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.

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Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?

I wonder what poems Mary Oliver (1935-2019), in her infinite wisdom, would be writing right now if she hadn’t passed away last year. So much of her work has already brought me comfort and peace this spring.

song sparrow
Song Sparrow, Palo Alto Baylands Natural Preserve. Photo by my friend Jeff Schwegman

“I Worried”

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

we are each other’s magnitude and bond

The incredible Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-200) on Paul Robeson (1989-1976), an acclaimed singer, actor and political activist whose life you should definitely take a few minutes to read about.

_Paul_Robeson,_world_famous_Negro_baritone,_leading_Moore_Shipyard_(Oakland,_CA)_workers_in_singing_the_Star_Spangled_Ba_-_NARA_-_535874.jpg
Robeson leading Moore Shipyard workers in song. Oakland, California. September 1942. 

“Paul Robeson”

That time
we all heard it,
cool and clear,
cutting across the hot grit of the day.
The major Voice.
The adult Voice
forgoing Rolling River,
forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge
and other symptoms of an old despond.
Warning, in music-words
devout and large,
that we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business:
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

from Family Pictures