Not Norman Rockwell but near enough:
women in the kitchen with mincemeat pies
men at pinochle around the dining room table
until tempers broke out
and we left to our own devices
combing the curiosities of our grandparents yard
the tire swing on the giant apricot tree
or sliding butt-splintered down the cellar door
as though being cousins there was some chemistry
that made such disparate children naturally bond.
It was America
in a day when everyone not born to wealth
had a ceiling made of plexiglass
and the day covered with a thin veneer of belonging
the uneasy lives behind those doors we rarely saw.
Though quieter Thanksgivings now release again
that fullness of feeling
among kitchen conversation and candied yams,
I do not mistake those ghosts
of turkey-induced satiety for better days.
I take them as my grandmother took the
thick-skinned grapes that grew above her porch
straining out the juice, tossing the pulp.
For My Grandson Connor
under the backporch light
caught in an updraft
of november air
whirl like enormous snowflakes,
a circle of fairy light
trapped in dark
last night you slid
into the world
into this seeming
daylight dance of leaves
adding your cry
to its color
this is how it should be
the old yielding to the young
my son's son
feathering his green
into the cascade of red and orange
into the circle
that spins within the dark
cry, feed, grow strong, join us
help us sustain each other
in the wind that buffets us
like pixie dust
beneath our little light.
Rappahannock flows through fields
Riffing on the past
Around the tobacco farm in Farnham
The wooden graves gone, gone
And it flows around a memory
Of a grandmother’s body
Weighed down with stones…
Above the dry fields of Aberdeen
It becomes wind
The steady bass beat of hammer on hard ground
Summer dust bowl
Blowing families out to California
Moving outward to the tonic
Looking for that home key
Was there ever one?
Jazz is not return
The Rappahannock is not return
The wind is not return
Only a rhythmic sprawl
Unable to renounce its past
Growing, morphing, changing register
“If you understand anything about God, he is not in it.”
She is not among the pixels in the picture on my computer desktop.
She is not in the breeze blowing among the gladiolas in the yard that is no longer hers.
She is not in the memory-carrying synapses firing from nerve to nerve.
She is not even in the casket overlooking the desert park at the edge of the cemetery.
She is not in the printed words of her obituary.
She is not in the frozen soil of South Dakota or the rays of a careless California sun.
She is not anywhere to be found among the coconut and peanut butter chips of her magic bars
And even though I listen carefully, she is not in the lyrics of “Springtime in the Rockies”
Or in a silent coda of the ite misa est.
She is not.
Michael Northen edits Wordgathering, A Journal of Disability and Literature and is co-editor of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. For fourteen years he facilitated the Inglis House Poetry Workshop for writers with disabilities. He is currently working with on an anthology of disability short fiction.