© mary vollero, 2017



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

3000 photographs of the Grand Canyon can’t show their faces

I had to cancel our reservations
when Dad got sick just before our trip
but he was there
smiling as I stepped back

at the first sight of the red rock walls
his voice echoed in the span
the way it did
in the days after he died
when he woke me up calling
“Catherine, Catherine…”
from the window
in the valley outside

And that night
sleeping in the historic lodge
my Joey cat ran
from the vast
from my past
to my arms
I kissed his long soft belly fur
his sweet orange scent
on my breathe
till sunrise
When arm in arm
my love and I
steadied each other
on the ice along the rim, looking out
looking in


How can we be now?
After those great dry dirty days
you drove us through
land cactus skies
moon stars blinking lights
petrified wood
hawks on poles
songs and clementines
dust covered bullet casings
even gas stops worthy
a cashier called you cowboy
I wanted to say the same
Hey cowboy kiss me above a biscuit with strawberry jam
on the rocky path
before we die in a hot spring
kiss me again on my lips my hand
on the rim
while I weep at the slopes
red, violet, brown
how do we recover from all those rocks God gave us?


When the nurse asked
if my emergency contact was still you
I said no
I was okay with that
But when she asked who
I couldn’t speak
what friends might I call
what lovers might not leave
I cried
and the nurse said
she was sorry
it was okay to leave it blank
Thank god.
And now
that cat you brought home
who once laid in your arms
sleeps on my head
will only eat from my hand
is skin and bones
and I call you.

A Familiar Song

A cicada got in
under the screen door
loud and ugly
mad bashing against the light bulb.

Has it really been seventeen summers
since I swept their dry web wings
off my sidewalk?

My arms float up in the tub
hands heavy and light
holding water
under my palms

I’m not starving, am I?

I didn’t weep, did I?
While we weren’t really doing it, were we?
Though you were
holding me tight
while the cicada screamed
from trees


An open road
and empty head
after bank, gas, cat food, bread
a thought came to let go
caused my eyes to blur
and pull over
by the corn field
to big black wings
white tail, white head
pushing off a bare branch
heading for the hills.

eagle sm copy

Okay. You be the Mom

I want to tell you what happened Sunday
when I went to see Mom
although it was nothing really
I wrote it all down
afraid I might forget

How when I arrived
she was doing laps in the halls
so fast she was out of breath
till she saw me
Opened arms and said,
“Oh sister, my sister,
how we miss each other!”

She leans now
closer to the ground
like she might fall with each step
but keeps going around
up and down the halls
always making a pit stop in the lobby though
where Nick parks his wheel chair to watch her pass
he’s been her sweetheart since Dad died.

Last month when Nick turned 99
we took them out for Italian
he told us how he landed in Normandy
his nose in the mud and blood
everyone dying around him
he says,
“He spent his life wondering why God saved him
till he met my mom.”

Now he tells me to take care of her.
Who will make sure she eats
has two creams in her coffee
takes her medicine?
Mom leans over even more
to kiss him on the top of his head
“Oh don’t worry, you’re getting better!”
Makes us all cry.
So, we walk again

I’m scared when I see her, in me
how much I forget
but I can’t forget
how scared she was
in the elevator
in the car
– we had to go back after only one block.
every trip to the bathroom
a nightmare of fear.
Till she saw the photo of my Dad,
on the mirror
and she said
“WOW! He’s mine, not yours!”

I am afraid I might forget
how when I spooned her apple sauce
she said
“Okay, you be the mom now.”
and opened her mouth.
Told me I had pretty hair
and that
I smile too nice.
And when she said it
she got teary
which made me cry
and she said “Oh you do this too?”
and we sat there in the dining room
weeping together
and though the server didn’t seem to notice
she left a stack a napkins as she passed.
at some point she said
“Okay, lets be happy now”
so we were
especially when they brought the ice cream
and she asked
“How could it be
that I never had such a wonderful thing
as this vanilla ice cream?
Really how could it be?”

And how could it be
when we went out to sit on the bench
an indigo bunting made a stop on the fence
she pointed at him
how beautiful
and my shirt with pink flowers
and the sky
the tree in the parking lot

she taught me
to see.

At bedtime she kept sitting up
getting up
petting her cat that wasn’t there
till I crawled in the bed with her
rubbed her back
said the prayer she used to say to me growing up
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the lord, My soul to take.”
She whispered back thank yous
and please do not go
Though I knew she wasn’t really talking to me anymore
when she said
“Thank you,
I know, 
it wont be long,
I love you too, Honey.”

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