NON-FICTION: Ruth Boggs–MoMa Moments

Ruth Boggs—MoMa Moments

New York City is hot, humid, and sticky when I arrive at Penn Station on the Acela Express from Washington, D.C. I’m here for a three-day job interpreting a deposition. I check into the Renaissance on 57th Street and in anticipation of three stressful workdays, I go to bed early, get up early, do some prepping, put on my suit, shoulder my briefcase, and walk the two blocks to Madison Avenue, where I enter a sleek steel, glass and black marble skyscraper and an elevator that carries me to the top floor.

 

Fifteen minutes, later, I leave the law firm’s Mad Men style decorated office suite on the elevator back down and arrive back on the street level, where masses of people emerge from subway stations, bus stops and coffee shops and rush to their offices.

 

Turns out that the case I’m working on settled earlier that morning in Europe, which is good and bad news for me. Good news, because I’m getting paid for the three days anyway; bad news because there will be no further work in this case.

 

The people who rush by me are on their way to work, to 9-5 jobs in the tall structures that make up the landscape of Manhattan.

 

I’m free as a bird, with nothing to do for the rest of the day. I can take the next train home and start working on another project, or I can take a late train home and spend the day in Manhattan.

 

After weighing my options, I decide that I will give myself this unexpected day to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’ve never been to the very popular Museum of Modern Art, which is only a few streets away. I just finished reading a German novel that had some terrific scenes in the MoMA, and I’m curious. Instead of hurrying home to tackle more deadlines, I will gift this day to myself to explore the MoMa.

 

Back at the hotel, I drop off my bags with the concierge and head out. Up 57th to 5th Avenue, take a left and then a right on 53rd Street and voila – I’m looking at a line that stretches halfway around the building. But I have all day, and as soon as the doors open, the line moves very fast and I’m in.

 

The sign “German Expressionists” immediately catches my eye. I head up to the sixth floor. The exhibit features “Die Brücke” artists – Germans who started the expressionist movement in 1910 in Dresden and later continued it in Berlin. Works of Kirchner, Heckel, Kokoschka, Kollwitz, Dix, Beckmann and Nolde are prominently displayed. Like a good tourist, I listen obediently to the electronic museum guide that dangles from my neck to unravel the mysteries of German expressionism.

 

I’m especially intrigued by the works of Otto Dix, who did a number of gory paintings of slain prostitutes, using bold strokes and colors in is expressionist rendition of dismembered bodies and crime scenes. They would make a great story line for a crime novel where the perpetrator could use clues from the paintings to leave for the investigators to figure out. And then a clever investigator who happens to visit the MoMA has an “aha” moment and solves the case. My writer’s mind is in overdrive. I’ll have to explore this further.

 

After two hours of learning about German expressionism, I briefly skim the Skÿs collection on the 5th floor and then head to the rooftop terrace restaurant, where my streak of luck continues: Despite the busy lunch hour, the waitress seats me at an outside table on the railing, a prime spot with an unobstructed view of the courtyard.

 

The rectangular reflecting pools with cascading fountains, surrounded by aspen trees, lush shrubberies, and inviting benches grouped around them, create a green oasis of quiet and solitude.

 

The menu is also inviting and I settle on a smoked trout salad and iced tea, with mango sorbet and a cappuccino for dessert. While I wait for my food and revel in the exciting turn this day has suddenly taken, I observe the people in the courtyard below me and notice a couple in a very tight embrace.

 

I figure them as tourists. The middle-aged man has gray hair and wears khaki shorts and a polo shirt. The slightly younger woman has long brunette hair and is dressed in a strapless summer top and Capri pants. Her arms are slung around his neck. Her head is buried in his chest, and he holds her very tight. They remain motionless for a very long time. Every time she tries to leave, he tightens his embrace. They seem oblivious to their surroundings. I feel like an intruder witnessing a crucial moment in their lives. A goodbye? Making up after a lover’s spat? A milestone, perhaps a proposal or a bittersweet parting?

 

After the man finally lets go of her, he sits down on a nearby bench, and the woman heads for the exit. Aha. Goodbye. But then she turns around and walks right past him in the other direction as he snaps a photo with his camera, but doesn’t even look up as she crosses his field of vision. Then he puts the camera away, hunches over, drops his head into his hands, and stares at the ground for a very long time.

 

The woman now sits on another bench farther away and stares at the water in the reflecting pool. Because I can’t see their faces, it is difficult to gauge what is going on. But then the woman returns to the man’s bench, a small child appears seemingly from out of nowhere, and the three head off together, holding hands.

 

Their brief interlude leaves me as puzzled as the exhibit in the Francis Alÿs collection I just viewed and can’t get out of my mind.

 

Alÿs is a Belgian artist known for his use of poetic and allegorical methods to address political and social issues. He works primarily in Mexico, and this particular piece of art is a home movie projected onto a room-sized white wall. The grainy image suggests the work of an amateur. It shows a dusty hillside in rural Mexico. A dirt road leads straight up to the crest of the hill. Decrepit little shacks dot the hillside on either side of the steep road. At the bottom of the hill, a horizontal flat road runs around the mountain, perpendicular to the steep road.

 

A little red Volkswagen Beetle turns onto the steep road and tries to drive up the hill. The driver revs up the engine, but halfway up the hill it sputters and dies and the car rolls back down, crossing the flat perpendicular road backwards as it rolls back. Undeterred, the driver tries again. He revs up the engine and starts up the hill. This time, he gets just a little farther before the engine dies and the car slides backwards down the hill again. The driver tries again and again. Each time, as he gets a little farther up the hill the volume and crescendo of the mariachi music that underscores the movie rises in proportion to the VW’s progress. But once the car’s engine dies, so does the music, and the car rolls back down in silence, only to make yet another attempt.

 

There’s other movement on the hill: A couple of stray dogs cross the dusty road. A man leaves one of the shanty houses and walks over to another one. A large white Buick sedan enters the picture from the right on the flat road that intersects the steep road, and then disappears to the left. The scene itself never changes. There’s only one screen shot: The hill, and the little red VW Beetle that is desperately trying to mount the hill, to the bolstering sounds of the mariachi music, only to fail again and again and roll back down in silence.

 

During the fifteen minutes I watch this scene, people to the left and right of me get bored with it. They get up and leave. My mind is churning: Shouldn’t the VW’s engine have overheated and blown up by now? What’s going to happen next? Will the car accidentally run over one of the dogs or people as it rolls back down the hill? Maybe the driver should start from farther back so he can get a better momentum going? Is he EVER going to make it to the top?

 

Finally, I decide that I won’t wait for the end of the movie. I’ve already lasted much longer than some of the other visitors. On the way out, I ask one of the attendants,

 

“Please tell me – is he EVER going to make it to the top of the hill?”

 

Like most of the attendants, he’s a good-looking black man who wears a navy blue blazer and speaks with a Caribbean accent.

 

“I don’t want to spoil the ending for you,” he says in a hushed voice.

 

“Don’t worry, you won’t be spoiling anything. I’m about to leave anyway.”

 

He bends down a bit, cups his mouth with his hand, and whispers,

 

“Okay then. I’ll tell you. Eventually, he gives up and turns left on the flat road, like the other large sedans, and just goes around the mountain instead up and over it.”

 

Duh.

 

As I contemplate the fate of the couple in the courtyard and the driver of the VW Beetle, my eyes fall on a young woman at a table across from me. She’s also by herself. We make eye contact and she nods and smiles at me, which catches me by surprise. I smile back and muster her inconspicuously. I figure her as a foreigner, probably from one of the eastern European countries. Black jacket, black skirt, dark top. No makeup, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Shy demeanor. Then she reaches for her pocketbook, pulls out a spiral notebook and pencil, and starts scribbling. I should have known.

 

I pull out my own pen to write down a memorable quote I saw at the gift shop: “Art is art. Everything else is everything else.”

 

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Margaret Ackerman–Where Do the Homeless Go to Die?

Margaret Ackerman—Where Do the Homeless Go to Die?

There was a time in Boston when police rounded up homeless individuals and brought them to shelters when the temperature dropped below 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Back in the 1970’s, when I was a new nurse at Boston City Hospital, they were admitted to the hospital when the shelters were full. The old city hospital was composed of twenty bed wards, so the men and women were kept separately. I worked on the men’s ward, which was fine by me because the men used urinals and I didn’t have to do “bedpan duty”, taking women on and off the bedpan. One particularly cold, quiet night, I was happy to get a call about such an admission.   Mr. Brody arrived via stretcher, yelling and cursing, not happy to be there, even if meant keeping me busy for a couple of hours. Having time on a busy ward was a precious gift and allowed me to deal with his anger in a calm, soothing manner. Trust me, if this had been the day shift, we would have left him in the hall, cursing, and spent our time attending to the busy demands of the ward. But this cold February night, I had all the time in the world, and I really wanted him to stay and keep me awake until the end of my shift.

“Hello, Mr. Brody. What can I get you to help you feel more comfortable?”

“I just want out. You can’t keep me here!”

“Well, it will only be for a few hours; why not just get you out of the cold for a good night’s sleep? How does that sound?”

“Maybe.”

I encouraged him to take a bath, and drew a warm tub for him.   Our homeless patrons often hadn’t bathed in months and were at risk for fleas, scabies or body lice, and the bath was a good way to do a full assessment. Plus, I thought it would warm his bones. Brody calmed down during the bath and became more pleasant. I took him to his bed. The ward was only partially full, so I was able to give him his own quadrant. I got him tucked in and brought him a glass of juice.

“A bath, a warm bed and a glass of juice,” he said, “what more could a man ask for?”

“Not much, but if you think of anything just ring”, I told him, handing him his all light.

“You know, I wasn’t always like this, I used to have a wife and kids, a job and a home. I used to be somebody.”

“Mr. Brody, you are somebody.”

________________________________________________________________

 

Several years have passed since I had that first lesson in engaging with a homeless person, and yet it continues to be a major social problem in the US. We have more homeless per capita than any other developed nation, with an annual rate of 3.5 million and a nightly number of 842,000.

So, where do the homeless go to die? Often labeled as non- compliant by the health care system, the homeless are left to fend for themselves, and they face multiple challenges for end of life care.   Over 70% of the homeless population is mentally ill or has substance use disorders, or, in many cases, both. Homeless people don’t engage in the health care system until disease is well advanced and treatment options are limited, typically seeking care in hospital emergency rooms and often hospitalizations. Many are quickly discharged if unable to follow the treatment plan. A more compassionate approach is to meet the patient on his/her terms, recognizing that the person is a somebody. I was fortunate to connect with two such patients while working as a nurse practitioner at the state hospital. These men coached me on refining my approach to care of the homeless.

One was Kevin, who was admitted from an acute care hospital with end stage liver disease.

His leathery, pocked skin, the color of dark mustard, matched his jaundiced eyes. He looked ready for childbirth, with a fluid-filled abdomen, known as ascites, the fabric of his cheap coat stretched across his belly. His feet were too swollen for shoes; instead he wore flimsy blue Styrofoam slippers hospitals issued to protect patients from germs, and white socks cut down the sides to avoid constricting his already-compromised circulation. A faint, sweet odor permeated the space in which he stood, the scent of accumulated ammonia indicative of the advanced state of his disease

He carried an old, cardboard suitcase adorned with travel stickers of days gone by: Las Vegas, Route 66, and Death Valley…. Places he had never seen.

He had been living in a tent in a childhood friend’s backyard.

At 43, Kevin had been alcoholic for close to 30 years. He’d had stretches of sobriety, long enough to marry and have children, but he had been unable to stay off the bottle. His wife divorced him, took the kids and moved to Florida. Now after years of drinking, he was dying of end stage liver disease, a nasty way to go.   The liver is the body’s filter; sorting out and eliminating toxins, and when it fails, the toxins accumulate, rendering the body toxic–a painful manifestation of the alcohol ingested by the body’s owner.

I looked at this man who was the same age as me and wondered how our lives were so different. I felt a surge of compassion as I introduced myself and said:

“Come in, sit down and tell me what brings you here.”

“You fucking bitch, can’t you read?’ He asked loudly, referring to the sheaths of paper given to me by the admitting clerk.

Compassion quickly ignited into a surge of anger–just for a moment.

I hit the reset button and said:

“Once we get to know each other a little better you’ll probably have many reasons to be angry with me, but since we just met I’m assuming you’re not really angry with me. So tell me, Kevin, what is it that has you so pissed off?”

Big sigh, shoulders dropped as Kevin put his head down and slumped into the chair:

“Everyone knows this is the place you come to do die. This is the last stop.”

I had heard this before from people in the community. Indeed the public health hospital was known among the homeless of the city who frequented the health care system, loosely and spontaneously developed around needs, as the last stop.

I looked into his eyes.

“Do you think that’s why you are here, to die?”

I expected more spewing, but instead he began to sob, shoulders heaving under the cheap wool of his coat.

“I know it is.”

“Let me help you,” I replied. “This is the last stop, and we will take very good care of you.”

____________________________________________________

Later that day, I completed his history. Kevin had been sick for a long time with chronic hepatitis. He was the youngest of six children of alcoholic parents. He had managed to put some clean time together from his mid 20’s to early 30’s and became a carpenter, but work became scarce and when money got tight, he divorced, which gave him a reason to drink.   He did odd jobs, lived in single room occupancies (SRO’s), shelters, with friends and families. His isolation increased as his disease progressed and he became homeless, holding a sign for money on street corners.

Telling me his story, he welled up, wiping tears away with his swollen paw. Letting his children down was his biggest regret in life.

“Would you like to speak with them?” I asked.

“They hate me.”

We discussed his advanced directives: he wanted comfort measures only, meaning no resuscitation, intubation or antibiotics.

“Let me die in peace of natural causes.”

As if there was anything natural about his condition.

He met with our social worker and agreed to allow her to contact his family. Yes, they wanted to speak with him. His kids, now adults, flew up to see him. Although the Social worker prepared them for his condition, they must have been shocked to see him after 20 years, fantasies and memories different from reality, now jaundiced and swollen beyond recognition.

The ninth step of Alcoholics Anonymous reads: Made direct amends to such people we had harmed.

They wept at his bedside and said their goodbyes–goodbye to a life they would never know. A peace descended on him: the yellows of his eyes becoming a hazy golden glow, his skin incandescent.

Two days later he died, but not before teaching me the importance of meeting him on his turf.

__________________________________________________________

I learned another lesson from a gentleman named Joe Mulligan.

He was an irascible 58- year old man who, although worn down physically by the drinking life, had retained handsome good looks in a tough-guy sort of way. He was well over 6 feet tall, slim built with thick white hair and bright blue eyes. His presence commanded deference. He was very clear on what he wanted: he was in charge of all things immediate in his environment, and damn you if you didn’t acquiesce. Everything about him boomed.

He had collapsed on the streets and been taken to the city hospital by the police. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, stage IV, and was told there was no hope for recovery. He was sent to the public health hospital because there was nowhere else for him to go.

Mulligan quickly instated himself as “ward boss” of the eighteen-bed unit. The nursing staff was frazzled by his manner, resulting in their being apprehensive to administer his care, much less establish any rules for behavior. Mulligan would pull out his IV and leave the floor with his posse, going outside for hours at a time, holding court and smoking cigarettes. Any other institution might well have discharged him, unable to follow their plan for his care (their plan for his care….hmmm).

The head nurse, Regina, came to me exasperated by Mulligan. Regina was an excellent nurse, compassionate, non-judgmental, and not easily frazzled.

“Peggy, you have got to do something about Mulligan. He’s driving everyone crazy.”

“How so?’

Regina described his behavior. “He’s been disconnecting his intravenous lines (through which he received replacement fluids and medications to manage his symptoms), leaving a trail of blood from his room to the elevator.”

I was having my own struggles with Mulligan, unable to engage him in conversation about his treatment and condition. I wasn’t quite sure what Mulligan knew about his illness, what he expected or what he wanted. He had blown me off when I made my daily rounds, marching by me hurriedly on his way to hold court. I could not think of a way to reach across that barrier and connect with him, until I remembered a song I had learned at the Catholic predominantly Irish grammar school I attended. It was a lively Irish ballad called Mulligan, M-U-double L- I-G-A-N spells Mulligan, Mulligan, Mulligan…proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me, Man. Devil a word a man can say agin me…M-U-double LL-I-G-A-N spells Mulligan, Mulligan, Mulligan”… at least that’s how I remembered the verse. The last line was “that’s me” or “that’s you”…we would sing the song loudly and shout “that’s you”-pointing to our classmate, Leo Mulligan. Mulligan’s parents were from Ireland and he had grown up in the Irish section of Boston, one of ten children. I’d never met an Irishman who wasn’t bursting with pride over being Irish, so I figured I’d give the serenade a try. I went into his room and sang to him. He stayed put, beaming at this recognition and laughed, pointing to himself and rasping, “that’s me” at the last line. Finally a connection!

When my concert was over I put it to him: “Mulligan, what is with you? Why are you driving the nurses and yourself crazy?”

“They can’t tell me what to do!”

“What is it you want to do”?

“I want to go outside and smoke, God damn it!”

He, Regina and I sat together and devised a plan whereby he could go out for scheduled smoke breaks that did not interfere with treatments. Shared decision making is a much-touted approach used in health care, whereby patient and staff engage in mutual decision-making about plans of care. This had been missing from Mulligan’s plan, mostly because he had been unwilling to discuss treatment, possibly frightened over his diagnosis, or of being “cooped up” and losing independence; after all, he had been living on the streets for many years and was fiercely independent, exhibiting all of the characteristics of a true survivor.  Because he was surly and not easily engaged, his wishes, wants, desires and most importantly, an understanding of his view on his illness, was overlooked in the planning of his care. He had opened this window of opportunity for me to discuss with him his recent cancer diagnosis, though, and I took it.

“Mulligan, what did those doctors at the hospital tell you about your health.”

“They told me I have cancer in my throat that isn’t curable and they can’t do anything for it. So I guess this is it–I’m going to die.”

He was matter of fact, and spoke in a manner that dared me to challenge him. I sensed he was one of those guys who talked in bullet points, and the interactions couldn’t be longer than five minutes, so I quickly formulated my approach.

“Mulligan, how do you want to die?”

“Not alone.”

“What about here?” I asked, “would this place be OK”?

He agreed that the public health hospital would be an OK place to die and agreed to a plan whereby he would leave the floor every four hours for thirty minutes off the unit. He went outside to smoke and visit with the other men and women gathered out there. They clustered in groups, smoking and talking, supporting each other. It was important to Mulligan’s overall treatment plan that he met with his group, outside. Meetings with social work or cancer support groups were not going to help him. I don’t know what he talked about down there or if he shared his diagnosis, but he did receive support from his community; sometimes someone would walk him back to the ward, pat him on the back and say “catch you later” or “hang in there”. That small gesture and the somewhat calmed affect of Mulligan reinforced a therapeutic, supportive connection.

He deteriorated quickly, dropping weight and becoming fragile. He still went outside for his breaks, but smoked less and less.

He was accepting of his imminent death, in fact it was as though he had been waiting for death. There wasn’t any emotion, tears, expression of regrets or last wishes for him. No one he wanted to see one last time; he just wanted to go in peace. Mulligan stopped going out and began taking pain medication, and although I know his pain must have been high, he never grimaced or complained. His voice left first, rendering him speechless. He communicated with his eyes, gesturing and using pencil and paper. He was a very intelligent guy, so adaptable and quick. I wondered what else he might have done with his life, but he never wanted to talk about himself and I knew not to push it with him, or I would have pushed myself right out of his care.

Mulligan slipped right past denial, anger and bargaining into the acceptance stage. He died the way he wanted-quietly and peacefully in his bed at the public health hospital.

Developing mobile end-of-life units for the homeless may not be possible, but creating the space for them to receive the care they need to allow them to die on their own terms, is. It requires stepping outside of the box and allowing active participation in care planning. It also requires active listening and true compassion on the part of the caretaker.

POETRY: Susan Austin–The Sweet and the Dark

Susan Austin—The Sweet and the Dark

These hot June mornings I walk in the shade of aspen, through
the willing grass.

I wonder if I might meet the grizzly sow talked about in town,
her three bright cubs sniffing the air like their mother.

It wouldn’t be a pleasant end. Messy,

buried in a scratch of earth to ripen, the dead
and living forest for a blanket.

You have to know loneliness deep within your bones,
the willing marrow.

What does one miss and know not to miss at all?

Once I saw a string of mucous stretch nose to foot
on a drunk man mumbling in the gutter. I did not want to dirty my new green dress.
He smelled like soured milk until he turned

to say, I miss you.

I helped two bikers haul him up a flight of narrow stairs
to the place where he lived two blocks from the bar—

a stained mattress on bare coiled springs, a sink ringed with rust, a yellowed
toilet bowl, so everything he knew for certain about himself was right out in the open.

Tonight Venus, Jupiter and Regulus will line up straight as the crow flies in the western sky.

The sweet and dark.

One of the bikers, a woman dressed head to toe in silver studded leather,
she helped rinse the skirt of my dress in the sink.

Kim Strellis–Standing in the Creek

Kim Strellis–Standing in the Creek

 

A realm of certainty survives the cries of

what’s leftover from lightening’s rage as she watches

the storm pass

Indian Paintbrush blooms, calm ease and confidence

floating along, free to skip a rock, energized

across the water, snowy crystal glints herald signs of melt

streaming past lupine’s wisps and pine

life light colors lead the way

silently, fearlessly, conspicuously hidden, standing firm

against dead wood, dry flames, disagreeable intrusion

yet sway giving room to refusal and just not ready

while she remains secure, stable

standing in the creek of silvery lupine, agate, jasper and heliodor

professing her quiet declaration, I will not be constrained

 

Barbara Lindstrom–Words, Found

Barbara Lindstrom—Words, Found

 

I am not there

knee-high in Kansas prairie grass

where I live now,

nor walking between eye-level

stalks of Iowa corn, where I detassled

as an eager teen trying to please

my farm-grown dad,

 

but instead, here,

lost between potato fields

 

driving over Teton Pass

 

to Jackson, and waiting,

hoping for a chance

to know if I will

ever not be waiting

 

but found.

Fay Guinn–Christian Creek

Fay Guinn–CHRISTIAN CREEK

 

Behind our house ran a creek

banked about ten feet deep,

soldiered by trees, brush and kudzu.

 

Water trickled in a drought,

roared when gorged with rain.

My three boys explored its depths

like modern Huckleberry Finns.

 

To them it might as well have been

the Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri.

Gleefully, they gifted me

with bounty of muddy treasure –

shelled, smooth, and scaly creatures,

prehistoric, amphibian menagerie.

 

Their eyes saucered in wonder

at each slimy, aquatic prize.

Mouths o’d and voices squealed

at the thrill of reptile ribbons

wriggling, slithering over arms,

hands, fingers, feet, and toes.

 

Determined not to quench

their insatiable thirst

for fearless adventure

and fascination with creation,

I lost my fear of snakes.

 

Brian Nystrom–Confluence

Brian Nystrom–Confluence

I asked the river Why are you always running

away from home like some desperate teenage girl?

I saw you smoking cigarettes in the alley with that angel

from Pearl Street, the one with the jailhouse tattoos

and the elaborate piercings. Act your age, River.

 

I asked the river Why do you keep falling

like Gravity is your only friend? She betrays you over

and over and yet you keep falling for her, as if you can’t resist.

Her bleak majesty must call to you, even though or

because you know you can’t have her.

 

I asked the river, River, what did you mean by that look,

when you were swollen with rain and I couldn’t stand

not to be wet so I jumped in? The river as always held her cards

close to her breasts, because they were trout and they glimmered,

and I wanted so badly to hold them.

 

Cara Rodriguez–At Seven

Cara Rodriguez–At Seven

 

At seven years old

a boy would walk with me,

trod through the field with me

on my way home each day.

He left me at my house,

waved good-bye,

and flip-flopped down the street,

further down where the gutters hung low

and siding was black in the creases,

paint peeling,

grass brown and tipping over

through the bent chain link.

 

“You love him,” they teased.

“You love that black boy.”

 

I didn’t,

but I didn’t not love him either,

his tall frame and long arms

dangling like broken hangers as we lolled along,

his large grin, not sure of anything.

 

John Floyd,

your pink tongue

a thick salmon in your mouth,

spoke of your father

who worked at the rail yard,

who came home streaked with coal,

who didn’t own a shirt without a hole or a stain.

 

John Floyd,

your gums pink like a slick worm,

pink like the pads of cat paws,

pink like a lily,

pink

like my own embarrassed cheeks,

I remember only once

that your mouth grew wide with torment,

and your white teeth showed themselves to the world.

A sound rose from your young belly

like thousands of years of birth and death,

and anger filled your fists as you sealed

them to your ribs.

 

All this as you wept and wept.

 

I could not stand to look

and so I stared at my knees,

at my picket fence, at the witness clouds

and saw

white, white, white.

 

Later, sitting on the curb, the cement hot and rough under our legs,

the dried salt streams on your face

felt like chalk under my thumb,

and the pink rims of your eyes

were small sad smiles.

 

Jean Tate–One immutable note

Jean Tate—                             One immutable note

a.m. taxi to Jackson Airport 6/15

 

Crusted eyes awaken

 

a lemony swathe crosses infinity

 

(early hour for a soul’s instruction)

 

translucent yellow stretched atop dark contours

 

their mix of purple-charcoal bone

 

 

like beached whales humming,

 

abandoned oceans push inward

 

ridges move toward each other,

 

kiss along one simple line

 

 

Teewinot’s penciled edges

blush

 

roseate swathes on chiseled faces.

 

glancing backward, to where grasslands blur

 

eagle eyes sear ochre into stone

 

 

On the Road From Bozeman–Melissa Snider

Melissa Snider–On the Road from Bozeman

 

Useless wipers thump,

four hundred miles

to go, white-out, a dizzying blur

on our way home from the funeral.

 

We do not want to be here,

but keep driving because

if we stop

we may disappear.

 

Also, we promised to call home

at every rest stop.

 

The heat and music

are cranked. We talk

about where the edges

of the road might be.

We talk about my upcoming semester

abroad, in a place

where it never snows.

 

Mostly we don’t talk, we squint

into the storm-

try to make out any sign

of another car, of what’s

coming next, or the end

of the blizzard. Later,

we learn that the road was closed

after we got on it.

 

Anyway, sunshine

would have felt dishonest. Nature

calls. We pull to what we think

is the side of the road, and squat

in the protection of the front door, which is to say,

no protection at all. The wind blasts

and we laugh

like we have so often, until we’re gasping

for breath, and the impenetrable

white whips all around us,

our cocoon, our shroud, and the bitter cold

wind dries our tears

before they’ve even formed, and inside,

something cracks the way ice on a pond breaks

from below, while surface stays smooth.