Minus

IMG_0133 2.jpg

Minus

“The earth is geoidal, i.e. earth-shaped.”
These words, dictated to me by the geography
master when I was about fifteen years old,
taught me that teachers didn’t really know
all there was to know. Nor, indeed, did they
need to know everything. “I don’t know,
I’ll check and tell you later,” breaks the myth
of infallibility but sets up sympathetic links.

“What do groundhogs eat?” the little girl
asks her classroom teacher. “Spaghetti,”
comes back the instant answer from one
who doesn’t know that every day the child
watches the groundhog that lives in her yard
devour delicate New Brunswick violets.
“Spaghetti, with mushroom sauce, of course.”

Then one day comes the spelling test:
“How do you spell minus?”
M-I-N-O-S.”
“Wrong. Try again.”
M-I-N-A-S.”
“Wrong again.
You think you’re so clever.
Everybody knows it’s
M-I-N-U-S.
Don’t we class?”
The class breaks into shrieks and giggles.

Everyone knows how to spell minus:
even the one who has just read how Theseus
followed Ariadne’s thread to escape from
the Minotaur who roamed the Labyrinth
beneath the Cretan Palace of Knossos.

That one was present too, in her own mind,
at the Siege of Minas Tirith, when Gandalf
held five evil kings at bay and Aragorn fought
the nameless Dark Lord who dwelt beneath
the shadow in the land of M-O-R-D-O-R,
a Lord not so powerful M-I-N-U-S his ring.

Not On My Watch!

img_0141-2

Not On My Watch!

The black-and-white cat
sits in the window and watches
the ginger cat who lounges on the porch
and watches the five deer
who stand in the woods at the garden’s foot
and watch the neighbor’s little dog
who watches the raccoon
who disdainfully removes the garbage can lid
and fishes out the food, scattering
paper and wrappers and cans
as four crows sit in the tree and watch
the wind as it whistles the papers
round and round in a windmill
that wraps itself round the feet
of another neighbor who is watching
the raccoon with open-eyes
as a seagull flies above him
and bombs him from above,
damn seagulls, and the bird poop
falls right on my neighbor’s watch face
and he cries out
“Oh no, not on my watch!”

The Return

Avila 2008 003

The Return

I opened the car door
and he ran across the parking lot
and jumped into the back seat.

“Where have you been?” I asked.
He thumped his great tail, sniffed,
and licked the hand I placed on his shadowy head.

As we drove back home, he thrust his head
between the seats and placed his paw upon my shoulder.
Then he licked my ear and the side of my face.

I pulled into the garage and let him out of the car.
He raced to the end of the drive, surveyed the neighborhood,
and drilled an invisible pee into the snow.

I whistled, and he ran back to the door,
whimpering and scratching, impatient.
I held the door open and he bounded in.
“You’re back home now,” I told him.

He ran to the cat’s bowl and lapped some water,
scoffed her kibble, and lay down in his usual place.

At night, he lies beside me in bed,
a fluffy spoon carved into my body’s curve.
In the morning he walks through the kitchen
and doesn’t make a sound.
The cat senses he’s there and bristles and hisses
at rainbow motes dancing in the sun.

He’s sitting beside me now,
head on my knee, as I type these words,
one-handed, because I’m scratching him
in his favorite spot behind the ear.

Vixen

 

IMG_0190

Vixen

Meductic,
New Brunswick.

She climbs up from the head pond
a ripple of red and orange over the highway.

 As quick as a fox, they say:
black socks, brush winter-thick
held high and proud,
as quick as a shadow
melting into dark woods
on the highway’s far side.

She is followed by her cub
who is not quite as quick.
He is struck by a truck
and ground into the gravel.

 The fox-stink of memory
clings to my nostrils
like slow-motion death
dreamed at night
frame by bitter frame
.

 Now a night-time of silence
falls from the lips of fading lovers.

Raccoon

IMG_0080.JPG

Raccoon

Two footprints on the dew damp chair
show that he has been here.

We know he visits at night.
The cat wakes up, jumps off the bed,
leaps to the window, and hisses.
Then she falls silent.

The raccoon steals food from the feeder
and shuffles the pottery shards
we leave out to gather water for the birds.

We never see him.
Sometimes we hear him grunt;
occasionally the wind chimes rattle furiously
as if caught by a giant gust..

We peer into the dark,
turn on the outside lights,
but his absence greets us
like a long lost friend.

Last night, nothing:
this morning, an empty feeder,
those footmark in the dew on the chair:
we know he was there.

Full Moon Fading

IMG_0033

Full Moon Fading

Full Moon fading outside my window
still draws up water, attracts high tides,
drags the wolves by their drawstrings
struggling, bedraggled, out of my chest.
Soon to be invisible, they clutch and claw
as they climb the moon path’s golden light.

The piper has paid his rent and packed
up his pipes, leaving me at last alone.
A silence rules my lungs. Five deer stand
silent in the woods beneath my window
and I watch them as they watch the piper go.

My body’s house lies drained and empty.
The Fading Moon flushed out my body,
leaving it high and dry like a great white whale
abandoned, breathless, on a summer shore.

It’s all over now, the cough, the splutter,
the sharp reality, the aches and pains
that told me I was alive. I miss my music.
I miss the swish and roar of my incoming,
outgoing breath. I miss those Full Moon
fingers tinkling the tides of my inner being,
making me strive to keep myself alive.

Pibroch

img_0385img_0385

Pibroch

This morning, the bailiff, Mr. Kovdrop,
evicted the two gnomes from my lungs.

Landlord Bodie placed an ad on Kiji
then rented the free space in the left lung
to a tiny piper who took up residence by my heart.
This piper piped a pibroch, sad to play,
on his worn and wheezy bagpipes.

A pack of miniature wolves infiltrated
the midnight forest flourishing in my other lung.
When the pibroch played, they pointed their noses
at that spot in my throat where the full moon
would have been, if she could have broken in.
They mingled their howls with the bagpipes caterwaul
and I lay awake all night with my heart beating
arrhythmic suspicions on its blood red drum.

The drum played, the pibroch wailed, the wolves howled
and my body lay scarred by an absence of moon and stars.