My gray hair will darken and become the feathers of a black swan.

Dear readers,

Thank you for joining me for another April of poetry posts. Choosing and sharing verse with you has been a highlight during the very difficult times we’re living through right now. I hope to be able to post more (though not daily) this spring as we continue to navigate this pandemic, physically distanced and yet very much together. The final poem of the month, written by Ellen Bass (1947-), fills me with both heartache for this ever-broken world and hope for the small ways in which it can be pieced back together. Take good care, everyone. Thinking of you.

“When You Return”

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.
Shards of the shattered vase will rise
and reassemble on the table.
Plastic raincoats will refold
into their flat envelopes. The egg,
bald yolk and its transparent halo,
slide back in the thin, calcium shell.
Curses will pour back into mouths,
letters un-write themselves, words
siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair
will darken and become the feathers
of a black swan. Bullets will snap
back into their chambers, the powder
tamped tight in brass casings. Borders
will disappear from maps. Rust
revert to oxygen and time. The fire
return to the log, the log to the tree,
the white root curled up
in the un-split seed. Birdsong will fly
into the lark’s lungs, answers
become questions again.
When you return, sweaters will unravel
and wool grow on the sheep.
Rock will go home to mountain, gold
to vein. Wine crushed into the grape,
oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in
to the spider’s belly. Night moths
tucked close into cocoons, ink drained
from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds
will be returned to coal, coal
to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light
to stars sucked back and back
into one timeless point, the way it was
before the world was born,
that fresh, that whole, nothing
broken, nothing torn apart.

Our lives happen between the memorable.

KristinaTea.jpg
Watercolor by my dear friend Kristina Closs (WoodPigeon on Etsy)

“Highlights and Interstices”

by Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional
and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,
vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.
But the best is often when nothing is happening.
The way a mother picks up the child almost without
noticing and carries her across Waller Street
while talking with the other woman. What if she
could keep all of that? Our lives happen between
the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual
breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about
her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.

and memory itself has become an emigrant

I spent yesterday in a surreal fog as I worked on the Stanford obituary for the poet Eavan Boland, who was a touchstone for me and countless others. All the words I have for today are poured into that piece, so I will leave you with that remembrance and this brilliant poem, which encapsulates many of the themes Eavan wrote about with such precision, compassion, and depth.

Toby and Eavan.jpg
Eavan Boland and Tobias Wolff enjoying a moment of mirth at a creative writing dinner, 2015. Photo by me. 

“The Lost Land”

I have two daughters.

They are all I ever wanted from the earth.

Or almost all.

I also wanted one piece of ground:

One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.

So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.

Now they are grown up and far away

and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:

Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:

At night,
on the edge of sleep,

I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.

Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,

shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then

I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.

I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:

Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

from The Lost Land