We were not quite lost that Sunday
morning: two hours of high tide left
as the water began its alchemy from salt
to mineral, luring us into bosky silence —
small choirs in the pine trees, a breeze
ruffling the cordgrass, waves slapping
against the shore. Each turn compelled us
farther, we let ourselves go with the water,
forward; without charts, the looping ribbon
of creek became both route and destination.
Houses tucked into the marsh drowsed
behind drawn shades, indifferent to us,
shorebirds ignored us, busy with their own
tasks and hungers, and past the last bend,
or the next-to-the-last, past the osprey nesting
station, just before the cemetery, bells rang.
And if you were to die today, or leave me,
if memory is all we ever have of eternity,
this is the moment I'd choose to remember —
a green hereafter of sunlight and pealing bells.
Paddles raised, kayaks slowly pirouetting
in the sun, we floated, listening long after
the last echo's faint splash, until the tide
carried us on its backward journey to the bay.
Late last night we turned on daylight
saving. Lucky hour's wild spree,
springing forward, falling back, free
as a bird enraptured by flight —
as who would not be, to escape
the ticking tyranny of clocks
and time's rough shocks and aftershocks?
Midnight assumes its usual shape:
in bed, you watch the slow hands creep
toward morning, toss and turn, while
a dream I'm dreaming makes me smile.
At dawn, you're wrestled into sleep
just when I'm leaving for the park
to walk the dog. The room is warm,
your body shifts, I touch your arm
goodbye and day breaks in the dark.
there is the cold, dark sea
of separation to row across
with one oar,
and I am already exhausted,
desperate to drift and drift and drift
on a current of sleep ...
I must make my way back,
and touch you lightly
so you will turn toward me
before the world bears down again.
Mile-long, a gleaming white slag of glacial sea,
salt-ice, the beach today an expanse more like
snowcap or permafrost — seductive,
though I'm aware of the danger: floes will
break up, despite their solid appearance. Still,
life churns beneath in currents that only seem
landlocked — a trick of winter ocean
weather. Now come, it calls, walk on water,
change elements. A January blizzard has
freeze-framed the two of us on this spectral bay —
wild, cold and glorious — tidal flats we
rambled for miles all those careless summers.
If I'd had access to a crystal ball,
I might have timed things differently, and all
this strife would morph into a fantasy
as plausible as one of those TV
sitcoms you watch every night; shows that sell
you body products you don't need and tell
fairy tales in pixels. Mothers have fled,
gone mad, or are conveniently dead,
and daughters pace a clear hormonal field.
No one, Menarche, would be left to yield
to the drawn arrow of your quivering youth;
you could scorch all the worn maternal earth
your teenaged moon-fed bloodlust hungers for,
and I'd be a fond memory, nothing more.
But as it happens, Love, I'm here in blood
and flesh, and plain as air or the wet mud
that sucks red shoes into the swamp of life;
stuck in your slender side, I am the knife
that pierces your heart's independent dreams.
My glorious opponent, it may seem
our battle lines are drawn, but Menopause,
fat, almost fifty and riddled with flaws,
is frightened by rebellious Menarche,
whose only crime is that she lives to be.
Still, Menopause is dangerous; although
a gibbous, waning moon propels her through
these wars, cunning corrects those deficits.
The young move in starts, the older in fits.
So, Daughter, let us walk across this swoon,
this crazy field of love and blood and moon;
I will retreat and pass on the baton,
assuming elder status on life's throne,
accept your change of terms and walk away
from a role I'd naïvely planned to play,
starring in your life a few more seasons;
but life is ruled by nature, not by reason.
Your favorite show is now The Gilmore Girls:
a very young mother and daughter swirled
like marble cake, occasionally crazed,
seductive, sweetly intimate in ways
contrived by focus groups, not life, not years,
certainly not hormones, or these tears.
Let's be friends, whisper the beautiful dolls,
their cheeks tinted pink, their lips tinted rose,
complete with masses of thick, shiny hair,
eyes that open and close
and named Samantha, or Molly, or Rose.
Each doll arrives with a six-chapter book —
inspiring tales of pluck and adventure.
These stories are the heart of the affair,
claims the glossy brochure,
but collecting is the real adventure
in this catalogue of seductions: page
after page of old-fashioned toys, dresses
for the dolls, furniture, accessories,
brushes for their tresses
and life-sized copies of those dresses
for little girls delirious with desire.
They can't resist the outfits and well-made
miniature props that go with each story:
tea cakes and lemonade,
wicker chairs far lovelier than home-made
alternatives. And that's what this clever
company counts on — the innocent greed
of girls and a passion for collection
that spreads like garden weeds:
how seamlessly our wants become our needs!
February, dead of winter,
light thin as gruel —
nothing I hoard sustains me.
Even in this grim, immutable
month there are signs —
forbearance in the stripped trees,
patience in the packed ground.
Each day, the wind chides,
each day, enough will be given.
We owned two, back then: a glorious appaloosa
we galloped all night long and a sure-footed sorrel
who carried us till dawn. We gave them little
attention, no thought, no care.
So now, his fading eyes, the dull ache in her bones,
have surprised us. We must coax them forth with apples
and sugar cubes, and whisper encouragement —
not far, not long, easy now, go slow.
Like a keyhole in the bedroom door —
the rubber band slips off, revealing
foreign postmarks, steamed-off stamps.
My darling, I count the minutes ... Did you forget?
Don't, I think, as the kettle boils for tea.
Let them be. Leave them folded in the past,
in their pale blue airmail world of courtship,
How could you ... but when? At least she never
gossip, lies. Don't you believe me? Listen
to them: back in the bureau drawer, forever
locked in cries of love and rage and grief ...
suffered ... I so wanted ... What did you mean?
One word — sueño — serves for sleeping
and dreaming, the twin labors of the night.
And pluma stands for both pen and feather —
feather as wing, synecdoche for flight.
The family sleeps,
but quietly at her desk the translator
sits among piles of books: dictionaries
in many languages, dead and spoken,
grammars, biographies of all concerned.
Beside her the dog stirs, whimpering
in a dream; the night composes
an adagio of appliances and breath
as she thumbs through pages, making
meticulous notes, an ocean of crumpled
possibilities rising in a white tide at her feet.
Pale in the light
of the computer screen she labors;
although the rules of her trade require
a subtle balance of accuracy and beauty,
she suspects she's after something else.
Tonight, for instance, she has rendered
"Havana, 1961" as revolution box;
and just yesterday, "Father" turned
into jazzman one night and soldier
the next; then "permanent address"
seemed best expressed as house of words.
How else to speak
of the meaning of home? Somewhere,
somewhere in this legacy of stories
told and retold in a private language
of the heart, the land yields, the harvest
is rich. She's heard it said that memory
has no translation: "We know it well
in a beloved version, and we know it too
well in desolation." Still, she keeps
at it, late into the night, mantled in silence,
working and reworking this lexicon magic.
Lorna Knowles Blake was born in Havana and lived in Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico before moving to the United States to attend college. She was educated at Trinity College (B.A.), New York University (M.B.A.), and Sarah Lawrence College (M.F.A.). Her poems have appeared in The Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Hudson Review, Rattapallax, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English (Wesleyan University Press), Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets (University of Evansville Press), and Chance of a Ghost (Helicon Nine Editions). Many of the poems appearing here are from her first collection, Permanent Address, which won the Richard Snyder Memorial Prize and will be published by the Ashland Poetry Press in May of this year. In addition to her position as Executive Director of the New York State IOLA Fund, she is a creative writing teacher and an editor at Barrow Street. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City and Cape Cod.