Sandra Kohler, four poems
Snapshot: Late Winter
In my garden, lichen patches
the color of palest jade stud
a brown-gray tree trunk,
each cluster a flower form
compounded of tiny petals
budding in the wintry light.
We’ve come out to the garden
with our small grandchildren,
who love snow, winter’s grasp,
a rigor at which we shudder.
The old are not like children,
children are not like the old.
The countries they live in
are equally distant islands off
the main coast of adulthood,
that severe headland. Bodies
burgeoning, bodies aging:
life, death; decay, bloom.
Katie Becoming Poet
When Katie announces that she wants
to go to paleontologist school, I say it’s
a cool thing to be. What else is, she asks.
I list computer programmer (like Papa
she says), lawyer (Mama), teacher, poet,
archaeologist...She says she will be poet
and archaeologist and paleontologist.
Katie comes downstairs, asks me to write
down her poem for her. It’s about Ella,
her doll, and Violet, Ella’s “garden angel.”
Katie is joy arriving on morning’s porch
in a bathrobe striped red and yellow.
After her piano lesson, I talk to Katie about
practicing, about how my morning writing,
the yellow pages I show her, are practice.
She asks if she can write a poem, and does:
Flowers bloom, the flowers are pink and blue
and purple and orange and red bees bumble
butterflies drink pollen with the bees and
then they fly off. She recites this, writes it
down herself on the yellow pad I give her.
Next morning, Katie’s at our back door,
come down with pad and pencil to go on
with her poem, writes another page. She
insisted yesterday on taking not only pad
but the pencil she’d written with upstairs,
though her mother says they have plenty
of pencils. Katie is right, is poet: this is
the pad, the pencil, this is the ritual.
My list this morning: get a haircut, stop
worrying about mortality, write a note
for my husband’s eighty-eighth birthday.
What to say, how to say it, tell hard
truths, not lie. I lie with him, not to him.
I lie in his arms wanting to protect him
and be protected, a wish truly mine, yet
partial, not the whole of what I want.
Nothing’s simple. The truth is double,
multiple. The truth is the single stalk
of a jewel orchid, its ten tiny blossoms,
each composed of seven white petals
around a central pistil that supports
a thick stamen topped by a stigma.
Naming the parts of this rudimentary
frail flower, I tell the truth. But I am
lying, here in my bed, gazing at these
white flags of life in a monochrome
landscape, drained and pallid. In his
dream last night, my husband has lost
me: he thinks he’s following me in
a crowd but when the woman he takes
for me turns she’s someone else and
I’m gone. Though he sees to distance,
he doesn’t see me. I’m the one who
knows where the bus station we’re
heading for is, who has the schedule,
the tickets. He’s at sea without me.
I’m at sea with him, on this journey
which seems at moments stasis, at
others, fits and starts: sudden jolts,
apprehensions of the body’s future.
Verges, edges. My husband’s on the edge of
life, of death. I don’t know if this is true. I verge
on terror, despair. I verge on denial, forgetting,
oblivion, on the blind assumptions of eternity.
Eternity’s verges are leavings, sticks you pick up
in the streets, scrubby branches of New England
winter backyards, worn down, scraggy. The sky
of eternity is luminous, stretched thin, cloud
become scrim, an expanse suffused with blue
dimensions of loss, a white undercoat of denial.
We have come to this house, this staid street,
these words so frail and used. We have come
to this realm where many reside, invisible,
pale shades made known by the intimations
of sound the wind wakes, susurrations in dry
branches. A buddleia shakes in the wind,
its breath the music of fear, like mine. A
door shuts and I don’t know if it will open
again. I imagine a hand on the knob, a back
turning from it, footsteps ebbing to silence.
Sandra Kohler is a poet and teacher. Her third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 40 years. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she moved to Boston in 2006, where she and her husband live in a two-family house with their son and his family, including two grandchildren.