Sleeping in the narrow bed in his study,
surrounded by his books,
I think of my father’s hands,
a scholar’s hands -- still,
hands that fixed the toaster, hands that
took apart and put back together.
Through the open window
on the clear cold wind after rain, the long
whistle of a train coming
closer, then passing.
This morning beside his hospital bed –
honey rose opening, the blessing
of falling away from old hurt.
The maw of grief already waiting,
Love, I said, pretending I am not afraid.
They aren’t quiet, the dead. We hear
their clamor, words jammed and jostled,
so we don’t know who’s talking
and who’s talking back.
From the four directions
we gather our drawn limbs and our wits.
The day reassembles itself
in the singularity of each rock, each
pair of eyes, a sunny sky. Well,
here we are in the post-post world
with its glassy silence. Our tongues
have been mended, but what can we say?
Most silent is Dear Innocence -- a barge for her
laden with lilies, roses and rosemary.
Look at her face, eyes wide as heaven
in surprise. She’s dead!
But she won’t shout with the others,
whose interrogations and insults
trouble even the dark. We close her eyes
with a moonstone over each socket,
so she will know the gaze
of her own bovine love. We did
the best we could for her.
She wore you thin as a wishbone.
She wore me thin as a whip.
Dust of Life
Bui doi they called the half-American
children of Vietnamese women, dust
of life. I learned this the day I heard
a baby was found alive in a trash compactor--
the same day a homeless man died
when the dumpster he was sleeping in
was picked up by the truck.
Dumpsters are warm because decomposition
is an active process. That might be what
kept the baby alive. The homeless man slept
perhaps like a baby. I lie awake
and rummage the dust and refuse
of my mind. It offers up what it can. Tonight
I forgive myself
for not being able to spin straw to gold
or make shoes, or sing a baby to sleep.
Let a black dog lie at your hearth.
If a white dog comes to your door
drive it off.
Take gravel from the gullet of a cock
and cook it with flour and suet.
Shape a loaf to rise
in the dark of the moon.
When a stranger comes,
slice the bread.
If a crow nests in your hair
throw away your comb.
Throw away your heroic medals.
Wrap your regrets with green ribbons
and tie them to exit doors.
Pray to trees. Sing to stones.
Let your grief lie
by the fire beside the black dog.
Make it welcome. Do not
turn away from it.
Wrap your suffering in blue silk
and let the tide take your tears.
Remember all things come and go,
come and go.
When the fist of anger closes
your heart, pull it out, wrap it
in red twine and bury it
under a rose bush to make
If despair clings to you
get up before dawn
and think of those you love
If longing aches, take aspirin.
If worry stiffens your shoulders
break the crust of your back
and flap your arms like a homeless
coat or the wings of a blackbird.
If doubt darkens your hope
flap them again. Think of
kicking your legs to swim,
kicking your legs to swing
as high as the swing could go.
Let sadness see the sunrise.
When you can’t sleep, go listen
to the owls, for they are wise
hunters with eyes in the back
of their heads.
When you weep for all that is lost
Elizabeth Carothers Herron’s poems appear in West Marin Review, Comstock Review, Canary, and Reflections. Her work has been supported by the San Francisco Small Press Traffic award, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mesa Writer’s Residency.
She has worked as a canner on the nightshift in a pineapple processing plant, a department store sales clerk, a chaplain for the police force, and a member of the faculty at Sonoma State University. Wild Duck Review, Columbia Review, Tri-Cycle, Orion, Parabola and various anthologies have also published her work; Report, a chapbook-length poem structured around weather, tides, and phases of the moon, was published by Richard Denner’s dPress in 2007. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry.