SHADOW OF THE FAMILY
No matter how large the house,
how green its walls,
how various its blossoms
or how small, brown
at night each is a point
on the terrain: a brief remark
lit up and obscured,
different from the address
its family claims on documents,
different from the scent of its halls,
the isolating histories of its air.
through the tropics, say,
in central Costa Rica
on unpaved roads,
past hills on fire on purpose,
past schools that are pavilions
awash by daybreak
with blue and white uniforms,
past rivers and lagoons,
the tag-ends of uncultivated palms
where even toucans are colorless
in the equatorial dark:
drive out of drive back,
toward or away from some hope,
some place with chances,
and you'll think about
all the homes of all the people
you will never meet,
their positions on the land,
their proximity to or distance from
the road, their very stasis
relative as your own movement
(race of a shadow below a big moon)
yet what conviction it offers.
And you are hard to see
as all their roofs and porches,
your passage reducible
to headlights moving north,
however complete you may imagine yourself--
you have imagined yourself
walking a lamplit street
with your love,
the baby on your shoulders,
boy on his,
all four fixed
within a single silhouette:
a kingdom whose partitioning
anyone can chart.
WORDS BY HEART
We've given my father a microphone
at his 75th birthday party
because singing is the only thing
he still does fluently.
Sing "Where or When," Sandy. I love that.
My mother has had two vodka martinis.
Where or when? he asks.
Yes--the song. Come on, sing it.
Sanford holds onto the mike stand,
listing just a little to the left.
Everyone's quiet, trying not to expect much.
He clears his throat, cranes his neck:
It seems we stood and talked like this before
his blind sister Ruth--with the voice of a stage star--
sits near him, mouthing the words like a nervous parent
we looked at each other in the same way then,
though I can't remember where or when
my mother and my sister Diane are on the couch,
riveted, grave, both of them in green
and the clothes you're wearing are the clothes
you wore, the smile you are smiling you were smiling
then there's my brother-in-law and my young niece,
who lean against each other, eyes closed
though I can't remember where or when it's all happening,
silver pooling at its edges as some things that happen
for the first time seem to be happening again
my cousin Andrea watches her husband
switch the video camera on, her four-year-old
shifting onto her lap and so it seems
that we have met before and laughed before
Uncle Cy and Aunt Bea look up from their hands
as I look down at mine, thinking
this man once wrote songs and speeches and eulogies
and loved before, which everyone here remembers--
even as he sings mechanically, frowning:
even as the lyrics stray from him into the microphone
like exhaust, like a last breath,
but who knows where or when.
SHOUTS OF HOLY WELCOME
When it comes down to this
when it comes down to branches
and the dry bits of sky stuck between
down to a belief in foliage
but not a leaf to show--
no tracing even
the stems that let go
on a single afternoon:
when it comes down to earth
which is what
everything comes down to
and to memory
and to failing memory
failing or confused
or flatter in detail
or smaller in consequence
and you are less
than anyone you see
out on the street
busy with packages
eager or almost eager
or at least untroubled
the wide bargain
of your own intelligence
narrowed to attention
(threads picked from the rug
prints rubbed from the mirror)
attention that surveys
room after room
with no plan
hoping to be stopped for supper
for whatever comes next
someone else's choice
you own will
lost with names of planets
nightsounds......things you knew
when you knew
that even though
every kind of damage has been done
somewhere to someone
beauty thrashing in you
the sad beautiful limbs
unencumbered and willing
the evening walk from work
the children waiting
just behind the one door
you will always reach to open
all there is to hear
in your favor
numb and in terror
patronized by love--
a patient whose treatment
does not work--
reach to turn the brass knob
and turn it
the voices starting up
inside for you
of holy welcome.
ALBANY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, SIXTH FLOOR
The sixth floor of Memorial is the orthopedic ward.
It means if you have bones, you can be here, one nurse tells me.
My father's "605A"--the bed by the door:
that thin old man with heart failure
and cancer in his bones.
So this is it for him? Yes, but that's not all.
There's the dementia, which keeps him from everyone.
After meeting this new patient, the surgeon said,
Sure, he talked to me. But it was jabberwocky.
And that's true enough.
Will you be vacating the sunshine? my father asks me
when I rise from my chair under fluorescent lights.
Then Something's not right as he pinches each finger
of his left hand in succession. There was supposed to be
one important thing after another.
My mother and I would be tears, laughing or crying,
if we weren't so tired. Instead, she speaks to him as if
he's there: tells him who was downstairs in the coffee shop,
tells him what she saw on t.v., tells him
his daughters' names.
She's proud that he looks younger and more capable than Tom,
a man just his age who lies in a recliner in the corridor all day.
Tom doesn't speak or cry out--but his eyes
are the eyes of an injured horse
who'd rear if it could.
You see that, Jo. Dad seems good by comparison.
605A can't connect one minute to the next,
but my mother can. She says on the way down
in the elevator, squeezing my hand hard
and raising her chin toward six:
Look at what can happen to a person.
THE WORDS WE SAY
In love there is a logic of gestures
.....we don't interpret but trust,
..........a courtship outlasting
..our beauty and our grief:
your face at rest above a book,
.....your hand rising across the yard,
..........suggesting a hedge, a summerhouse,
..or dropping flat-palmed to your chest.
A turning away in sleep,
.....a turning back--
..........we learn from it for years:
..approach one another,
wave like infants as we meet,
.....or throw off the embrace,
..........afraid to be tested, afraid
..as if we could do more than this,
give more than this
.....(the body's full tilt,
..........undisguised and honorable
..and the full light of attention)
as if to press our skulls
.....against each other's,
..........waterbirds eye to eye,
..were not enough,
as if we could make love
..........never fall away, separate
..as the words we say and mean.
Jody Bolz teaches at George Washington University, where she currently serves as acting director of the creative writing program. Her poems have appeared recently in such journals as The American Scholar, Ploughshares, Indiana Review, River Styx, Gargoyle, The Women's Review of Books, and Sonora Review--and in a number of anthologies, including Weavings 2000: The Maryland Millennial Anthology, Her Face in the Mirror (Beacon Press), To Woo & To Wed (Poseidon Press), and Knowing Stones: Poems of Exotic Places (John Gordon Burke). Her other career has been advocacy journalism: after graduate school at Cornell University, where she studied with A. R. Ammons, she worked as a magazine editor for the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy, serving as staff writer for the Alaska Coalition throughout the Alaska Lands Campaign. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation writer's award in 1998-99 and the Margaret Bridgman Scholarship in Poetry to the 2001 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. She is an executive editor of the journal Poet Lore.
Published in Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2003.
To read more by this author:
Jody Bolz: The Wartime Issue
The Museum Issue