I am the garden. My stone walls
Curve around this hollow
Aside that rocky hill.
After winter’s fallow
My olive trees
Carpet me in yellow and white.
You watched alone that night
Weeping in my bower.
I watched your friends flee
But could not follow.
I’m watching still
In my hillside shallow
My olives growing tall.
Watered by your tears,
They’ll grow for a thousand years.
I broke branches for him
Snagged my cloak on thorns
Held the magic door open a moment too long
So he could enter
So he could follow
Did you hear something? I asked
In the copper wood
My sisters heard only music
Who’s there? I asked
Daring him show his face
To the silver moon
He stayed in shadow
When the dancing was done
The golden boughs dripped dew
Our slippers dripped blood
My tiny boat dragged
Heavy with the weight of him
I trailed my fingers in that cold water
Watched behind as he crossed my ripples
With silent eddies of his own
He married my older sister in the end
Men want what they always want
Even that poor soldier
Stepping on my gown
Spilling leaves in my cup
He looks just like an opossum, startled by headlights,
His pink nose and beady brown eyes
Crowned with reflective silvering hair.
You can imagine him heading out to a party,
Lips smacking as he wanders in search of a mate.
When an opossum plays possum,
When a teenager drinks too much beer,
His lips are drawn back, the teeth are bared,
Saliva forms around the mouth.
There’s a foul smell we won’t discuss.
His eyes close or half-close, involuntarily.
Once he passes out, the stiff form
Can be prodded and turned over, or even carried away.
The animal, or the college freshman,
Will typically regain consciousness
After a period of a few minutes up to four hours,
A process that begins with a slight
Twitching of the ears, and ends
With a Supreme Court nomination.
The black rock presses back against the sea.
Waves crash against its back, spit through its cracks.
Let us astonish ourselves, let us leap,
Blind to convention, out among those deep
Waters, waves parting as we arc faster,
Hands outstretched, fingers gripping until we
Cover our own heads, astonished, blinded
By salt foam, water swallows our faces.
Blind, we grope towards each other, lost in deep
Waters. Nothing holds here, nothing can keep
Its old shape. Let the undertow draw us
Under, deeper, leaving no trail behind
Us, airless, lost to black rock and the sea.
Laughing, we leap backwards, spitting out salt.
I am a good shepherd! I’ve worked my
Whole life for everything I’ve got.
I lie down in green pastures
I fish in quiet waters
I go to church whenever my soul wants refreshing.
My momma led me in the right paths,
I carry my father’s name.
Mostly I keep out of dark
Valleys, but if I have to go in,
I’m thankful for my concealed carry permit,
And my right to own an AR-15.
I will fear no evil,
For I can take care of myself pretty well.
I like old hymns and country music,
Comfort food for a tired soul.
My wife sets the table
If she gets a good shift at Walmart
And makes it home before I do.
Otherwise I set it myself.
We all work there now, it’s the
Only place left that’s still hiring.
I can change my own oil.
I don’t drink too much.
But I still have a shorter lifespan
Than my old man did.
I just want to live and die
In my own damn house,
With my own damn guns,
And my own damn dog.
Is that too much to ask?
Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Second Amendment.
Hallowed be the First one, too, which
Confirms our Right to worship Thee
Howsoever we darn well please.
Don’t fret too much about thy Kingdom,
We will usher that in on thy behalf.
We’ll enforce thy will on Earth;
You keep doing your thing in Heaven
(I think we’re all good with that).
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our occasional misgivings,
As we work against all those
Who mistakenly work against Thee.
Lead us not into weakness or sentimentality,
But deliver us from Lefties, Pinkos,
Transgenders, Queers, Greens,
Any and all gun-control advocates, and
Above all, from Hillary Clinton.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the
Power, and the Glory that you have
Given us, forever and ever,
An orange, cut in neat slices across the grain,
Sits on the cutting board,
Ready for teeth and tongue.
It’s a messy proposition, vibrant, advertising
Sour sweetness on the plate, in the scented air.
My mother loves oranges.
In childhood, she had nothing.
Family of nine living in a defunct service station
Just outside her Colorado town.
Hard-packed dirt floor,
Stained-glass kitchen window
Pieced together from ends of beer bottles
Scavenged from the roadside,
Set in a wall built of oil cans
Packed with sand against rain and wind and snow.
She tells of fixing the chimney in a blizzard,
Her dad coughing below, coughing, coughing
As lead dust from the munitions factory
Seeps from his lungs into blood and brain.
War work, for a man too old to fight.
Mom taught me to peel oranges
With straight shallow cuts, stem to navel,
Pulling the peels off in strips like bright orange canoes,
Or cutting round and round, a corkscrew spiral.
Throw it over your shoulder
For the letter of a name
Of the man you will marry,
P for Peter, G for Garland.
Everything she had was a hand-me-down.
Clothes, books, whooping cough.
Her father’s faith.
Only the orthopedic shoes were hers alone.
Heavy, ugly, wear them every day
Or grow up a cripple.
I thought she grew up in Little House on the Prairie,
Not the 1950’s we used to watch on tv.
Other girls had poodle skirts, saddle shoes,
Boyfriends with cars.
My mother had oranges.
Golden, ripe, sunshine in a box at Christmas
From her California grandmother.
She still eats one every day.
Or two, if she’s forgotten the one
She already had this morning.
She was raised to be tidy, so even the peels
Don’t give her away.
Only the sweet mist of orange zest
In air scented with memory.
Kimmy’s house was a fascination. Antique sofas you couldn’t touch, covered, like the lampshades, with thick clear plastic. Plastic on the Persian rugs. Crackling plastic, a living room you couldn’t live in. There had been normal furniture, some kind of regular old sofa, carpet on the floor, when we first moved in next door, but at some point in her madness, Adelina had made her home a museum. Miguel, the crazy one, stayed locked in his bedroom when he wasn’t at work soldering circuit-boards or whatever it was he did there. Eric the horticulturalist left his bongs and pot-growing magazines in the one tiny room with a sofa you could sit on, plastic and all. And Kimmy was there, about my age, the same red hair as me, the same freckles on the nose, my magical unrelated twin living right next door.
Kimmy also inhabited that house, somehow. She could sit in the tv room and read a book or play with toys. She had a bedroom with a nearly empty closet, two or three toys, a shelf maybe, a dresser, twin beds, one book that I can remember, and an enormous candy egg, the size of an ostrich egg, with a hole in one end where you could look in and see bunnies and chicks frolicking in the grass. We would break bits of ancient icing off it and nibble at it, months or years after whatever Easter whim brought it into the house. Adelina had real ones, beautiful hand-painted hen’s eggs with miniature scenes inside. An ostrich egg on a stand on a glass display table. Intricate jeweled confections that must have been replicas of Faberge eggs, that we were allowed oh so carefully to open or turn or peak into.
When I was younger, before the stained glass, before the baby grand piano, before the carpet was ripped out, before the sanding and staining and grooving and pegging of the old original oak floors, it was the kind of house that might have had a small skull next to a candle, on a shelf overlooked by a painting of an angel, hovering over a small white child with a bandaged head, held lovingly by a dark woman whose forehead was pierced by a thorn. I was fascinated by the thorn, by the piercing of it, by the limp white child with the blond hair, but mostly with the thorn and the blood. We did not have a house with paintings of blood and thorns and limp white children. I think we had a plaque or two, saying this or that about Godliness and homelife, “Whatever is done for Christ will last” or an etched-wood Psalm. An upright piano, food in the fridge, cans in the cupboard, sofas you could sit on, toys neighbors gave us but plenty of them, clothes church families gave us, enough not to go without.
No bongs, no ornate eggs, no antiques. No screaming fights on a Saturday evening, when one or the other of Kimmy’s brothers would walk her over to our place to be out of the fight, then fetch her back again after it was done, some hour long past my 8:30 bedtime. No skulls. No thorns, except on the old rose bush in our backyard that hardly ever bloomed, or on the bougainvilleas we called the “paper flower” bushes, or on the pyracantha by our front door. Pyracantha and oleander and bottle brush– everything in our yard was prickly or poisonous.
Kimmy’s backyard had an olive tree, and supposed tangerines that tasted like sour limes, and a great enormous spiky dinosaur pine they called the Monkey Tree that every few years dropped massive cones larger than pineapples tumbling and crashing down through the branches and chasing us across her back lawn, or denting some stranger’s car as it drove through the alley behind our houses. Kimmy’s house was exotic, dangerous, dark. Ours was light, happy, ordinary. My parents argued privately, in low voices, after we went to bed. They still divorced, of course, even without skulls or thorns or intricate ornate eggs. We kept our own darknesses in closets and under the bed. I hardly knew they were there.
“Thoughts on a Painting by Paul Cezanne” by Sharon Rauenzahn
The father sits, ankles crossed, eyes tilted down into his evening news. His brown shoes are sturdy, well-worn, the trousers look like work jeans, and maybe they were. He has strong fingers, a calm, serious face. You can’t tell, in this study by Paul Cezanne, whether his father smiled much, whether his eyes were bright when he lifted them from the paper. He wears a dark brown jacket over a button collar shirt. He’d be fashionable today, in San Jose or Seattle, cuffed work jeans, that dark jacket, a neat black cap pulled over his forehead. I imagine him with a cellphone, swiping past current events, past the horse race outcomes and the boxing scores, but who gets news like that anymore? Those belong to paper news, and my own childhood. What would he read instead? Imagine him giving a short grunt of a laugh at some silly photo of his grandson, tossing the phone down on a table that’s out of view, looking up, as he never looks up, hasn’t looked up for 150 years.
But that whole painting is a joke, I discover, according to my own phone of limitless knowledge. His father never read that paper, it’s the one Cezanne’s friend Emile Zola wrote for, who encouraged him to pursue art instead of banking. So picture the father again, coffee cup in hand, reading the Chronicle in Starbucks, where they still take a newspaper. Picture him a venture capitalist, confident and relaxed in his grey jeans, his work shoes, the white socks, his dark jacket and white cuffs, no tie, that neat cap, those strong hands holding the paper with two fingers. “You’ll never make any money,” he says. You might sell a Cezanne for $20 million these days, if the government lets you, but Snapchat sold itself for $33 billion this morning, for a company that makes disappearing photos. “You’re in the wrong line of work,” the old man says. He squints a little, eyes tilted down to his paper. I wonder if he needs reading glasses, but won’t wear them. 150 years reading that paper, and he never looks up.