We spend most of our lives, starfish
Tentacles clinging to the slippery slope
Of rocky bottoms
Until the tides come in
And we float once again
Out to sea.
Eat well, she said, almost three decades ago
Like it was yesterday, my mother on the telephone,
“eat well, without our health we have
Now I know she was right but
Wonder what I might
Have put into my body then
To stop the disintegration now.
If only I’d known,
But we never do
Living about a mile off Route 9
land cleared from Boston to Albany in stages and toil
the sound of wheels on soil
and I hear the distant buzz of ruby- throated hummingbird on summer wing
the wasps swarming in an abandoned bird house,
a sole goose flying low overhead
The screeching of tires around the curve past the old Whale Inn
Into the blinding western sun over the Cummington hills
Everywhere houses still standing
with many clapboards hanging
Collapsed barns. Broken windows. And you know
Inside resides an old woman or man, alone
Cold, in winter.
Half a house hung there in the haze
Half a barn,
On the road to Shelburne Falls,
Lumber piled like so many bones.
1950s pickup truck in the front yard
When I use to drive by, he would be there,
In his truck,
Cornfields stretching as far as the eye can see.
He moved into less and less space until
A few months ago I drove by and
nothing was left standing but charred wood,
And the empty round-bellied 1950s pickup truck.
I do not want to romanticize the past, surely rural living
is just as brutal as everything, everywhere.
It’s only that I want the birds and animals to still be around
After I’m not any more. So little wilderness left
With managed care, managed forests, managed parklands,
managed lives, managed multi-tasking.
But even babies resist, their attention focused only on
One thing at a time.
I just don’t know.
Why can’t we learn from the past?
I am waiting for my friend
Who reminded me of Ray Romano that night, first we met,
Crossing Main Street in Northampton in 1985 and
Now flies in dangerous skies. So many planes crashing this year
Over the Russian sea, into a peninsula off NYC.
This is the year the towers collapse upon themselves and we see on TV women
In Afghanistan shot in the head in the public square.
For my friend, I am waiting for my friend coming from the place, this place
From which emerged three religions of men,
This place where the Goddess was finally defeated, overpowered,
Where now, suicidal men with bombs strapped to their abdomens
Promised to be met in heaven by 72 virgins
invoking Marge Piercy’s premonitory haunting novel.
Green bugs with translucent wings
Fly across the glass above my desk.
They come inside every fall,
Here in the house of flies.
Last night again I found a ladybug
floating upside down in a puddle behind the kitchen sink.
All I could do was lift her out
place her on a paper towel, turn her over.
Later in the evening
the ladybug tucked her dry wings and settled in
in the morning she was gone.
When they die it is often with an outstretched wing.
It is November tonight
Six months before my friend Kerry dies
But I do not know this yet
and feel instead the beginning of winter in New England,
A slight breeze rustling
dried brown leaves still remaining on saplings.
The sound of motors unmistakable in the air all around this oasis
It carries differently in different weather, that endless drone of cars and trucks
Driving on this highway, the same highway
Quarter of a mile off Amherst Road, down Chestnut Street, by Echo Bridge, up the road
We use to play in that old abandoned house, the only one left for miles. It was a hellish
suburban prison. No wonder I dreamt horses came clandestine in the night to carry me
away. It was a crazy dream then. I still wonder:
how did I even know what a horse was?
Later I thought I was mad but it turns out that really I was African Bee mad.
Mrs. Sears died this summer. Her 150 acres abutting my land for sale.
Inevitably, I will have to move further out
Continuing my lifelong moving away
From hordes of people and the endless clearing of land.
I will move, then, perhaps move again, one more time, just maybe,
Before I will move down
Down into the ground
where I will no longer need to worry about sounds, crowds, mobs of people,
people who don’t need to be so stupid, people going and coming with so much nonsense
swirling through their minds.
Where I will bloat and blacken
and my bodily fluids will drain from the hole in the bottom of my Jewish coffin
and the bacteria from my intestines, with nothing to digest, will begin to digest me.
What they never understand, about love
is that it is not enough
To examine one dried shaft of wheat. Yes, I agree there is great beauty in
The vertical tan shadows, hundreds of tiny pointed ova pods with
delicate antennae, stretching up to the sun like tiny branches or elongated baroque
centipede legs, like an El Greco.
But it is just not enough
And it is too tiring, much much too tiring.
I need something beyond
The purity of poetry, of story, of words, explanation, rationalization.
Any less is too much
When I am so sick, always-feeling
death at the doorstep and some days
it is a great accomplishment just making my bed, walking my dog.
Throw it away into the landfill,
Most people, into the trash bag
They don’t see past the trash bag
Nothing exists except the garbage pickup.
Bag it all.
I wait for my friend as I have now waited for seventeen years
And I hate to wait.
I have waited on many streets I’ve called “home”
On Amherst Road,
There I waited for life to begin
Then road and avenues
Through the woods of Vermont, towns of New Hampshire
Finally Washington Place, South, Fort, Orchard Street, now here, Sears Road.
Up this hill on this ridge,
The sun sets in the west and east at the same time in this house
This house with a hundred windows.
She walked into the screen door the other night, okay,
A perfectly intelligent thing to do when you are thinking about something else
My mother and father, 81 and 83, respectively
Seventeen years ago we were all young.
They still live 100 miles to the east, half a mile off this same road.
Now there is so much traffic they avoid driving it, go around, down Rte. 30, the back roads.
We are all living off this same road now, my mother, father, me, all of us
I don’t know why we pretend otherwise,
Seventy years ago grandfather rode on this road from Boston to Pittsfield
My father twenty-five years later, Boston to Bennington
Where he worked in Bennington Mills
Mixing, alchemy, chemicals, colors, into dye for wool,
Decades after the child labor laws were passed.
He said last night, reflecting, yes,
There were lots of deer, lots of deer in those days.
And I think about him driving past this road
Fifty years ago,
when Raymond and Charlie Sears were just small boys,
Louise having come down from the Worthington hills
To marry and teach in the one-room schoolhouse, then a bigger one.
I imagine cows in the big red barns,
Sap running from the sugar maples into buckets, apples ripening.
The sister in the house across the road,
I image her sitting in her kitchen and imagining a barn a hundred years before
where the neighbor’s house now stands,
I imagine her watching that barn, from the kitchen window
struck by lightning and burning.
It is so much about imagination, is it not?
Is imagination what most makes us human?
In my imagination anything happens,
Everything is possible, everything is real.
Time collapses upon itself, multiple realities exist at once
In the corners and crevices of my sane mind life and death,
Beginning and ending, meeting and parting, birth and death.
I imagine Ray going from Brookline to Boston
Traveling from Boston to New York, 1928, buying
Lingerie for Conrads
then a dress shop of her own on Tremont Street.
I imagine Hannah a young woman with three grown children,
Placing oil paint on stretched canvas, as she thought of her friend Esther. I imagine
Sydney in Dorchester, sitting and staring
after the lobotomy. Those stupid doctors, they just as killed him,
Killed him, my uncle Sydney, a genius, the most brilliant of anyone in my family,
As much as any mortar shell or bullet from the war abroad.
While Stuart ran from foxhole to foxhole medic box in hand
On Italian soil.
I wait for my friend. She and I aging far apart. Making choices separately. Every choice
negating another. The Tel Aviv to Massachusetts flight she’s managed yearly, with a long
stop always in New York City. A place I will never understand.
Click click my heels on the wooden porch as I pace back and forth stepping over the
sticky blackened remains of the last hummingbird nectar. I
wonder why I wait when I hate to wait.
We suffer so, so much pain, so much aloneness
for who can grasp the body in constant pain, constant sickness
beside the one imprisoned in this body? In my imagination we are
Not yet buried, we are all young and alive.
In bed I begged her shyness away, told her we would be dead someday, maybe soon and
Her lovely breasts,
I never thought it would be so soon I would bury her, at 50.
In my imagination there is no rape, no incest, no murder, no war, no poverty, no violence.
What kinds of societies create this sort of crack in the human psyche?
No one is killed in endless wars, catastrophes, car accidents, cities destroyed now and
then, concentration camps, death walks.
Is everything, absolutely everything about money and power and
ego? All these men, because it is always men, who commit these travesties?
What motivates all these crazy hormone-driven men?
O I ask: What does it matter when
Eventually all of us are scattered like leaves,
Separated in our own finality,
Under the ground,
When we must release
All those hundreds of tiny suction cups
Those little sucking baby lips
And float out.
© Susan Lynn Gesmer, House Of Laydbugs, 2002