Sometimes, when you are lucky, a poem slams into you. Like this…
THE EDGE OF MANSFIELD
It was in the ice crystals. The clouds that swirled over me had ice crystals in them. Someone said they were from the hurricane that lighted candles in New Orleans and sizzled wires in Queens. Ida, they called her. A short name for a long storm. Now she was here spinning herself out above Vermont, rushing up the side of its highest peak, flash freezing me with ice in August. A baptism of frozen water and clouds. Thank God. I don’t thank Him often. But thank god for an air cold enough and an edge high enough to spark a fire inside me. Burn away the longing, singe the lust, obliterate the patience of waiting. Each crystal hissed on my skin, accelerated the rage that used to be an endless kiss. Odd, isn’t it? This temperature inversion. A volcano under a blizzard. A scorched hole in the frost. The air was blind with clouds but the ice crystals held me tethered to the edge. There was no danger of suicide. I was finally burned clear of you.
The remnants of Ida above Vermont
While I rely on the security of finding my blue dot on the screen, I still love the mysteries of paper maps and how they mark time, revealing gaps in where we’ve been and where we are going.
Once upon a time a mapmaker told me,
“When I make a map, I visit certain places
to make sure they are there.”
I am the map reader in my dad’s car.
I unfold the southern New England states
Until it covers me like a blanket
Then I refold it so I can only see Connecticut and Rhode Island
And only the coast line.
I am looking for my place on the map
I drag my finger along I-95 through Connecticut
Then turn onto Route 2 and then Route 1
When my index finger crosses the Pawcatuck River
Into Rhode Island, I peer at the edge of land
By the Atlantic ocean.
Looking for my little town
My dot on the map.
It isn’t there
No Watch Hill
No Shelter Harbor
Especially not my dot
As the car gets nearer to the water
I wonder if it has disappeared during the winter.
Dad flicks on the blinker at Dunn’s Corner
(Also not on the map)
Now we’re headed straight at the ocean
(It’s on the map)
At my not-there dot
I sit up tall in my seat.
Will we fall into the ocean?
We are coasting along the marsh pond road
By the jetty of rocks
Past the sand dunes
Then I see it.
The Bait & Tackle shop
The Post Office
It’s all there
But the mapmaker hasn’t been here yet.
One of the many exercises I give my students is the juxtaposition of an emotion and an object: Regret in terms of a shiny black shoe; Anger in terms of a pink blouse. It’s a way to get at the emotion of a scene without being too on the nose. Telling it slant. I think the following is the phrase I pulled from random pieces of paper I passed around. Yes, the teacher does the exercises, too.
LOVE IN TERMS OF A HANDKERCHIEF
My father reaches into his pocket and hands me his white handkerchief. It is neatly folded, half, then half again, then one more time so it is a 3×3 square. He hasn’t used it. Putting a handkerchief in his pocket was part of how he got dressed in the morning, one of the final things he put in his pocket before he went out the door.
I wonder if his mother or father told him to do it. “Bill you should always have a handkerchief with you.” “Bill, don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve.” “Bill, sniffing your nose like that is so impolite. Use. Your. Handkerchief.” Perhaps it was a habit born out of necessity. No Kleenex. Instead, people had cotton squares, folded in the man’s pocket or tucked in a woman’s sleeve.
He gave me the handkerchief because I was crying. I don’t remember why I was crying at that particular moment. What I do remember was the instant I started crying, my father reached in his pocket and handed me his neatly folded handkerchief. I sobbed into the soft white square. Tears. Snot. Mascara. When I handed it back to him, he looked at it like, “Ick.” I think I giggled at the preposterousness of my father carrying around a snot-smeared handkerchief. Then life went on. We didn’t talk much about what caused the upset. It was over. It was in the rearview mirror. He wasn’t phobic about feelings. He came girded with the handkerchief and he quietly let me dissolve into it. But he wasn’t keen on parsing out the beginning middle or end of an upset.
I gripped one of his handkerchiefs at his funeral. When we divided up his things, I took the small stack of handkerchiefs from the top drawer of his bureau and put it in mine. In case someone needs that soft white square.
You woke at three
In the new time
I slept till six in the old
We had coffee at seven
Ate just bought eggs
and talked until eight or so about
things we were going to do today.
Then we dressed in semi-fresh clothes
And began slipping between time zones
All day long
Early for one thing
Late for another
Laughing at the whoops of it
Snickering at stealing time
Wondering how this fragile quotient holds us together
It’s so made up
So easily snipped and curled
This small gift of an hour.
As a New England girl, reading the weather is essential to survival.
She was my sun.
I watched her from my crib
a blanket on the floor
my highchair perch
best of all, from her lap.
The closer to her, the warmer I was.
But when her hazel green eyes turned brown and dull
and her sighs sounded a storm rolling in
I hid in my closet
listening for the quiet,
waiting for the skies to clear.
I read every pressure change in her skin.
She was my barometer
My indicator of fair skies.
I trailed her,
the last of her four children,
chanting like a drunken sailor
pick me up.