Poems written in a tumultuous era of fires, floods, earthquakes, blackouts, and riots.
THE 13TH DAY BLACKOUT
The usher burst in,
“The whole city’s black!”
We were in the audience when the
lights surged out.
Stagehands with candles lit the
stage, the act continued for
those who stayed. Some ran away.
At curtain, we were drawn from the
dark hall to lights of limousines
parked on the plaza,
luring us to a darker night. We
wandered past people who
perched at edges of
We eased on to the street.
Drenched with heat, we
carved our way through
people clawing for huddled buses,
through crowds attached to
sidewalks, streets, dodging a
caravan of cars escaping
We pushed on through, with
clasped hands, and grimly smiled
until we reached the heart
of the City of No Light,
the Square of Time,
where no neon flashed,
the pulse had stopped,
and except for the
rumbling of cars,
Soundlessness suspended us
in that place of no plans, no force.
Still holding hands, we strolled past
broken windows, looted stores,
past crowds hovering ’round
a single radio.
Wondering when the play would end,
searching for a denouement, we
stumble down dark subway stairs,
into silent hollows, we hear ourselves
whisper in the eerie echo of the tunnel,
as we stare down the line, lighters flicker in the
hands of passengers stuck in cars, flame, then dark,
flame and dark, like giant lightning bugs.
At the sound of rats scampering over dead
third rail, we stagger through the turnstiles,
and back upstairs where the night seems
brighter in the kaleidoscopic play of headlights
on high rises, our eyes travel upward toward
skyscraper quarters, the glimmer of candles
from bedroom windows. Disaster’s aphrodisiac traps
tenants in their homes, in their beds together,
as in another long forgotten time,
with enough light for them to catch the
reflections of each other’s eyes.
We stare, and keep walking,
over the sidewalk’s heat and
the history held beneath it,
stare past the skyscrapers to the stars beyond.
The stars wink back, as if they understand that countless
years from now they will see this blink of darkness,
this soothing, velvet darkness,
as a premonition of the blackness
that will replace these fragile lights. When
this blackout floats toward them on that future, distant night,
this city will have long ago turned off its lights forever.
(New York, July 13, 1977)
Sonnet for Lynn Redgrave
Above my head a hawk dips by the sun
Then drops a feather, as if toward my hand,
Floating down, I remember that one
Spirit, just flown, still sheds her gifts that land
so gently on my soul. A woodpecker’s cry
pierces my reverie, reminder of the curtain
Death draws down, and memory of her wry
musings, sharp wit, and kind action
Move me past my mourning of her absence
into action. For she could not have known
the wealth she gave, in praises of my presence,
nor how her gifts illuminate my own.
My unknowing mentor helps my voice to sing
And to recognize others that need voicing.
So while I’ve time remaining, I’ll give wing
To fledglings not yet sure of flying.
My own last cry will come, desired or no,
So, for her, I’ll drop a feather as I go.
If I die before you
If I die before you, and you are there to toss my ashes
in some sweet place, remember-well, who knows what will
surface or our time together. Will you hear again
the song I sang, or dance a little dance for
my melted bones? I hope some echo of
shared laughter will linger in your head.
I look for comfort now, I miss the dead. I do not
dread my passing. But when friends go,
I cannot take some distant stance-“What’s
done is done, Life goes on, mustn’t linger
there too long”-NO. My world contracts,
some mystery once held is gone.
So if you are left when I am gone,
I’ll leave my words, my songs
to soothe the wrongs I’ve done.
If you still retain my thoughtless act,
say it to my bones, and leave it for the dogs to bury.
Take with you the gifts I wished to give:
a tender word,
a brief embrace, some simple dance, a song.
August in Tuscany
Toscana wind blows again
in the late afternoon, geese honk
across the house as friends sleep
within it. The teasing wind
sounds like rolling thunder with
the windows closed. Once they’re opened,
the windows surge and bang
the rhythm of the hot-tempered
blasts. No one sleeps long in
such wind. No one wants to miss the
sweeping away of the midday heat.
And yet, today, the wind dies too,
long before it makes its brush past
the sun’s daily death.
Stillness pocked by crickets’ chatter,
prayers for rain unanswered,
fields of sunflowers keep a
bowed head vigil
and bloom anyway.
ON SHAKY GROUND
Fingers dig in new-dug ground,
Bare hands hurry to replant
upturned roots before nails are
washed, hair combed, boat caught.
Air changes, coat is grabbed as
sweat from garden lingers on
summer clothes. No time to wash it
all, she carries the stink of
planting with her, to the next meeting
that winds beyond the meadow, to what
she knows cannot be casual, as her
clothes pretend. She tries to end it
there, in that changing weather.
She goes off by herself to a safe,
Indoor exploration of the
fading afternoon. But, unable to resist,
she twists the course of her direction
back to him again, ignoring time, all
appointments, and plops herself in
the park-green sea of frisbees, softball.
Fireworks boom out her arrival. Swallows
swoop above their heads as they meet
in the midst of dog-sniffed turf.
She hopes the sun will
win the battle of the sky, but
winds release clouds over
two lone bodies in the crowd.
They curl together, first for warmth,
then from need, then quickly
separate and dig their fingers
into ground for steadying.