ICE CRYSTALS FORM ON THE MIRROR,
the coals hiss,
burst blue-black every now & then.
Life was straight ahead, brown bread, for so long.
Now I must put my thoughts
decent Quaker brown.
Lacy New England sky
like this doily my Aunt did crochet:
Now, a war-widow, I wear only blue like the sea, but one of linsey-woolsy.
of knit sea
of pearled ocean-sky.
Last year a thrush entered the room with the explosion of a gun.
they rim the terrace wall, starvelings.
All day, their incessant crying.
Last year I had everything:
Lyric, comic, history--legend.
Amelia heals from pneumonia,
cousin Jack takes her by train into Amherst
to look at colleges.
Nick is ever so busy:
I will curl up like a leaf
drawn the season over my head:
looking in the oval glass:
I only the sorrow
& the horror
a white hair, here there
Lie prone instead
against the season of logs wind-ruffled, the fiery-red.
THE THRUSH ALIGHTS ON THE BRANCH
like black flame
but doesn't ignite
Relieved my meeting with Mary
is two days away.
Jack, that swaggart, braggadocio has gone to town.
I blow the lamp out early.
I give Jeremy some cough syrup, barking half the night like a seal
& lie down
thinking of the decay of our country:
won't, like an expatriate, abandon it because of the pain of what it has become.
If I ever slow down
my bent for anger might kill me:
a moving mark is safer.
Mark my word:
Thomas, you were heard
that last thanksgiving
when you held me hard
deriding the Southern woman who owned her slaves
saying it was her you went to fight:
Then we both stepped into the yard
till we thought we saw, we heard
the Southern belle, selfish, tired
of sewing bandages, baking muffins, the slaves could burn their hands.
We redoubled our resolve:
we'd let each other go, unlike Merilee, Confederate wife
shuddering at conscription passed in April 1862:
eclipsed by personal wishes
not just her dread of separation from Andrew--
she said the draft hung like Damocles sword over her head
took to her bed:
"Twenty Nigger Law" was passed, burgundy, buckram-bound
exempting supervisors of twenty or more slaves
So I let him go, you go, Thomas, even pushing you with rancor
a rust shine to the sky:
there weren't enough ways to be brave:
your hair, the gleam in your eye, my only, my true brave love.
FROM THAT TIME FORWARD
over the Southern belle's description of camp visit
'short, unsatisfactory, tantalizing.'
Far better the anxiety of a hunter's moon, the Yankee salt rubbed in the wound
the stars in railroad line
the cars of the brain:
the excruciating richness
to prolonged separation.
CHANGE IN HIS HABITS
from service as a common soldier
won my heart twice-over.
Every mother confronted the same terror:
Meditational Mondays, however, moved in me
then meditational more days, Tuesdays & Wednesdays
till I looked in the mirror
& caught not my own reflection,
my own eye:
but the fixed
yet worshipful, winning eye of the sea.
MOTIVATED BY MISERY,
Abandoned other plans
but while Jeremy cleared his lungs with bright freezing
weather in our New England, our Quaker & Shaker land.
& Samantha grew more round
--I knew it would be a girl this time
my skin looked clear,
my smile was prettier, Cousin Katie was saying. . .
the privileged life of the Southern bumped
which never fitted them,
pristine talents of my own, our own
I say ours
for we always aimed
to write journals of our settling in
And had you returned home,
the hardships of battlefield
would not have diminished
entitled us to art, that protection
which now the winds bemoan round deathman's bend.
the loss of
& the eleven short months we had in each other's arms.
"THOUSANDS OF LADIES"
Women called upon to renounce luxuries
in the South
they encompassed more than just giving up their men.
Called upon to work actively in support of Southern armies.
So they fought for the Devil
towed under New England skies
blue purple tents
reading of "Thousands of Ladies," one Confederate wife
wrote up in May 1861
who never worked before
were hard at work on sewing all over the tiny slave-holding nation.
A SOCK A DAY FOR THE SOLDIER
Leisurely comfortable occupation
unchanging even as war grew bloodier
to equal mars.
These women thought it unhealthy to rise with the sun.
Severe shortage of cloth of occur plagued the South:
Now, in postwar years, many Confederate women's memories
ingenuity in producing the homespun
when the cloth of the spirit
was the only thing
we need repair:
they were beyond
who wore "only homespun," clothes due to the slaves' skill in spinning, weaving.
THE LACK OF CANDLES
was solved by slaves like fanny who made candles
while Missus watched her arrange wick in molds.
Why have a dog
& do one's
own barking, wrote one Southern woman.
WHAT VALIDATION OF FICTIONAL IMAGES
All simplicity of the old order:
family holding decorum by appealing to its past.
each member living like a Russian doll in a nest:
Women marry men who court them:
boisterous, reckless, exciting men
but not because the women love them.
We are above viewing the dark mirror reflecting the antebellum South:
A smoked glass mirror.
What rebellion goes on in my own home, among
the children, because Thomas is gone
fails to drive me mad:
I know the mortal zone
the zero ground of letting fail & living on.
WHATEVER YOU LOOK FOR IS RIGHT BENEATH YOUR EYES
I tell my boy.
Then turn to window: winter sky, mulberry sky.
I look at the grey steeple on Massachusetts sky.
Must it be
those who live on in the south bequeath
failure, defeat, sublimation to their ancestry?
Do they set out to live a life of failure?
Ice-crystals form on the window
the coals hiss.
My memory is random, faulty
as I walk the widow's walk in dream I have memorized
down Ancestor Street to the breakfront.
Pungent as the smell of salt fish, remote, fleeting
the salt is what awakes me
to the world Thom knew as a small boy:
Salt as preservative
of the daguerreotypes
sepia, but at twilight, glowing, lively:
the children touch the flesh of a cheek,
look into an eye:
that looks back, that handsome eye which looked last
down the barrel of a file
its hairline locater
a crucifix upon Dixie sky.
Heavenly sunset--go slowly.
seeing straight ahead as if thru a mirror glass
unable to avoid collision with what is to come;
face iced over with snow & sleet
back to the wind
heavy axes hitting frozen wood
coffee steaming from a jug
the whole valley cheering:
looking straight in front of him
as thru a looking glass
at unprecedented sea-like greenness:
the thousand blessings ice-bright but. . .
thaw & spring.
Mrs. Pinkard Hated to Overtake Me
THE WORLDLESS STATE OF SOME POETS
the state close to tears
is mine, with the onslaught of spring.
Mrs. Pinkard was coming behind me on the hill today
when she reached she said, "I hated to overtake you, Ruth,"
But truth is she didn't.
I was glad
to have someone take the rise & dip leaving me to hear
both footsteps behind & view
her retreating back.
I needed no tale of foreign prison,
I needed no one to condescend
one becomes thoughtful
if only the first spring were past
it could be
an exceptional thing
full of fascinating
with the knife, the man going round taking names
hadn't overtaken him.
A CHATELAINE WITH KEYS
rustling at my belt
like some nun
I go, I put my thoughts down
I feel like I've waited all my life
to walk out
alone in winter
& get my teeth into something
I will walk across the meadow
reflected in the mirror
alone, thinking the forbidden thought
while crouched on splintered rotting bridges that span little creeks
will move swarming.
A BRIGHT-EYED WEASEL
in first of his summer browns
begins to show
coming out of the willows, darting dauntlessly down the old bridge toward me.
Have I changed?
I can still
across the deep dark wood & the quiet, I see the cabin
the shadow of him.
He was right:
I can file a saw now that I put my mind to it:
But despite the flurry
of late snow
my heart hasn't changed.
If a dark blue rain comes
& all the snow
on rooftops & buggies melts
you wake up & look in the mirror
All is lost:
In a second, breakup. The bond between seasons
frost leaving barns
long as the time since I have seen him.