{A Symphony of Dying: Prose Poem}

After Mary Oliver’s “In Provincetown, and Ohio, and Alabama

“Death taps his black wand and something vanishes.”

The bundles of rhododendron flowers fall through the tangle of branches where the lake water is cool and where, for a while, they are not alive but their petals are white-pink bright still.

The dragonfly, blue and small as an eye, flits along by my boat as his life flows past him. He is unaware, or – I don’t know! – at peace, as his short and shiny breath falls away.

Trees have fallen, tall and stubborn still, into the water and are now covered in algae, feast for the fish.

A leaf, brown and crinkled, and a bug, lay knotted in the tough fabric of the spider’s home.

“Death taps his black wand” and something grows.

“Death taps his black wand” and life overcomes.

{A Day in Town}

Today, I spent $43 on a gift,
a fidget spinner, two pins, one iron-on patch.
I also came home with the most precious of commodities:
four books, poetry and fiction.
Payed for with the swipe of a library card, and the smile of the
quiet-voiced, grey-haired woman behind the counter.

No exchange of money for this
exchange of —dare I say—

{This Poison}

An animal fear floods my throat when there is sudden movement
from the corner of the street where a tarp has been laid over the trees
to protect the men who smoke and drink and chew khat during
the hot hours of a Nairobi weekend day.
The fear boils in the back of my mouth, slow to retreat as I realize
that there is no one coming for my suddenly-fragile form
as I walk towards home.

I will tell you that I had to keep this bile in my throat, this poison.
This is not the kind of thing that you give to people wrapped in
pretty words with a loving card.
This is the kind of thing that shoots from your body.
So I swallow it.
And swallow it.
This is the kind of thing that I must keep.

The next time you talk to an angry woman, remember that she might have had enough
of keeping the bile in her throat.
She might be tired of the poison burning her tongue.
She might not have room in her body for a stranger’s poison.

This is not the kind of thing you wrap in pretty words.

{A Division}

I feel the memory before it is translated for me.
D— swings his arm wide from his body, just above
the ocean’s soft waves,
speaking quickly and persistently in his language.
The others laugh, their faces opening
wide with joy.
The memory as it is recited in a language I don’t know
sweeps over me, and I start laughing too.
The waves wash around us, cold on my body.
They turn to me to translate the story, words stumbling
out of their mouths.
I listen but I already know;
I’m already laughing.

{10 May 2017}

I feel the ghosts of poems unwritten in my mouth.
The man on the side of the road reading his texts;
The pink toilet in the ditch;
The girl cartwheeling on the field;
The theft of a home;
The spiced tea in a mug;
The outstretched legs on a blanket;
The blinking brake lights;
This time;
This life.
Here they are – just for you,
Brought out of their dark home.

{This House of Ours}

We built love up around us like a house.
The old traditions say that we’ve built upon rock.
The old traditions say that our foundation is strong:
It will endure the harshest storms blowing off the seas
Of our lives.

It stands the test of time:
While we redo the floors, the windows keep out the rain.
While we replace the glass in the windows,
We sleep on sturdy floors.

Our carpets are woven of steadfastness and the
Tapestries hung on the mantel, perseverance.

Even when we leave this place, this house of love,
It stands waiting for us, weathered but true,
It’s door swinging wide open for the
Weight of years lived apart.

{The Young Maasai}

Our young Maasai guide, Dickson, walks
Us in the land around our camp.

He is thin.
Under his traditional red wraps, shukas, and
Beads over his shoulders and around his waist,
You can see his ribcage, collarbones,
Shoulder blades, hips.

I wonder about how different our lives are
— I know this isn’t original —
But all the things I’ve experienced
That he never will.
All the things he has experienced that
I never will.

I wonder about how many layers I have
Covered my humanity with, the many
Different ways I have avoided the
Truth of the matter.

I wonder if it’s easier to find the soul if
You can already see the ribcage.

{The Morning}

Satao Elerai, Amboseli, Kenya
1 June 2016, 7:15 am

The sounds of the morning rise up around us, not-so-silent observers.
The kettle boils;
the dove calls from his nest his humble noise;
the crickets chirp;
the birds take flight, disturbing the air;
the coffee pot pours coffee;
the hot milk runs over the pan;
the zebras bark at a distance, their young just waking;
the birds — sunbirds, songbirds, many — sing to their thorny trees;
the sofa creaks under our weight;
the trees shift in the still morning air;
the pens move across pages;
the writers sip from cracked mugs;
and Satao Elerai wakes.

{A Memory}

There was a day I saw a man flat on the ground
in the red dirt beside the rutted road.
Foaming at the mouth, his whole body shaking 
I can still remember his wrecked form.

I’ve been told that people will fake a seizure,
to get help, to get money, to be pitied.
I wonder how one teaches their limbs
to rattle and their mouth to fall open, gurgling with saliva.

How desperate one must be to make
themselves vulnerable enough to collapse
on the dust-ridden side of a Nairobi street
and utter guttural noises until a person,
conflicted as I am now,
falls on their knees, a kind of
compassion in their eyes.

There are no answers here, friend.
Only an observation ― a paying of respect
to someone, somewhere, maybe.

{In Which I Write of My Own Death}

Today I borrowed books from a friend:
illustrated children’s books about the brain and books about teaching
students to listen to the —
well, the small voice in their heads.

I read them on the way home and
as we barreled down the hill in our long bus,
I was thinking:
What if I were to die today?

I believe that I ought to be comfortable with this idea, this death.
After all, who knows what my purpose might be,
surely not I.

I know people hope we cry when they die.
I only hope those I know are not quite right,
not quite comfortable with the immediacy, the reality.

I was thinking what a glorious mess that would be:
bodies, and glass, and me —
books about brains surrounding
my bloodied head like a pillow, or a crown.

Really, I only hope you find this poem, written in my notebook —
the last word, a mere scrawl,
the page smeared with my very last breath.