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poems

© mary vollero, 2017

Fear

At first
I couldn’t climb the old wooden ladder
round pegs to the storage loft
afraid I’d fall out the window
tree tops, three stories high.
Then, one cold night
desperate for my comforter
I braved it
froze at the last step
but only as long
as a prayer
not as bad as
the Vatican Dome
after climbing up
and up
single file stairs
to the sudden opening
only a thin rail
between me and 400 feet below
I backed up to the wall
slid to my knees on the cold tile floor
paralyzed
until one kindhearted
talked me back to the stairs
told me,
“It happens sometimes,
It’s really the empty space 
that scares people,
not the height.”

Today, I’m up and down this ladder
above those trees that bend to the wind
stuffing old blankets, drapes,
bedspreads from my mom,
too big, too small, jeans and jackets
into plastic bags for donating
tossing them to the floor below
each thud a relief
as I look back
at the empty space I’m creating
without fear.

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Roadkill

In Pennsylvania
it’s not always a deer
or a groundhog
sometimes a fox
Days or weeks ago, a shock
I still flashback
a wing straight up
waving in the wind
like a flag
on the double yellow line
the hawk’s crushed heart
behind feathers.
Dear God
let me fly to love like that.

Lake Dream

Another night
past three
legs aching
covers on and off
if you were here
you’d calm me
like in my dream
you took my hand
and we swam in waves
on the lake of my maiden name
where herons roost on trees
that grown out of the water
and we pushed off their branches
into the deep
as blue as Van Gogh’s starry night swirls

What the Trees Told Me

On the way to the Women’s March, 
January 21, 2017

Every time I fell asleep
we’d hit a bump
or our bus would pass a truck
I’d wakeup
       Oh my God, we’re going to die!
So, I gave up on sleep
and stared through the glass
to black night
and imagined a dream of love
before the light
before the sky
began to show
the blue gray fog
a backdrop
behind the trees
standing
trunk to trunk
their branches
reaching for light
weaving together
unbearable beauty
and a song
that when we stand together
we’re as beautiful and strong.

Remembering Mom

Mom I thought of you today
while I shoveled
heavy wet snow
at first resentful
the only woman in my building
till I remembered
that photograph
I took of you outside
in Dad’s red plaid coat
and your brown beret
I surprised you
caught you
breathless and pretty
with a shovel full of snow.

I thought of you last night while
on the dance floor by accident
I tried to back up
explain I don’t really know how
but he took my hand
said we’d be okay
maybe we were
though I was worse
than awkward
I couldn’t help but smile
to think my mom
a dancing star
a jitterbug queen
even in heels

And yesterday at the office
when I passed the plate of cookies
I remembered
you explained
you had to start right after thanksgiving
like your mom
filling cans, tins and trays
with tree-shaped, bell-shaped spritz, butterballs, pritzels.
I remember the baking butter smell
before I even opened the door
running in from the cold after school
to you exhausted
rolling dough
for nut-bread, poppyseed, apricot
tears and flour
like paste on your face
because you said
you couldn’t as many as Grandma made
for everyone she knew.

When I Heard Leonard Died

When I heard Leonard died
I was with old friends
and my x-husband was there too
and we hugged
and cried
like we hadn’t done for years
while a woman too young to know
stood up and sang
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

When I heard Leonard died
I could see the drops of rain
on the windshield
Thanksgiving
thirty years ago
when my first love and I
listened to Leonard sing,
“Dance me to the End…”
as we drove to New York City
for the job interview
I knew would take him away
though it seemed
a fiction
when our hands rested
together
between the seats

When I heard Leonard died
I put my hand over my mouth
for a long time
like I was shocked
but I wasn’t
I knew he’d leave us soon
when I sat with my friend
in front of the speakers
he took off his hat
and I took off my socks
and Leonard sang
“I’m ready my Lord”
and I fell in love
listening to his voice
and the violin
and the choir
and the organ
like we were in church
and even though I knew
he’d have to go
I said a prayer
that he’d return.

What Artists Taught Me

More than twenty years ago
I wrote a poem for Nancy
I cant find it or remember it now but
she was scared her cancer had returned
and I thought
she couldn’t be dying because her eyes were still smiling.
These days I call her all the time
tell her my little dramas
and she tells me how she paints the puffy white clouds
start with the white
I may have learned to see
because Nancy made me see
the handful of cherries
a lady handed us
on a stairway
in the moonlight
in Italy

I am becoming more like Harriet too
filling my house, my car, and my heart
so they all might burst
Harriet says she finally knows
that she really does want to keep living
because there is still so much to do
and so much to sort through
her gifts as many as my Mom’s
this sweater, this vase, this clock, this tray with cardinals.
each says, I know you. I love you.
Like when I gave her the nativity set from Mexico
how she kissed Mary and Joseph and Jesus
just like she kissed the lips of the woman’s face
on the hand-carved wooden cup
I found at goodwill
I gave her last night
when she stopped by and saw it on my shelf
picked it out, among everything else
We can’t tell where it is is from
but John would’ve liked it too

I had a dream John was riding a gigantic wholly bear
and he looked down at me with his shiny-eyed-smile
and said without saying,
“Look up more!”
I woke up
my face wet with tears
and
Nancy told me she woke up from a dream last night too
completely understanding that
time passes over us all.

Eagle

White wispy clouds
on the bluest blue
above the orange and red leaves
not ruined this year yet
by too much rain or wind or cold
I can’t recall a more perfect day
except maybe yesterday
or the day before
maybe that day last month
on my deck
when you were here
and fixed my foot
oh my god

Now driving
I see red tailed hawks
not one or two
high on trees
but three
each time
so low and close
too quick for photographs
but believe me
I saw three red tailed hawks today
and thought
I want to see an eagle too.
believe me again
just then
I saw an eagle too.
Okay
even I have doubts
about me now
but I have picture to show
an eagle
on a bare tree
on the bright side of the road.

Twenty-Seven Trout

Before I even open my eyes
I see the fish on dry rocks
where there used to be a rushing stream
now a mud puddle
in the shade, under the bridge
where the fish have gathered
Did they survive the night?
Turns out that my uncle didn’t
after fifteen years of Alzheimer’s
I wanted to say to my sister,
Dad’s probably joking with him now,
“What took you so long?”
but I didn’t
because death isn’t funny.

My friend called
her husband has an incurable cancer
but she suggested an air pump for the fish
and in the hour it took me to get to Walmart and back
the big trout, named Bill
who made it through each winter
was floating, mouth open

God forgive me.
I don’t know about fish
but I signed up
to live on the stream
brave enough
I thought
to face a flood
but never thought of this
till I scooped out twenty-seven trout
and tossed them
thump after thump
on the hot rocks further down
so the bass, still alive
wouldn’t have to share space
with the dead.

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