Author's Note: The first poem is about death as survival. Objects the people collected survived for a while after their deaths. The poem “March” arrived when I was teaching poetry at a wellness center, in Susanville, CA. It takes place in Vermont where I was born and lived for twenty-eight years. The “Salve of my Heart is Bone-Meal,” was inspired by Patrick Nolan, an inmate I worked with at Folsom Prison. He’d searched for a way to address the suffering of others inmate and through poetry he found some relief for his own pain.
Building on Martin Buber
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly,
God is the electricity that surges between them.” —M. Buber Visitors were greeted with love, and settled into a quiet ambiance as they sipped wine, ate crackers spread with Brie. Such was a house that filled others, and others filled such a house. Pictures hung as though planted deep in the walls, and the floors were the solid footing of earth itself; everything thrived with harmony of the good people who owned such a home, the porch occasionally bowing in honor of the moon. Years passed, first one of them died and amputated the house. The house went on, but it limped a little in the right leg. When the remaining partner followed, everything else in the house fell ill. Those who extended condolences could feel the couple as they inhabited objects collected over the years; shelved books, pottery from village artists, hand hewn wood pieces. What was in the atoms of their belongings, months later, went on to join the couple. The house no longer limped.
It was a day cold as granite when I relaxed in the Windsor rocker, you, my young son cradled into me. Outside, banks of gray-slush, elm trees stark and still, your breath against my breast. O, firstborn, how silently bleak that dastardly month of March, when drag of time slogged across the clock. I longed for summer, to push your carriage along the sidewalk, dangle my feet in the park’s stream. For ages, a mother might sit, waiting for the rains to wash away the gray, to quell the tied-down days, for sunshine to finally splash through windows.
The Salve of My Heart is Bone-Meal
For months I mourned the loss of his promise, the twist fate creates, copies of his unfinished poems cremated with him, he, my most gifted student, the one who grieved the large which is difficult to break down into the comprehensible, died of hepatitis C when all I’d asked was, he return to the world a free man as the next chapter in his splendid evolution, a man become so learned he was nearly a book, or should I say encyclopedia? His eyes rimed with dark circles as though sleep vacationed, long lanky form in blue jeans and chambray, nearly beautiful, fingers of a piano player or perhaps sculptor. Countless times I entered the prison’s yard, he there in the sally port, waiting to help me carry in bags of books, notepad paper, pencils. I don’t know why some die young, their promise gone to flame, or why the words of Roethke come back to haunt me, “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.” I think of Patrick’s poems as starlings that fill the sky, strong and direct by how they turn their surrounding sounds into their own calls, which by the way, is how a poem gets written.
Originally published in Suisun Valley Review, 2020
©2020 Dianna MacKinnon Henning
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL