I built a frame of apricot
wood. This was for you. The clouds float
through it even as I sleep. You wrote
once of wild herbs gathered and brought
to a lovely girl, an offering not
of passion but of some remote
desire to hear a word from the throat
of the Lord Within Clouds. I thought
of this as I chiseled the wood.
Last night it rained. I listened to
it from my bed by the open
window, hoping that the clouds would
not leave. This morning two birds flew
by. It is raining again.
Originally penned in the 1980s, “Apricot Wood,” is included in my 2015 chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. It was first published in 1986, in SPSM&H, a publication devoted to sonnets, and was featured on Autumn Sky Poetry Daily in March 2015. It’s interesting to look at my writing from this period. Some pieces seem to have been written by a stranger, long ago and far, far away. This one somehow seems closer.
Even in death she scraps the easy path, choosing thorns and rocks
over blossoms and a groomed walkway. On hands and knees,
scouring the floor with ghost water and a scrub brush made of ancient
thistles, her pale figure flares yellow in the kitchen. Mom, you don’t have to do this, I say. You’re dead, and besides, I have a swiffer in the garage. I can almost hear her humming a Ray Charles
song from an album back in the sixties, and I notice that the water
in the transparent bucket remains clear and at the same level no matter
how often she dips into it. What do you say to one who never replies?
We’ve long splashed through that puddle of contention, and though
wary of repetition’s erosive qualities, I resort to ritual, drop a piece of kombu into a pot of water, bring it to a boil, remove it from the heat,
sift in a handful of dried bonito flakes and a few drops of soy sauce,
stirring it a few times. Then I strain the liquid, spoon in some miso,
add chopped green onion and a few cubes of tofu. I ladle this into two
black and red laquer bowls and set them on opposite sides of the table.
Hours later, the glow from the kitchen has faded, but I fidget and lie
awake, pain pulsing from hip to knee, and wonder if surgery is impending,
whether I should hire someone to temporarily mow the grass. How do
we reconcile reality with desire, with emotional drought and flood-swollen
creeks and the inability to draw together those things we desire most?
In the morning the floor is still dirty and the soup is where I’d left it,
at the sharp edge separating table from space, another stuttering symbol,
cold and unappetizing, smelling faintly of fish and muddy water.
“My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” first appeared in The Indianapolis Review, and was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.