Gardening for Dummies

Pot by pot across the patio,
I’m failing at this god thing.
The shriveled orange fists
Of marigolds, raised in protest.
I gave them a home, however cramped,
I water them when I’m not too busy.

Clearly it is not enough,
Not even for the stoic rosemary.
The brown stems, the shriveled leaves,
All drooped in prayerful mockery.
They are not impressed with me.
How to be the druid of my dreams
In a temple of blooming perfection?

Over my slumping shoulders,
The oak tree’s mistakes on proud display:
Look at me, it implores endlessly,
See how my branches never make sense.
Some of me giving birth, some of me dying,
All of me right now. What other way to be?

(First published in Last Leaves Magazine #6, Spring 2023. Thanks to the editors.)

Hagerman Refuge

A cloudy day to see things for the first time,
Stalking trails with you where marshes sneak
Into open ponds, firewheels glow
In grasses tall as men.

You always seem to spot the birds before me,
Silhouettes your binoculars slyly reveal:
Vultures, crows, gruff guardians of this demesne,
The pastel puff of a bluebird
Balanced on a trail sign.

Drifting into a spotting competition
(As we often seem to do),
A faint tremor in my eye’s rim:
First to score a ladybug and bee together,
Stem bending beneath their weight.

You grunt in grudging admiration,
Sharing our seeker’s pride and envy –
The struggle of their tiny lives
Eclipsed by our leering shadows.

Those Canadian geese, far from home,
The knotted riddle of a water snake.
Herons creep the shoreline, stabbing for minnows,
The silver-scalloped sky alarms for rain.

Beating the storm home with plundered memories,
Stolen shadows of the careful bee, the wary crow,
All this furtive bright-to-dark world
Ghosting from our greedy eyes.

(First published in different form in Backchannels Poetry Edition, Spring 2023 – thanks to the editors.)

Fluid and Bone

She fought for every breath, her daughter said.
So did my wife in her hospice bed,
So did I, yesterday, alone in the kitchen,
My throat narrowing between coughs
Like a curtain closing at play’s end
Then opening again,

Then a note from a friend,
A valve of his heart needs replacing.
It will be all right, I said, not knowing if it would.
It sucks, he said. These leaky sacks of fluid and bone,
How do they stay upright, stay hopeful for so long,
Calculate the weight of a star, make children laugh
By hearing their dog, then howling along?

(First published inĀ Backchannels Poetry Edition, Spring 2023. Thanks to the editors.)