it blows
dusty white
next white walls, white blankets
we’re sharing a hospital bed, IVs
they bring a measly dinner tray
I give you my kraft macaroni and cheese.

Bird Songs


Twenty-five marble stairs
out of breathe
I wiggle the rusted latch up
lean my weight
on thick weathered wood
step into Umbria’s sky
over green divides
yellow ochre crazy patches
tree rows
bell towers
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!”
like nobody could hear me but the swifts
and my Dad’s holy smiling spirit
All finally close enough.



If it were a color
it would be white on blue-gray
tingling down my arms
shooting out through my fingertips
as they run down your spine.

Last night I dreamed
your back was a mountain ridge in my painting
curved sides like slides, symmetrical.
It took three tries to paint the mountain
the perfect red of canyon walls,
and your back was healed, just like that.

So go on
haul boxes,stack lumber
load the love seat in your truck
take it home
with you
forgive me
if I can’t smile
as you leave me still wet with goosebumps
pond-side with blue heron.



This morning
a sandpiper walked with his thin legs
down my stream
on the rocks
under forsythia’s
first days shy blooms
through wet snow.

We saw sandpipers
when you got off the interstate
you pulled your truck filled with paintings over
to the biggest tree
picked up a branch
held it over your head
My deer

Unloading paintings
sandpipers at the storage unit
in the gravel looking for bugs

This snow everyday
way into April
is making me cry.


Northern Flicker

We walked the path
drunk from the first blooms of white star magnolia
sat on trees that grew sideways like benches

I turned around
pulled over
picked up the norther flicker
from the center line
silky on my fingers
candy cane red
yellow gold stripes
eyes blinking
I set him in low weeds
watched him
watch me
till he flew
into the field



Poor fat bellied anxious robin
you know it’s always the last cold day
always almost
enough seeds in the snow
fell yesterday
from the feeder

I dreamed you smiled
as I walked toward you
your face changed
you held a carpenter’s pencil
you drew a line.



Yesterday when I opened the door
bluebird flew up fast
to the line
stayed while I walked under
thankful for returns
Yet, still can’t lift my head
off the feather pillow
cheek from the combed cotton case
cat from my back
I’m down
like when
my knees bent
on the floor
howling NO when I heard
he hung himself.

I almost told you once
when I was seven
talking with food in my mouth
my dad slapped me
and my tooth flew across the table.
I’m sure it was loose anyway.


When I get home my Simon kitten runs towards me
his back legs long as a fawn’s
I think of joey
the day the screen door blew open
him lost in green
you on the deck calling down
till joey’s eyes big
saw mine
and he ran through weeds higher than his head
to me

you and I sighed
on God’s rocks
above cool canyons cliffs
I held your arm
dizzy as I get with you
drawn to fall

Oh, would that we could let go
tumble as we want to
run towards each other
like fawns

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