The poems in this International Issue of Persimmon Tree are certainly aware of aging — but always from a perspective of intense interest, of a sense of renewal and re-invention. The issue begins with two simple and subtle poems by Eva Eliav that, appropriately, “fall awake” into age. Chellis Glendinning explores the slippage of language in translation and in life in which it is possible for a poem to appear. Margo Berdeshevsky’s poem considers the cost of being human, of struggling with memories of difficult mothers. Jo Milgrom’s poem is up there, on a high wire, testing the idea of immortality. Katharine O’Flynn touchingly connects past and present with orange lilies, while Lalita Noronha playfully compares our lifetime to that of insects. Lois Elaine Heckman’s sonnet uses cutting hair as metaphor for cutting away the past. For Venie Holmgren, it is the wind that is full of the past and for Althea Romeo-Mark, what passes from generation to generation is not necessarily a good thing. Barbara A Taylor sees the rest of her life in the rich movements of everyday activities, all of it a steady letting go of the past. Mori Glaser closes the door against a past she doesn’t want any more, one that feels now like a dream. And in Malinda Crispin’s poem, which is the dream and which is real? They’re tangled in a wonderfully shimmering way.
Led by these rich and varied approaches to growing old — to holding onto and letting go of the past — I have concluded this issue attempting to do the same, by means of the poor baffled squirrels in my poem.
she’s slipped out of
what she’s wearing now
is just a sweater
over an old nightgown
doesn’t like housecoats much
they remind her of
a sweater smells
of walks in the open air
with dusty sunlight
so many burdens gone
proudly she thinks
not many could handle
a featureless sea
like a baby on its back
playing with its toes
on an empty floor
torment and blessing
watching the sun slide down
in its own sweet time
feeling her mouth
singing the dark
she fools you
because she’s always young
you flow with her
leave history behind
tossing his schoolbag
shouts I’m home
in her eyes
you fall awake
an aging woman nodding
your empty cup
with yellow blossoms
this is the poem he told me to write
under the splash of the moonlight, and he wasn’t speaking
his native Spanish/Aymara/French/Italian
no, the words came out in English so I’d really understand
like go write a poem, he said, get out of my hair
his bald spot buff like the gap gawking from
atop a power plant from whence escapes raison d‘être,
disaparecida by a Ford Falcon and M-14s
all memory of who-when-why drugged and dumped into the ocean
la mezzaluna in the sky, its slippage to the sidewalk came
out of the blue, and with it a turnabout in international relations
in Spanish/Aymara/French/Italian — and English
cun sañasauca’ha? from the dawn of words, it is,
a poem appears
…For Children Of…
His, a sloth, hers, a rattlesnake — these are their dead
mothers’ bodies — in the avid tongue of British irony.
Lesson for an American who has none — irony, that is.
Difference between us is they haven’t any
know in hell, one laughs.
He means me — my poems of excess & no
jokes, globe’s body I plunder for peace, or night’s wet
hand; my world’s too dry eyed, it flies with charred birds.
My own mama was kinder than a rattler, dying so
desperate for applause
she spilled from her chair
in the most famous
restaurant on Broadway —
Before that — she crawled.
Her belly gold with brandy, & tarnished
bravura. Before that — she had a daughter;
ironic; she’d have been so proud
of her blonde,
spouting poems in a distant iron light,
never mind the silent tin roof, its stinted
Never mind, daughter of — or son, he smiled,
of sloth —
never mind, when iron breaks, it’s rust
before it bows. ( A difference between us.)
Still, there are costly coins, for our mothers’ eyes.
union. So human: our body. Shedding our used, intrepid skins.
August 7, 1974 “Conquistador of the Useless” Werner Herzog
Homage to Philippe Petit, Wire Walker
On the cover of his book
This guy is taking a siesta on a steel cable
In the clouds, oblivious to gravity, and the void below
Where all the faces of Manhattan are turned up
to that tiny balancing human figure
in awe, fear, disbelief.
For forty five minutes he ambles, dances
back and forth between the Twin Towers
As if testing his immortality
not knowing that he was testing
The immortality of the Towers.
It is a very narrow bridge
Gesher tsar m’od
The point is not to be afraid.
Elegy at Gowett’s Spring
Orange lilies lead us to the place
where once beside the river’s shallow shore
a village thrived.
Imagine children’s voices; hear the crack of axe on wood;
a cow lowing for its calf;
a rumbling wagon;
and always, then as now,
the grating murmur of river water rounding river rocks.
See by a granite door-step a woman kneeling
to plant in the raw earth a few dry, withered roots
from the old place across the lake.
See her rise, one hand against her aching back,
as she looks upon the stump-fenced field before her,
wondering will she ever come to call this raw new place her home.
And now the forest stands again,
where once her house and others stood,
lasted their time, and then,
and drifted with the leaves away.
The orange lilies stayed,
and mark her place.
A Poet’s Calculations
Paired in vials of cobalt blue media,
they mate, metamorphose in ten days,
specks of eggs hatch squirming larvae,
rice-grain pupae, adult fruit flies.
My students chart sex ratios and the inheritance of traits,
black, round-bodied males, spiny oblong females,
sepia eyes, vestigial wings.
They record data, analyze, calculate gene frequencies.
It’s all done in a month.
My calculations: Should I live to be, say eighty,
a respectable age in these times,
that month of teaching, a thousandth of my life-span,
flew by before I stopped to count butterflies,
or wrote the last line of this poem.
Lois Elaine Heckman
She always cut her hair to prove an end.
It cleared the copse from untried pathways, or
machete amputated dangling vines
of memories. The curls coiled to the floor
in spirals, like dead leaves precipitate,
to leave her barren headed promises
for future springs; a punishment to smite
her faith; a comment without compromise.
This time conclusion’s robbed her of too much
esprit: to hack the hair would leave her core
exposed and raw, a torture in the touch.
She won’t traverse new thresholds anymore,
emerging on the other side, to scoff
at past mistakes and thumb her nose at life.
this wind that
sending the white clouds
across a blue sky
rustling up the memories
from dead leaves
in the garden
bending the branches of the tree tops
bowing them low
so full of memories
of empty promises
The cure tested for generations
on West African shores
remains only a threat today
on some Caribbean Isles.
Elders used to string tin cans
on twines and ropes and tie them
round tiny waists and ankles.
The tins clang-clanged
as children goaded with “goan, goan”
were paraded through village streets.
Heads hung, salty tears
streaked small black faces
in the morning’s island breeze.
There was no need for cardboard signs.
The clanging said it all:
Barbara A Taylor
Avoidance As Therapy
I foresee the rest of my life
will be spent cleaning
mouse-poo off my kitchen shelves,
feeding those darned no-laying hens,
fussing about one dear toothless cow;
a daily search for ticks on the geriatric dog;
tugging fat leeches from my skin,
slashing these overgrown paddocks;
pulling on vines, yanking out weeds,
chopping the wood; planting, planting
basil and tomatoes and beans…
mulching, mulching, mulching
and, if at all, there’s energy left,
relaxing at sunset
without any thoughts
on some lover
bed before moonrise
breakfast with the morning star
letting go the past
A dog in the street this morning woke me
as I caught a glimpse of my dream,
a footprint deep in my quilt.
Had you come for me at dawn?
Where did we spend our dream morning?
Many years ago, we lay side by side
dreaming each other’s life.
Long before we woke
I got out of bed
dressed in a business suit I didn’t yet own
left the house on foot
through the park and over the hill
to a large asymmetrical building
ready for the day that you would spend awake.
Beside me as I slept and dressed and walked
you sighed and turned
and dreamed of my daily bus ride.
Your walk to work took me further than I dreamed I would ever go.
I expanded myself so I could be everything you dreamed of
and contracted myself so you could be everything I dreamed of.
I waited too long on the edge of the cliff as you gaily rappelled down
wishing you would come home.
You came in the morning
but I had already closed the door
to keep the cold draught of your abyss
from whipping round the edges of my warm dreams.
On a cafè terrace by the Loire,
I lapse into a drowsy reverie. Across the lane,
the Mairie’s wall is etched with records
of past floods, the topmost out of reach.
Heat waves shimmer on the cobblestones.
As I watch, the water mounts,
swallows trees and limestone walls,
rises slowly to the highest mark.
Overhead the surface ripples, lures trout
to leap for flies, while in the shadows
of the tree beside me lurks a mottled pike.
Along the quay, a catfish, gray and heavy,
glides above the wall, its whiskers trailing at its sides.
Regarde! Un hèron! laughs a woman’s voice nearby.
The catfish whiskers turn to gliding wings;
the sun glints on the river far below, the swallows swoop
and cry above us, and beneath the tree a spotted dog
turns and settles into sleep.
Clever Bird Feeders
One has a rotating round perch at the bottom, battery-powered,
that throws off the squirrel by centrifugal force.
Unless the tormented creature’s afraid to let go, in which case
it spins around forever. You can watch it on YouTube
and laugh and lament. Others have collapsing perches.
The one we bought slides its metal frame over the feeder –
holes when a squirrel’s weight hits. It’s all in figuring
how far a squirrel can dangle by its feet, how small
the metal grid must be, how heavy the bird; each one’s brochure
pitifully pledges to outwit creatures who live by their wits.
Today we had a nuthatch, chickadees, finally a goldfinch.
And one black squirrel who tried to gnaw through the wire
but has given up for now. What if we’ve won? The tumultuousness,
the disturbing influence, gone. Next the jet skis,
and we’d have our longed-for utter placidity, wind dying down,
sails luffing. Remember when you trapped
the squirrels and drove them deep into the park across the road,
and they almost beat you home? There seemed to be
no way to escape the word desperate —or grasp or cling,
or scramble. Remember when you and I could
hardly touch without wanting everything at once?
Remember when we sat next to each other
at the poet’s reading? Nothing between us yet, but our
shoulders and knees didn’t fool her from on stage,
their wild, secret exchange. That look she gave us, after, when
we said, “Just friends.” Just wait, Uncle Dick says:
when the price of oil goes up, jet-skis will be gone.
Meanwhile, they’re plowing across, spraying their idiotic
rooster-tails or squirrel-tails, whatever. Nonetheless,
it’s been a good life so far, all our longing
and desire, all our grabbing on and being flung off,
if now it seems more delicious to fall asleep
five minutes into our very good bedtime books.