Carol Nolde, five poems

September 1, 2017

Memorials

 

We were away the night the car crashed

at the end of our lawn, but the glass shards

and twisted bits of metal we raked,

the carnations  tied to the trunk shorn of bark

told some of the story.  Today pink plastic

flowers and  a white tee shirt are tacked

to a telephone pole on the route I take to work.

 

I think of Mexico where flowered crosses mark

every curve. They seemed part of a fascination

with death like the wax effigy of Christ,

full-sized and bloody in a glass coffin,

the chest weeping, the flesh extruded

and the tomb open to the public that displayed

a procession of skeletons propped along the wall

their tatters of cloth still clinging.

 

Thirty years ago my brother fell asleep at the wheel.

No one decorated the concrete with flowers.

And though I wondered, I never asked

which road, which bridge.  

Not knowing helped.

I try to imagine the highways and backroads of the world

all flowers and mementos restored

and those that were never placed,

this thin layer of time and space

suddenly crowded, filled with testaments of loss.

 

 

The Saved

    Anglo-Saxon lines after Richard Wilbur

          

 

Attic trunks talked

                                 whispered, "Touch me.

Spring the latch,

                                 and lift the dome.  Look.”

Like Alice I listened,

                                 lifted weighty  lids.

Once there lay lace,

                                 fragrance of lavender

Faint in the folds

                                 that unfanned between my fingers.

Beneath, bolts

                                 of cambric, banded by

Borders embroidered

                                 with a bride's bold initial

Pure white

                                 waiting, still.

 

         *           

Cast-off clothes

                                 cluttered the closet

Bent the boxes

                                 they balanced above

Pressed postcards

                                 preserved between  pages

Their scrawled messages

                                 strangely short.

Snapshots never sorted

                                 by subject or date

Black and white, some bent

                                 others blurry.

Though none were labeled,

                                 I knew some and named them  

Noted the number

                                now anonymous.

 

        *

A letter had lain long

                                in a leather

Folder frayed

                                and flattened.

Caught in its crease

                                a curl of hair

Brown as the braid

                                I held it beside.

“Dear daughter,” it began,

                               “Dorothea drifted off

as we stood by

                               singing her favorite psalm.

We buried her

                               beside brother.

Keep faith.

                               Your loving father, Philip.”

 

      *

Such scattered segments

                             salvaged scraps

Like archaeological

                             artifacts

Defy death

                             dare us

To find in fragments

                             the full figure of a life

Press us for proof

                            of pattern and purpose.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Quilts*

            “Fair Philomel, she but lost her tongue,

             And in a tedious sampler sewed her mind.”  

             William Shakespeare -Titus Andronicus

 

Great-grandmother set aside room where quilters met

to fill each chest with quilts, thirteen the goal for girls--

Baby Block, Geese in Flight, Bear Claw, Mariner’s Compass.

The one she left unfinished we stretched across a frame to quilt.

 

We watched our uneven tracks around shapes of fabric she’d stitched into pattern.

Poke the needle into the top through batting into back.

Then the trick to come up close to the stitch going down.

Concentration, no conversation, neck and back ached.

 

What of the women like one who stitched at her sampler’s edge,

“By Mary Wilson, who hated every minute of it” ?

In lives that offered little choice, they kept their tongues.

Like Philomel, stitching in silence, each had her work to do.

 

Many of their quilts, plain, dark, serviceable, cut from scraps,

have not survived.  Those that remain, saved for “good” or made

by women who died, their unused linens still stacked in chests,

wordless as their makers’ joy in color, silent as their suppressed cries.

 

 

 

Inheritance

 

Sundays, the blue and white dishes rimmed

the cherry table, its leaves draped in damask.

The lidded bowls, gravy boats and platters

came down from pantry shelves with cruets,

cut-glass celery vases, relish trays

and pickle casters to sit center.

 

Linen napkins stood at attention near goblets.

Polished silver cutlery and serving spoons,

ladles, and meat forks lay in their appointed places.

All waited for the gold of butternut squash,

white onions afloat in cream, mounds

of mashed potato and steaming brown gravy.

 

Roast chicken soon would fill the platter,

cover the cottage and pond where a man fishes

and a woman watches, hide the blue spire

that rises from the horizon into a white sky

where above a vining border, ducks fly

and below, ring-necked pheasants peck the rim.

 

On the sideboard sat the teacups decorated

with horse-drawn wagon heaped with hay

and swallows swooping over a field just mown.

On the stacked saucers the same wagon and man,

a rake resting on his shoulder, cross the stream

over a stone bridge as they head for home.

 

When my mother inherited Great-Grandmother’s dishes,

she stored them in the back of the cupboard, pulling out

a piece when she ran short.  One oblong  bowl

she filled with dirt to pot a plant . The glaze,

water soaked, crazed and the lid disappeared

along with the cups that dwindled from a dozen to six.

 

I’ve reglued handles on lids, replaced chipped plates

and broken cups with what I’ve found in shops.

I’ve propped some plates and platters along the rails

of a hutch I bought for their display.  A holiday

brings them down and then they’re washed and put away

with care that sometimes is conferred on age.

 

 

 

Not to Forget

 

The morning we walked the rows to read each stone

engraved with names that none have called in years,

I told the stories told to me of unknown

 

worlds.  My granddaughter wanted to hear

the tale of a child who died.  She stood by the grave’s

granite lamb and looked at its face that bears

 

not a trace of grief.  There he staves

off the forgetting that always comes with time.

We left the cemetery and drove home, gave

 

our thoughts to the day. My granddaughter’s prime

delight to read a book.  My voice intoned

the adventures of a rabbit and an evil fox’s crime.

 

The story ended.  Her brown eyes shone,

“We are alive!”  Spirit rebounds from stone.

 

Carol Nolde’s poetry was anthologized in Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places, the second edition of  Love Is Ageless-Stories About Alzheimer’s Disease,  Child of my Child, and Richer Resources.  . Her chapbook Comfort in Stone was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her chapbook Things Live After will be published in 2018.

 

 

* Editor's note: the font size for Unfinished Quilts is slightly smaller to accommodate Nolde's line breaks.

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