To The Daughters I Never Had

Remember, little unborn

Ones,

We have an affinity with

The Dead

When we do not speak our

Minds nor

Listen to the wings of our hearts

Beating against the bars

Nor use our beaks

Small but still strong and

Push open the many doors, which stand in our way.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, To The Daughters I Never Had, 2005

Imagine If They Actually Paid Poets!

Imagine if they

Implored us to write more poems!

Actually paid poets triple figure salaries!

I would live on a windy knoll,

In a straw bale house,

With two-foot thick walls,

A massive center chimney, and

Horses, sheep, goats, cows and chickens

Grazing pastures,

Overlooking salt marshes stretching out to the sea,

Off-the-grid windmills, passive and active

Solar. Give lots of money away.

Save a lot of elephants, horses, baby seals and manatees.

Have enough money to get the medical care I need.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, Imagine If They Actually Paid Poets! 2007

When

When we are babies

We are swaddled in diapers,

Wiped and powdered and soft tushes kissed.

Then again, when we are old,

Mattering if you are a guy or a girl,

Either we can’t pee

Or we can’t stop peeing,

And must be swaddled

Again. This time no sweet powders and

No kisses.

© Susan Lynn Gesmer, When, 2008

Old Feet

Old feet look, to me,

Like the gnarled lower trunks

Of ancient mountain laurel bushes

In the woods here, in winter.

Skin layered like thick bark,

Nails, round twisted roots,

Spreading down.

People drink in the tiny sweet feet

Of babies

Like nectar,

And in our youth and middle years

We are shameless.

But how many feet of old

People in Boston

Have you seen lately?

They are hidden.

Under heavy shoes,

And dark socks,

Spring, summer, fall and winter.

These feet have so much to teach us,

If we only dare to look.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, Old Feet, 2009

Trenton Bridge, Route 3

1.

An invisible rope tied round my waist pulls me to

This place of sea meeting endless shoreline,

Where I will one day live, or maybe just one day did.

If it made any difference,

I would write this poem anonymously,

Or make up some vague psynonym,

Slightly more contrary than Bird

Which I sometimes go by in letter.

11.

The collapse of the New England fisheries

Cod, Atlantic halibut and haddock gone the way of the great auk

Depleted by the big trawlers.

It is more than suburban tendrils,

For these Maine lobstering men and women,

Many who can no longer afford to live by the coast.

Access to the flats for clammers and wormers

Once communally accessible.

Now the rights to the edge of the sea are

Being bought by millionaires from far

Away cities who look at these gritty earthy people

Like the White Europeans looked upon the natives

300 years ago, when,

Arrogant Biblical lies filling their heads,

They fought the Wabanaki, Sacos, Kennebecs, Penobscots.

Sophisticated societies thousands of years old,

Living lives in rhythm with the Great Mother.

Those who live on this land now,

The ancestors of the Europeans

Again fighting to be here at all,

The same DNA, bones, as the ones who felled  the old trees,

Forced first from the rocky shores of Ireland

Then from the eastern cities,

These people who fought for this land,

Buried in thousands of small holes in old cemeteries,

Which scatter this landscape like spring lupines,

The original white people here who

Here like everywhere, conquered in order to have.

Is any land free of this horrible legacy?

They fought endlessly, first against first Britain,

Then Boston, for rocky soil, where little will grow,

For small boats and fierce tides,

 they spent their short lives battling disease and poverty.

Now, no more fish to be caught, the ones still

Working the sea spend their days

Hauling traps of crawling, ground-dwelling,

Clawed creatures of the sea.

Back breaking. Dangerous.

It’s a hard life

Wedged at the edge, between the continents.

Apparently the rich folks from the cities don’t understand

Neighbors who don’t preen and party and prance about like

Floridian racehorses.

But who ever thought it would come to this?

Me, someone who catches insects

And carries them gently outside,

Defending people who kill other beings,

For food and a roof over their heads.

I have always stood up for the under

Dog. The dog at the foot of the bed who

In my mind’s eye sits in the chair of King and Queen.

I should be fighting for the lobsters,

Have gone terribly astray

In my own way.

111.

It is a classic foggy Maine day,

The air is thick with smoke and mist.

I have been convinced to drive

An hour and half up coastal Route 1

From Cape Rosier,

The outcropping of land and rocks

Which tugs at me, to the edge of Acadia National Park.

Touristy even in the fall still.

We sit by an inlet,

Surrounded by people

With New York accents.

In front they are boiling lobsters

In vats of seawater

stoking the fires with wood.

People stop and take pictures

With digital cameras –

Such a bizarre contrast,

Technology flashing in the face

Of rough slogged smoky men

Working wood fires with

Rising salty steam seen around the bend in the road.

Inside tables of people,

Each with a lobster on a tray with boiled corn in tin foil, or

Waiting for their number to be called.

1V.

I am sitting inside,

As if caught in a fog of time and place, remembering,

Standing in line to take my food, all of us, then,

With plates in hand, walking, slowly, purposeful,

Eyes downcast, to a place at

One of the tables

At a silent meditation retreat.

For a half hour we all sat, a room of fifty people.

The only sound forks and spoons clicking on dishes.

We are eating meditatively, straining to be focused,

To be in the moment with awareness.

To be in the moment, when our minds drift, bring them back

To sitting there in that hall in that chair a person on either side

To focus on the food, the scents, flavor, texture,

The sensation on our tongues, the chewing, swallowing.

All done in silence but for the sound clicking, of chairs scraping, all

Exquisite concentration and presence.

I love these meals at meditation retreat.

V.

This is how I want the touristy people around me at to eat a lobster.

Aware these beings were alive just moments before.

That the only reason they went willingly into the boiling water

Is because their hands (okay, claws), were tied and someone much bigger

Than them was giving them no choice.

I want these touristy people to understand

That all life is precious

The lobsters, shells blackish blue ten minutes ago,

Now blood red,

Eight legs curled in death.

I want these touristy people to know, really know,

That these beautiful creatures have died for them

Not supposedly like Jesus died for them

Not so they can live mindlessly,

Although most do.

These people don’t need to eat lobsters to live.

But the Maine people need to catch and sell them

So, what has evolved is a tenuous give and take of resources.

I want these tourists to really know, to really understand,

Every being, every lobster, has a personality, a life force.

Gendered and territorial, lobsters will fight like the fiercest bulls

For their spaces.

Some are courageous and some shy, some aggressive

And some placid and solitary, some wise

Others foolhardy, each one carving its own little niche

In a spot, down on the floor, of the sea.

I want these diners to know

That these creatures have

As much as a right to live

As the person on whose plate their lives have ended.

That on their plate before them

Is representation of a symbol of the endless litany of the powerful

Versus the weak

The predator and the prey.

That this lobster has died for money.

And some smelly hairy furless human woman’s, or man’s,

Momentary meaningless pleasure.

At the next table a man comments over and over again

How sweet the meat… until I decide he has some sort of personality disorder.

My lobster arrives and I take my first bite

Another man watches me out of the corner of his eye

My hands, face, soon covered with the essence of this creature,

Like rising up from the body of a lover.

A Mainer by his accent, the watcher, says, forlornly, to someone at another table,

embarrassing to me, seemingly suddenly thrust into

The spotlight — am I some sort of a gastronomical role model? —

How he loves sticking his whole darn face into the lobster

With a rueful smile adding

 “my wife…” (in front ordering)

“she won’t let me eat them um this way”.

And there is no way to deny this is the most delicious animal

I have ever eaten, the smell of wood smoke in its flesh,

The seawater from the vats inched through the joints,

And I eat with abandon, and feel

Like how I use to feel when I threw a piece of clay on the wheel

The wet soft slimy primordial clay

Under the direction of my hands moving from wet lump

Into whatever form I directed it.

Like digging my hands into the soil when gardening,

Ending a day in the garden as happy with what I’ve accomplished

As with black dirt under my fingernails.

Eating a lobster like this is like taking the earth into my body,

The spirit of life

The earth that is the source of life

The great mother

The Goddess.

 This lobster is a cathedral upon which I worship.

This sea harbors the lobster.

This earth harbors the sea,

And honestly,

The universe is just holding the earth

In its tentative claw.

 Will it be too late

Before

We

Realize

We all ride the waves

In

The

Wake

Of

The

Claw’s

Grace?

 © Susan Lynn Gesmer, Trenton Bridge, Route 3, 2005

The Lost Bird

       I.

         On the wings of a bird

         I would like to think,

         I sent word

         Flying south

         To you.

         Seeking connection

         No matter the cost, I construe

         It is too high

         For me to pay

         In the end

         I often say.

         And really,

         After I handed

         The envelope

         Carefully stamped and banded

         To a rural postal worker

         That beautiful summer morning

         The hills stretching on forever here

         Like they do

         Along the road to Ashfield,

         There then

         It was tossed into a tan ripped canvas bin

         Where it was afterward wheeled into a small

         Mail truck even my slight frame could still manage to drive

         Down route I-91

         To Springfield

         Where then it was for sure

         Packed into a monstrous machine

         And driven

         By more than my unrelenting

         Dreams of you

         My animal sensibilities or physical prehensility

         To handle a big wheeler

         Driving down the highway

         South.

         Yes, it was

         One of those

         Letters which by now I should know better

         Unbridled words laid to paper

         Herded along by nature

         And necessity

         Impelled by

         A familiar constant

         Animal gnawing

         As we rumble along

         Too often

         Impostors

         In the cab of life

         Never really knowing

         Who is doing the driving

         Or how we have ended up

         Where we are.

         Scaring more than me

         And maybe you

         Thundering along the highway

         Sending small mammals scurrying

         Away from waiting birds of prey,

         Red-tailed hawks along the way

         The ones we always see

         Sitting in the tree

         Lining the path south feathered

         Like beggars.

         I can only hope and pray

         The truck driving my letter to you

         Was not the cause

         Of the death of even one long-legged

         Enormously-eared

         White-tailed deer.

         Grace most people only dream of,

         Long for, never obtain

         No matter how much they try.

         How many, each day,

         Lying sprawled out for all to see

         Hoof up on the bright stark pavement for only

         A few hours before the bodies

         Are quickly and quietly removed

         As if in a hush of secrecy

         Should the remaining still-feeling children cry.

         II.

         And so my letter moved onward

         Passing through Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport,

         New Rochelle and onto the Cross-Bronx

         Expressway where soon after

         It was unpacked by some city-weary

         Postal worker repetitively loading and unloading

         Boxes of mail onto some smelly urinated urban cargo dock.

         Thank God

         You live

         Before Manhattan

         And those awful tunnels I hate

That make the palms of any rational being sweat sitting in stalled traffic

With twenty-six story buildings on top of crumbling bridges Above blasted caverns stretching down into

         The earth below through

         Bedrock and tunnels where sandhogs labor with the

         Wiry mechanical guts and the covered-up shit

         Of the city reside.

         Before the oil refineries of the interstate and

         The last long-legged

         Great Blue Herons,

         Wading

         In the foul smelling

         Muck of the New Jersey meadowlands

         Across the Hudson

         Alongside crap,

         Carp, catfish, turtles, muskrats, egrets

Ancient floating things one does not even want to try to imagine.

         Swamp land still by economy, mistake, impossibility

         Of anything else coexisting

         There in such a mix

         A travesty of what once was and

         Giving us traveling rural dwellers

         A short chance

         To catch our breath, slow the beating of our hearts,

         As the road continues on

         Further south

         Past flesh-bound millions living in ticky-tacky houses

         All much the same.

         III.

         As if in another time,

         I sent my words on the freeway south

         Not engaging pavement, petrol or petroleum

         But bound to the body

         Of my beloved passenger

         Pigeon.

         When the bird arrives

         The words are yours

         But please give my bird some grain,

         Cornmeal or the like

         Let her spend the night

         And in the next daylight

         Send her on her way back toward the northern hills,

         Where I am

         Aging brown eyes

         Watching, waiting, a Jew,

         The door ajar,

         To read what you might have

         Tucked under her adorned feathers.

© Susan Gesmer, The Lost Bird, 1997

 

 

House Of Ladybugs

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

Nothing.”

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

Do we?

Living about a mile off Route 9

land cleared from Boston to Albany in stages and toil

isolated homesteads

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

flap

flap

flap

flap.

The screeching of tires around the curve past the old Whale Inn

Into the blinding western sun over the Cummington hills

Never ends.

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.

And ladybugs.

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

Altogether.

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

Love Poem To My Dog

Love Poem To My Dog

(Click above for an audio recording of my reading this poem.)

There is a place

Where I live, alone, yet with

Others so afflicted.

We straddle a torturous bypass we all

One day must make,

Never knowing

When we will fall into the decaying river of life,

When our exit.

In this way, yes, sudden, like a blood splayed

Car crash, or a hummingbird

Flying into the forest reflected in the window glass, at last.

But arriving, getting here,

Bound to this cliff, perched on this rock

— (Where are the sea nymphs,

To wail for me, as for Prometheus?) —

Has been a dripping away,

Like a slowly leaking faucet.

Years of laying waste, wasted

Decades of laying in one’s own coffin

Top ajar, coming and going, sometimes

Standing at the edge of the grave

With one’s friends and family, mourning,

The next moment levitating up and flying away

Like one of those women

Chagall painted.

Days blend into months,

Months into years.

One boundless joy,

My dog:

My dog’s woolly scent,

Come in from the rain,

Fragrant as honeysuckle.

My dog’s spirit, free,

Like the wild stormy sea.

My dog’s eyes, chestnut brown,

Like the fertile soil under which my spring lupines abound.

My dog’s body, like one of those plush hush puppy

White-combed sheep rugs

I begged my parents for,

Forty-five years ago,

Which I longed to crawl into,

And disappear.

My dog’s snout, soft as the back of a tufted titmouse,

My dog’s nose, dense chocolate, velvety black, leading the way,

Starlight in a moonless night.

My dog’s ears, upright, like downy turtledoves.

My dog’s paws…

Ah, how every lover of Dog

Adores the musty odor on the pads on their beloved’s feet, and

Should I bottle the scent of my dog’s paws, capture the smell of

Those moist scent pads

At the bottom of this Alaskan Malamute’s enormous paws,

I would be a famous woman.

Alas. My dog’s tail,

Once a gracious youthful flip of thick Malamute fur,

Now a naked hollow thump

On the wood floor.

       © Susan Lynn Gesmer, Love Poem To My Dog, 2003

Bird Watching

Something you know well

            you could tell about it a hundred different ways.

            Holding tight in the night

            absentminded unretained unremembered

            she says no penises

            piercing penetrating my little girl body

            so it must not have happened.

            You think for days

            about her common elusive slipping away

            something just isn’t right

            almost parallel

            leaves beginning

            to change sea-water moss moving jade

            into champagne maize, terra cotta, meadow lark

            carnal amber of cool swaying elegance

            dancing to the sound of full-bodied voices

            calling down the spine to the root

            spreading. I am drinking you in

            the fine moisture of desire

            howling quaking exhilarating

            a heart yawning open and

            if I listen careful

            stirring spirits call out

            her name

            so what if the winds will come

            come cold and bitter tasting

            deep layers of snow from darkening concealing sheathed

            skies. Whirling bone white.

            My arms round you now

            our bodies warming

            outside freezing

            death cup temperatures

            us for a time away

            from their specific strategies for the

            agony, torment, harrowing torture

            of woman and all that is woman

            unbearable to witness like we do

            constantly live through each breath

            we take in and out.  You say “Bird,

            breathe deep, curl against, breathe with me,

            and squeeze my hand as hard as it hurts, okay?”

            And I try

            to keep it coming against all odds

            in the wake

            of constant disaster, dubious change

            my fantasies flipping like a beached porpoise

            back and forth. First

            their evil blood flooding the soil

            rich with new hope, then mine

            thin with so many years of aching.

            In all this hold forth.

            We tell each other

            arms are raised high in secret clandestine ceremonies

            it’s centripetal, some wolves still run free,

            and you’re here with flying feathered creatures like me

            flinging past strong seething branches while

            deer gather in far fields together.

Holding so delicate and sacred

            your large cupped hands

            round her bruised and broken featherbones

            because hunted deer have to leap clear

            and to attend to her

            you have to be in the right place

            at the right time

            with all things wild and dear

            circling.

                         ©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, Bird Watching, 1988

Dog Death: Without

The night before you died

The owls stood above you, in the maple tree

Outside our bedroom window

Screeching, for hours

From their perches. You in your glistening soft white body

Dreamt deeply, your back legs knocked

And your nose twitched.

The night before you died,

I stayed up late sewing

Three ripped shirts, ripped for years, me mending,

Past midnight, as you, with pleasure,

Cooed in your dreams, innocent,

While the owls hooted.

One day when you were just a pup

And we were lying together

On the floor, paw in hand,

You told me,

Clear as the moon in a star-filled sky,

You were going to live to be sixteen.

I tried to convince many people,

Most thought me mad, and I,

Once again mistaking ego for wisdom.

Before our 13 years with you,

Who would have known the Alaskan Malamute’s

“I”, “me” was big as Paul Bunyan?

Your vets said you had a will of iron,

You were such an inspiration,

The dog who got the antibiotic to Nome, 500 miles through

Impassible wilderness, you, were such an inspiration to me, not to succumb,

Not to give up against the odds,

You were the dog who never stopped pulling, pushing,

In the end, dragging yourself around,

One legged. You would

Have kept on until you finally dropped

Dead in your tracks

This was how you wanted to die

How I wanted you to die, desperately wanted.

And you did keep on,

Until the day

I finally understood my decade of dreaming

You were locked inside a car in the sweltering summertime heat,

With no open windows,

And I was miles away, unable,

To reach you,

To save you.

The damned angel of death came for us, beloved pup,

Coyote trickster,

In a series of mishaps, miscalculations,

And a needle-happy veterinarian. My entire fault.

But we were so tired, so so tired, so

Even though I sometimes think I just might have as well shot you with my shotgun

As country folk have always done,

I can forgive myself,

Knowing a ventilator was going too far,

My beautiful old white dog.

Eyes like my father’s,

You convinced us both

You were never going to die.

What am I supposed to feel?

Betrayed by this ego of ours,

Now that your beautiful whiteness,

Fur thick as a sapling,

Eyes deep as a million millennia.

Locked together, our souls were, in embrace, as you died,

I had to watch you go, go away, away, to where I will never know.

Without I will forever be.

How am I supposed to go on?

My wolf-pawed dog,

Now that you are laying lifeless in the ground,

In the field, behind?

I am Without.

Without you.

My first dog.

You lived three months short of fifteen but still,

Without you is beyond

Anything we imagined, you and I,

Both flailing, failing, fragile but

It didn’t matter one iota

Because we were side by side, together in our

Infirmities. Aging as the falcon flies, woman and her dog.

 © Susan Lynn Gesmer. Dog Death: Without. 2011

The Eagle; Two Versions

1.

For the seabirds

Of Spectacle Island

Fear comes

With a shadow and seven- foot wing span,

White head, yellow beak

And six-inch talons.

For us

On earth’s island

Fear haunts in many guises

Endlessly reinventing itself

For each person

In the shadow of

Something long forgotten

Imprinted, cautioned,

Remembered from

A story told about what happened, once, in this

Or another long ago

Life.

For us on earth’s island

Fear comes with a shadow

On an x-ray or MRI

And a six-inch knife.

11.

Wizened wings warp ragged rocks,

A mad flurry of filigreed feathers below,

And 51 screaming seagulls levitate.

One heroine wailing in mad pursuit

Above the back of the eagle.

  ©   Susan Lynn Gesmer, The Eagle; Two Versions, 2011

We Must Make Of Our Lives A Work Of Art, Revolving

~ To Kerry

1.

Dawn sun hasn’t yet risen

Arms stretched fawn like

This spring night

On my belly naked

Thighs spread

A foot resting by a leg.

Your body partially clothed

And it bruises easily

So carefully I attempt contact,

Knowingly, like ancient behooving elephants

In matriarchal sisterhood.

You pull me yonder woman

Though slowly I must move this time. Yes,

I want to dive and swim and gaily flap under the eddies,

But air is necessary for breathing

Tenacious creatures

Or I shall never again rise

Wet   dripping   like I do

Liquid brown eyes to you.

I could         Live      Forever     In your watery depths,

But without sun and light, I would be stripped down

To ivory bone and salted bitter-tasting flesh. We must

Have separate seas, you and me.

2.

I’ve never been here before, not like this.

You’re right

It’s the company I’m keeping

I am mountain and you the soil

Spread out over my granite,

You river and I the embankment soaking you into my sand,

I the journey   You ride me,

We are both wild rivers

As the full moon rises.

We both hear, when we are together, rumbling sounds

Like the plains quaking wide

Screeching hawks, falcons, free-falling from cliffs

Over moist vaginal valleys

Mingled with gathering crows

Calling doves

And full forests. Your

Heartbeat creating all this life.

And I know I have come

Finally

To the marriage of body and spirit.

Later with dawn

My arms around you holding,

If you hadn’t told me you seldom do this

I wouldn’t have guessed,

You rest

So soundly, sleeping, as I stroke you gently

And fiercely try

To love away some small portion of your past.

We are making of our loving a ritual,

I never expected this with you,

Possibility, awakened, quietly,

Foreseen only in dream

And unrelenting vision of what is possible.

3.

All around us, a war,

Because it wasn’t me

It was you raped, and I

Lament   There is no place safe   For long   In this world.

When we are together my love

All of this fades and

We need this sort of living too

It’s more than a want, it’s a right.

I long for you

Like I do for freedom

And I want to make it

Never again a sacrifice

Your body

With its endless expanse of land and sky.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, We Must Make Of Our Lives A Work Of Art, Revolving, 1988/2014

Ode To An Old Raccoon

         I.

            She wobbled

            on unsteady feet

            from the thicket of spring wood

           trillium about to flower

            through fallen winter trees and once laden branches

            now covering the forest floor,

            toward the house

            on the ridge.

            When we woke

            she was sitting on the chestnut chair

            three feet from the door

            a ghostly visitor, eyes clouded

            head hanging low.

            There, then, she came

            quilled face to snarling snout

            before it dawned on us

           a wild animal

            at first glance, a porcupine

            was up on that chair

            as if perfectly natural

            she should be there

           softly rocking, head swaying,

            in her forlorn four-pawed anguish –

            awaiting her fate.

            II.

            Many hours later

            the raccoon lay in constraint

            anesthetic numbing her ache

            after the removal of seventy-five quills

            from tender tissues of tongue

            and inquisitive face.

            When we finally released her into the moonless night

            she had awakened enough from the sedative

            to pull towel off cage

            and begin to gnaw and claw

            at her enclosure with teeth that bite through bone,

            forefeet bearish and flat-footed,

            dexterous long fingers,

            and the sharpness of mind

            that can untie knots,

open doors,

            and release latches.

            III.

            I do not know when

          at last she wandered

            away into the night,

            for after free, she circled for hours

            round and round like the hawk she was not.

            Eventually I could no longer watch

           her slow coming

            past the blackberry bushes, lilacs and daffodils,

            ambling over the tender crocuses

            swinging in her gaited way by the rhododendron

            under the black walnut and yellow birch

            by the two vehicles in the drive, the wood pile, the mint patch

           the porch where her empty metal enclosure still sat,

            so afraid I was for her.

            Unsure if my attending was causing

            her erratic behavior

            I shut the light.

            IV.

            My spirit leaps at the still empty chair, when

            every morning now

           passing by I stare,

            half expecting to see the coon sitting there,

            head hanging low, small body swaying,

            the telltale sign of

            quills embedded every which way. But

            No longer really awaiting

            the aging brown-toothed female coon,

            I anticipate the feathered or furry face

            of a red fox, longtail weasel, bobcat,

            beaver having dragged herself up from the pond below,

           a ruffed grouse, barred owl, marsh hawk

            a little brown bat sitting there on that chair

            or even a bear

            imploring.

       © Susan Lynn Gesmer, Ode To An Old Raccoon, 2011

May Flies: Another Conversation With Death

I see you everywhere I look this spring,

In the erect bone ivory-caked stamens of the tulips

Come back now three seasons,

Deep purple and buttercup yellow.

In the twittering of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird,

Six or sixteen of them, it is impossible to tell,

Zipping back and forth in territorial chase.

And of course, I see you in my father’s sister,

Lowered, last week,

In all her ninety-three years,

In a coffin, into the ground.

 

How many sit, will sit, want to sit

As I hear them,

Amongst tall grasses

In cemeteries,

Here and there, there and here,

On ladder-back chairs,

Discussing their lives with an audience of those who have not yet joined them?

Fi-bree, fi-bree, fi-bree,

Seeeriddip, seebrrr, seeeriddip, seebree

Weew… tiboo…wijik…Fi-bree

Fi-breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

 

The dead of humans, dead humans, death

In its wild simplicity

Is something else to birds

Who do not construct illusionary edifices to immortality.

 

This May, an angelic return, the gray-brown Eastern Phoebe

Once again in the porch rafters.

Perhaps last year’s bird, daughter of last year’s nesting phoebe

Or a granddaughter of the phoebe before her,

Sallying down or out to catch insects mid-air

From the perch of the laundry line,

Tail dipping and bobbing as she and husband take turns.

 

I like to think they go back three hundred years,

Eons of flycatchers here on this hill

Building anew what northern winter winds destroy. Year after year,

Over and over again, preparing intricate nests

On playhouse, sugarhouse, outhouse, lodge, teepee,

On sugar maples, oaks, yellow birches,

Which all stood, over time, where this house now stands.

 

Still, I am counting the dead and the days until

The black flies go back from whence they came,

Plump with deer blood, until

Dipterous mosquitoes,

For the tyrant flycatchers’ hatchlings

Once again fill the summer eve,

And May becomes June.

 

 

 

© Susan Gesmer, Mayflies: Another Conversation With Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horses Down The Road

I.

They are always together

The horses down the road

Two draft horses side by side, In their finite footed enclosure

Surrounded by field and forest.

Day after day
They are together,
The horses down the road,
They are there,
Across the way,
Enormous. Gallant. Galloping side by side. Heads tossing, Manes flying.

Nuzzling horses in love. Sometimes noses to the dirt
In vain pursuit of grasses,

They are infrequently separate,

The horses down the road.

When I drive by
At night or in stormy weather
And they are hidden from view in their stalls
Built into the end of a large old barn
With its stone foundation from the quarry up the hill,

I am startled by their absence.
Want to cry out
“These horses must never be parted.”

Every so often, there is only one horse standing

As if peering through a heavy snow falling
As the winds howl,
For sight or scent of one’s beloved,

Or, through a fog
Out to sea.
Or down a crevice which suddenly appeared
On the side of a mountain where one’s lover has disappeared

And one readies oneself
To leap down the mountain’s crevice
To run out into the howling blizzard
To run blindly through the fog
Jump off the edge of the cliff into the crashing waves

Because nothing else matters,
Life and death become but one and there is
Nothing else but reuniting with our beloved.

They appeared,
Last year,
These glorious beings
These Godlike beings
These beings more magnificent

Than anything man could ever create

Any edifice,

Any art,
Any architecture,

Anything of technology.

They are the place to me where the land meets the sea.

II.

One day, finally I park my car, dart across.

Although they don’t let on in any language we learned in school,

I know I am seen immediately.
I was seen in my car
On the other side of the highway.

I have been seen all of these past months,

Just as I have been seeing.

I wait patiently by the wood fence.

Cows graze a larger fenced perimeter.

Finally they come, slowly, appearing not to care

Trying to hide their curiosity.
The smaller horse in the lead
Funnels up, flank to me.

From five feet away now,
One watery brown eye, a horse eye,

Looks at me from another world.

I want to become a horse with these horses.
No matter how small the temporary confinement,
If I could be promised,
Assured to be with them, hoofed and standing in mud, tomorrow,

I would die today.

Happily leaving behind the folly of being human.

I would teach them
(As if they don’t know),
How to jump fences and

Galloping alongside,
Show them the long way to
The remaining few untamed forests,

Where our hair would grow thick and long.

As I stand there, jolted back to the world of flesh and bones, blood and lymph,

The horse, his head just a couple inches from mine,
Pulls up a top lip
To expose closed yellowing teeth.

I am not a horse person so I have no idea what this means
But I take it as a gesture of acceptance,
Slowly raising and tentatively moving my hand along the horse’s dusty neck

Huge as tree trunk
Reddish hair coarse and soft at the same time,
Muscle as hard as the earth upon which I stand.

I walk away with a fist full of gritty hair and time collapsed as
I see them in the aftermath,
Splayed on battlefield,

Generations of horses like
The horses down the road,
Once wild,
Captured, subdued,
Carrying men into battle,

Momentarily victorious atop

Their endlessly reinvented heights.

III.

Huge beautiful beings
The horses down the road
More beautiful than the earth and sky
Than the sea and stars,
The horses down the road
Standing in dirt and mud
Food and water from a steel bin, in the middle
Surrounded by an endless vista of grassy field, rushing stream

And nearby forest.

   

 ©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, The Horse Down The Road, 2011