Milk from Sleepy Cows
here my son
today is done
the cows have all come home
drink this milk
fresh warm and silk
it’s milk from sleepy cows
drowsy cows now close their eyes
to dream the orange sun down
night night cows
cream black and white
come ‘round from blue green hillsides
warm and dreamy
smooth and creamy
milk from sleepy cows
rest well yourself
the world will somehow swirl
without you for a while
not a peep now
I took one look at you
and painted you
a pair of moons
then carved you
a dozen dragonflies
I wrote you
a thousand poems
and sang you
a hundred songs
I baked you
a billion emotional cookies
made and decorated you
a million cakes
please tell me your name
here these are my hands
and there is my heart
I stand and rest one hand upon the hoe
and then my chin to take a breather
my hat is offthe sweat rolls down the inside of my glasses
this is the twenty-first garden I've planted here
with every wave I feel the garden rise and fall
a swimming raft in a lake of giant pines
farm houses and corn stubble
a bounce of golden lightdefines the roundness
of the earth at sundown
what language s spoken here?
brother if only I knew
I'm a migrant worker
drifting in my own garden
a passer through
I'll admit it --
when you were little
your sass and independence
was more often than not
"I do it myself!"
grabbing the stroller
tipping it onto its back wheels
stumbling behind it with a
plowing through mall walkers
towing us behind
grumbling and burning
in your righteous and
achingly slow wake
ripping the dress off
the one I picked for you
and socks and shoes
at the front door
"I hate it!"
three minutes before
we have to go
my head about to
lift off my shoulders
but now that you're sixteen
more often than not
your shoulders slump
into a profound silence
tears you hide from us
frozen just under the surface
of your downcast eyes
I wish that little girl
would come back
to stand in front of the door
ready to face the world
hands on hips
head thrown back
stripped down to
a deep and crazy will
a flame of individual desire
Forgiving Our Fathers
I want to forgive my fathers for their various sins --
Roy for dying before I could know him, Tom
for taking his place, Roy for leaving a vacuum in his
wake, Tom for drinking his darkness like gin and
sucking us all into his poisoned center. After all, it’s not
really our fathers’ fault, is it, that we have to suffer? They
only do what’s been done to them, programmed to pass
on their painful inheritances like the taint of drunk
blood, like the gift of a new name. Our fathers fracture
and recreated us in the same ways that their fathers
once crushed and molded them -- putting us back together
with rotten glue -- so that as we grow older our bones
ache against the invisible breaks, our hearts labor under
the veins’ unseen divisions, and our bones disintegrate
under the force of a thousand ineffable kicks. Really,
they couldn’t help it -- lugging with them, as they did,
their own broken bodies, rent with ghostly fissures.
Perhaps we’d be better off, then, forgiving ourselves for
our inability, at last, to ever truly forgive them. We were
all cracked in turn, beginning (of course) with our hearts.
Gods of Childhood
Grandma Tutu loved to travel. She took her camera
around the world, exploring Antarctica, Easter Island,
the African savannah, sitting in Afghan tents, eating
with her fingers in China, walking across the hills of Ireland
with a gnarly stick, smiling into Columbian winds as they
filled her up with their caffeine. At 85, she still
volunteered at a local hospital, cleaning bedpans, bringing
daffodils to lonely rooms, sitting with patients her own age
or younger, passing the grounded hours. I hear her
laugh, I see her shining eyes under their mop of
gray hair, I smell her comfortable odors: sand and
salt, a clean embrace like the San Diego sun
on our shoulders. We flocked to her from the South
and the East, bringing our hidden skins and our
tired souls, offering ourselves to her for healing.
When we visited, she brought out her famous pumpkin
bread, frozen just for such an occasion, her trademark
spaghetti sauce. She told stories about her trips, dressing
in costume after costume, putting on countries we’d
never visit, flashing slides in the twilit patio while lightning
bugs crashed against the screens. I loved her simply,
as a child, with wonder and awe: my father’s mother. She was
magical--light and air and happiness. I thought
she would never die.
In the dark, her eyes flashed behind their glasses, pure
starlight, making her a goddess. Grandpa Mac,
sitting on the couch in another room, yelled at the TV, threw
his cracked hands in agitated arcs, cursed
the politicians and the bums. His mind wandered into
dark countries, seeking justice for the past, but his body
stayed put. He sucked gin into himself, bloating with
drunken memories, weighed down by hurts.
If Grandma was a goddess, then Grandpa was a god, an old-style
patriarch, hoary head full of resentments and
smoldering hates. His cigars trailed orange eyes in the blue
living room, wrote indecipherable notes in the lonely gloom.
He never traveled far. At Disneyland, he stayed
in the car. I thought he was rain clouds and mud and
bitter sadness. Even at eight, I knew how that tasted.
One night, he turned to me and smiled, and wondered,
again, why he couldn’t die.
Cliches to End the Wars
Make love not war.
The bloom is off the war.
Here’s the church, here’s the steeple,
Wars don’t kill people, people kill people.
Because I could not stop for war,
it kindly stopped for me.
The emperor has no wars.
It was war at first sight.
Home is where the war is.
Stop, drop, and war.
He wars me.
He wars me not.
He wars me.
He wars me not.
Cheaters never war.
Fool me once, war on you.
Fool me twice, war on me.
He was such a nice war, kept to himself,
that kind of war doesn’t happen around here.
War is a dish best served cold.
Good wars make good neighbors.
so much depends
a red war
Tomorrow is another war.
Reports indicate a virulent bitch outbreak
at the daycare, code-red profanity scare.
The plague began in a clan of four-year olds,
whose hot-zone words flew deadly-virus airborne,
jumping across the room
to six circular kids on their butts who chanted
Bitch-Bitch-Bitch like they were playing Duck-Duck-Goose.
Horrified come pick-up time,
we parents caught a whiff of bitch
and demanded our TinyTown spin
the sirens, bus in the hazmat crew,
their press conference of proof and containment:
We have scrubbed their little mouths with soap
and hosed them down from head to shoe.
We assure you, they will eat vegetables tonight.
Such epidemics take me back to high school
and the outbreak of bitches there that attacked
the student body, two thousand strong.
This Newtonian curse-word universe
saw bitches who could neither be created nor destroyed,
saw bitch actions have equal,
opposite bitch reactions
until every orbiting bitch was caught
in the bold gravity of exponential maternity:
“I’m not a bitch. Your momma’s a bitch.”
The science of that Babylon was all wrong:
My mother is not a bitch,
she is old-school divinity
who makes Moses look lazy.
A mystery, mother lived
immune from all bitchy
outbreaks—a walking, talking,
white blood cell
without the proper mouth to form
four letter words (or five,
when keeping bitch in mind).
She never spoke curse words
of any kind, not one
that I can recall. She merely
parted the Red Sea
of her family’s profanity, then marched
her matriarchal self away
from our frog-filled mouths,
our language scarfed with locusts,
marched into freedom, into lands
of linguistic milk and honey.
We children had no choice but to follow
through fields of gee wizz and golly,
through row upon row of awshucks
into orchards where we plucked willikers
right from their weighty branches—
with full bellies we rejected
the unclean, cast them out
preaching I don’t give a hoot
because you’re a giant horse’s patoot.
But I am no such prophet.
I cinch my daughters in their seats,
their lips still wet with bitch,
drown them on the way home
in wave after wave of
Thou shalt not
Thou shalt not