She was so tiny I would give her anything:
sweets, cinnamon or lemon, thick puddings,
strawberries. I would give her my arm, a smile,
kisses on the forehead, my rocking frame beside her.
I said it was okay. Wasn’t it? I said I loved her
and rubbed her bony back, her swollen feet.
We would play with lipstick and lotions.
Your dry skin, I’d say. Her hair, the brush,
the silly way they would braid her into a girl
but I wanted her hair long and loose, waves
spilling down her neck. Her sunken eyes, her warnings,
go now. Her greetings, you’re finally here.
It was a long while and it was yesterday.
It was a year and a mile, a daily escape,
a treat, a burden, a weight. We walked
to the exotic swans and watched them preen.
We compared shoes and traded clothes. We had
sunlight, we had the gorgeous single red poppy in weeds,
we had a back fence we couldn’t climb,
unplanted flowerbeds, cigarette butts
heeled into sidewalks. What a place.
We were somebody’s sister or another’s enemy.
Sometimes they hadn’t seen us for years,
and we watched them make bright forests
on paper using glitter to imitate the sky.
As if she needed to wrangle words
into a semblance, as if sustenance
were a simple matter, a sandwich
day after day and nothing else. As if
it were enough and logic
would not erode. As if she could
still manage once time had disappeared
and space jigsawed into impossible puzzles.
Those aren’t my fingers, she might say
of the writing hand turned in upon itself.
Along the trail I think how risky the venture,
the signs that say don’t go alone into bear country.
I can see miles except in aspen. Walking uphill
in sage I think of Yellow Woman, of the stranger
who finds her and takes her into another life.
It’s after that, after coming from a grove of trees,
I climb on a huge split boulder and watch
an ant navigate a forest of lichens. When I
raise my eyes to the horizon, I see you,
the way you hold your head, ambling
along the trail, the sway of your body on this
path made long before humans managed and
mapped this place. You are doing what we do:
head down, step ahead, step ahead.
When you look up and I begin to speak, you stop,
deciding whether to bolt or continue, a turn
for us both. I wonder, do your thoughts go to
the bear at the edge of the mind, the long trail
with golden butterflies on sage, flies that chase
and bite? Do you understand what calls
and calls again from an aspen horizon?
Nearly November, the sun beats on mums
alive with honey bees, rising and landing
as though no cold mornings can touch them,
as though they will never stiffen into frost
and hang on flower stems like little rock hearts.
A butterfly, too, its end delayed or
maybe a late appearance, the smallest larva
finally hatched and lovely in its brown
mottled coat. The scent rises, lavender
and fall daisies, blooms opened wide
like children come alive in cold weather.
How can I stop staring, sun on my face?
How can I move toward what comes next?
Rather wish for the perpetual—tomatoes still
on the vine, zucchini and eggplant flowering,
bees elated in this momentary dance.