© mary vollero, 2017

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
Nancy told me she woke up from a dream last night too
completely understanding that
time passes over us all.



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.
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.

I Love This Song

“I love this song!”
we say at the same time
as I hand you a mug for your cold soup
some sustenance at our half time
but I can’t look
your face
so stunning
that my head falls
on the table
and I try to peak
through my hair in the butter
to see the colors
in the eyes
I think
I kissed.

Winter Morning

It’s still dark when I roll over
face the window
wait for light to define rolling ridges
wait till I can see branches
lined with white
watch slow snow fall
on the road with no tracks
that I might have taken
to get away from this season
of enduring by wood fires
no foot prints on the path
only thin v-shaped hints
of house wrens
who stop at the feeder
before seven blue jays
promise a visit later
three months
one month
even a day
too far away
from blue eyes
that melt doubt
like snow on the stream.

Tomorrow by the time I open my eyes
the sun will be high above the valley
I’ll turn to check
was it you or a dream
lift myself like I am light
pause before I stand
so my feet can dangle
circle slippery strokes
on the black silk robe
still on the floor
from the night before.

First Flood

I tell myself it’s only temporary
I’ll move the books
frames, boxes of photographs
stacks of old prints and paintings
next time it really rains
but it won’t be soon
probably won’t be ever
and if it is
I’ll know
but I don’t know
till I see brown water gushing
under the door
a river
that used to be that sweet creek
that I couldn’t resist
windows open at night
for the babble sound
the therapy
just standing above it
looking down
through it
to the bed rocks
for a heart shaped stone
to give him
next time he visits.

But forget that for now
forget what you left on the floor
wake the neighbors
move the cars
wade not only in the water
but in the surrender.

How We Know

When I’m not home
my Joey cat sleeps all day on the pillow
where we slept the night before.
He spreads out looking long
one paw reaching out.

When I get back
and sit at the computer
He claws my leg for a lift up.
Fits himself somehow under the monitor
sleeps, twitches
peaks out from one eye
time to time
to make sure I’m still there.
Sends a thought
to stop typing,
touch his fur,
finish soon,
so we can go to bed
so he can put his chin on my head.

Oh, I tell you all
when he goes
be very very near
or leave me so alone
I just don’t know
how I will even breathe
I know.
I know, we aren’t supposed to go there, yet.
But maybe that’s how we know love:
We know how great the loss
before they’re even gone.

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