Believing Is Seeing
And these signs shall follow them that believe...
Eyes that have tracked rabbits, birds, deer
all afternoon across the simple oak
now tear and smart, ready as they are
to discover in the cold Hill Country night
Orion among the hot uncompromising stars.
The astronomer emerges from his lens.
"We have a treat tonight," my son says
and waits until a plane has closed its path.
"First you find Orion by his belt."
His finger points me to the spangled girth.
And then we telescope the Great Hunter:
the yellow-red on his right shoulder named
Betelgeuse, a pulsing variable giant,
and Bellatrix on his left; straight down
find Rigel, making his knee a blue-white glint.
We shiver and our breaths form nebulae
of no order. "The next stars"--my son smiles--
"we'll see together. I have to show you how."
I will to see beyond the late night books,
the fog of years, the dimming earthly weather.
"Beside the sword you'll see a cloudy mass."
I strain through waves and jerks from here to there,
search Orion's skirt for starry soil.
The cloud mass finally settles to its place.
"You mean the thing that looks like printers' dots?"
"Orion's Nebula," the astronomer says,
then stands against me firm to make a brace.
"Keep looking, Mom. For now, just blink and stare.
I promise you will see them if you try,
and hope--yes, hope for three bright stars."
Minutes go by. The click of the telescope timer
corrects what we cannot--our restless ride
on this galloping star-drenched porch.
And then the gift: three clear and perfect points,
three diamond apples where none were before.
Afraid to blink, I whisper, "Yes, I see them.
Yes." The astronomer's hand tightens on my arm.
"The Trapezium Cluster, at fifteen-hundred light-years."
He laughs. "I give them to you because you see them."
"I take them," I say, and feel him near.
(first published in A Quartet: Texas Poets in Concert)
Braving the Atlantic
One of these days
I am going to make sense
of your junk-filled room,
roll out generations
of Puritan godliness
on you to show
you have been wrong,
have strayed from the heritage,
can never be happy in a mess.
This could hurt.
That's why I keep stalling,
wondering if your room is a mirage--
if the Mayflower just
thought it landed.
(first published in Sharing the House)
Big Bird Comes to the Valley in l976
The color was white, silver, gray, brown, dark brown, black.
The height was four, five, six feet; the wingspan, twenty.
Otherwise, the bird was hairy, feathered, bald. In the pictures
drawn at school, there was the face of a bat, pig, monkey, man--
with pointed ears, eagle's beak, stork's bill, silvery red eyes.
"Pteranodon" and "pterasaurus" were librarians' nightmare.
The creature left footprints, hovered over a lagoon, hissed,
ransacked a tavern, terrified policemen, pursued children,
disappeared into a canal, perched on the Chevrolet company,
attacked two men (making one of them hot where it touched),
gave an unearthly noise, snapped its beak, ran into the brush.
There were T-shirts in four sizes and a song on a record--
the flip side an interview, old Japanese monster movies,
offered rewards and counter-rewards, vigilante groups formed,
words from the law on trigger-happiness, on endangered species,
talks about self-defense, bounty hunting, international animals.
At the end, the bird let itself be filmed in an orchard
with fifty people surrounding. Then the legend flew away.
The 6 p.m. news showed a mild blue heron gazing about.
The next day, its published demise: "Legend of Bird is Dead."
Soon the TV station had tossed the film, for more space--
(reports of drug hauls, bodies found in the Rio,
deaths of the prominent, arrests of molesters, murderers).
Then a haze clouded the eyes so the people no longer saw
the jabiru, crane, wood stork, brown pelican, condor,
and especially the great blue heron; even though these birds,
one or all, were here, in our midst: even though they came
to restore rumor, debate, declamation, the art of gossip,
the plucking of guitars, chills, cuentos de las lechuzas,
upstanding hair on the nape, children curved with respect
into the laps of the viejitos on front porches at evening.
(first published in Blue Mesa Review)
Diana the Huntress Goes for her Mammogram
She had to leave her deer
in the underground parking,
check her bow at the door.
Her turn came before she could
put the touch on a woman in labor
or advise a virgin or two.
How did she want to pay? Pay?
Her father had influence.
She donned her gown right over left
and left over nothing.
After they took off her armband,
they asked the date of her period.
She said Pre-history to Golden Age.
The plexiglass flattened
her breast like a discus.
"Ouch!" she said in Greek.
"Hold your breath, miss."
The plexiglass squeezed her
sideways into tableau.
"Ouch!" she tried it in Latin.
"I'm not from Egypt."
"Hold your breath, miss."
Finished, Lady Wild Things
dropped her toga to one shoulder,
fetched her bow and quiver,
exited in long strides.
Her little dog waited
by the elevator.
(first published in Inheritance of Light)
Waxahachie, and my father has driven me
south across the viaduct to the little café
closed on Sunday, so we wait out front.
I know what kind of day it will be,
traveling home to the Valley by bus.
There will be spots of red along the way
because my mind will need them
against the boredom: brick lining an old well,
leaves of sumac, a mailbox flag,
a red-winged blackbird riding sorghum.
There will be stern federal-style homesteads
against the sky, and trailer-houses
with dogs on couches in yards, as well as
ruffled lone birds on fence posts, calves
in muddy pens. Then I'll notice a blue bicycle
in front of a post office. On farther south will be
Pickens Auto Ranch and Merle's Front End Service.
At dusk, after Austin, San Antonio, and finally,
Alice, ("just twenty minutes, folks") we will enter
the Valley, and pity the northbound line at the checkpoint.
But now my father and I are small-talking,
to take up the ache starting already in our hearts.
The fairy-tale courthouse clock strikes,
and we go silent in mid-sentence, as if
counting to eight is important…
Suddenly the bus bounds in. My ticket is made.
My dad and I do a careful public hug.
Then he says to me, an adult woman—
"This gentleman will take good care of you,"
and gestures to the driver he's never seen.
(first published in Texas Poetry Calendar 2009)
How the Grandmother of the World Will Entertain Herself
Each time they skitter, soar, float, circle,
birds leave a line on the air. Meanwhile,
She is making of these a tight stringball.
At the last, the Grandmother of the World
will stoop, open the bottom drawer,
shake off thumbtacks and bread wrapper ties,
retrieve the ball. She'll rise slowly—
the Ages make for arthritis—and begin to unwind,
rearranging the bird paths to Her liking:
First, those that squawk, scold, screech, quack.
Next will be hoots, chirks, caws
followed by whistles, trills,
and finally, mere coos.
Then the Grandmother of the World will
stand satisfied, the string in a nest at Her feet,
the only sound the whisper of dreaming feathers.
(first published in Native Soil: poems from South Texas poets)