Before November

This afternoon is on its side,
and the trees are lit like firecrackers
shattering the smooth surface of the sky.
The hour has a voice of smoke.

The sounds of squirrels
troubling acorns bounce
ahead of me as I follow them
on the path to the lake.

I’m taking the advice
of the bookstore clerk —
Go watch the water
while it is still moving.

My three-year-old granddaughter, her first Halloween

for Natalie Katarina Larson

Pumpkins with rickrack
smiles and yellow burning
eyes line the walk. A flapping
ghost with broom feet hangs
by the front door to greet
the costumed children clutching
plastic pumpkins, black-cat grocery bags
advancing toward the unknown
of this stranger’s house.

I whisper to
the beautiful Belle
dressed in rhinestone tiara
and silvered gown,

O.K, Natalie, go ahead, knock.
She whispers back,

In a minute, Nana, I’m getting
my witch words ready.

Booba Likes the Autumn Sun in Montestigliano

Booba the cat
fur as sleek
as silk
black as any chic
Italian designer
could fashion
wears her aristocratic green eyes
two gem stones
shaped like olives
and sits by the archway

Tidbits, perhaps
if offered.

She ignores the sun
her haughty back turned
to it.

Swish Swish
side to side
from the “c” to the “t”
her tail revealing
she is born

To Name the Color Green is a Source of Flight

Here the earth is rusted by November
all the greenery grown dry

Leaves wave a final fragile
shake and the prairie grows golden hair

The landscape, open now, no pretenses
just a hand-me-down wardrobe for earth

Soon a spool of crystals will weave
a quilt of white over the russet ground

A poem has a mission something like fall
to be open, to see fragile mystery

To accept whiteness as a cover
not as an end to words

To leave space for the return
of the first leaf shadows of spring

Down Autumn

September is almost over
and the leaves are my flowers now.

Leaves are My Flowers Now, Michael Dennis Browne

Down autumn the geese are flying
in the thin blue air. Very soon
sun will slump its shoulders,
will not be seen as high
as the geese fly now.

Down autumn the geese are flying.
Daylight trails behind.
Soon we will be left
with only the distant hunter
to pierce the cold night sky.

Down autumn the geese are flying.
The leaves of my life are falling—
the red, the gold, the brown—
onto this landscape of
oak and open ground.

Purple, a color one must love quietly

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Purple is best in spring when lilacs bloom,
those flowers Whitman sang about
in his grief.

Their perfumed blooms sweeten
the thoughts of children walking home
on their last days of school.

In summer, purple is less conspicuous.
Scattered here and there
in lupine and monkshood.

And here—some wild nameless purple flowers,
flower atop flower bending like stars
with delicate three-part eyes.

And there—C. JACKSON
has trellised purple clematis
on his mailbox post.

While down by the lake, purple
finds a home among the mottled rocks
dashed along the shore.

And in rocky, windblown
places—blueberries turn purple
when they bleed in your mouth.

Soon the purple flames
of fireweed will blaze,
and, when the late fall sun sets,

purple will climb down
from the tall pines and sleep
in its own shadow.

What Was and Wasn’t Reported

November 22, 1963

Zweibach cookies like stumps
on the high-chair tray.
On TV, a smiling Jackie wearing
a shocking pink Chanel suit
and matching pill-box hat, deplanes
behind her husband, the President.

I turn the TV off and go out to hang
laundry in the sun’s eye, getting work done
before noon gets stuck in the trees. The baby content
in his carriage, another child playing inside,
another inside of me. The work gets done.
Errands are run, bills paid, I turn on the TV
again to find out what’s happening in Dallas.
The tube flickers with light, then the screen fills in

I drop the clothesbasket, a jumble
of shirts on the floor, and the baby begins to kick
inside of me, the others to cry as I scream
out to Jackie. She is hatless now.
She is standing by the new President.
I stand there too— by him, by her, by our country—
bloodstained, dazed, and rifle-shot.

The miniature fire engine, careens to some far
emergency in another room. More clothes
need to come in, a damp chill will stiffened them.
I undo each pin and take them down. Now supper
must be started.

War Again, A Liberal’s Protest Song, 1990

Remember those lofty words—life, liberty
the pursuit of happiness—the shots heard ’round
the world? But this Desert Storm, now I ask you:
Columnists tell us we’re so relieved we’ve righted
Vietnam. Righted Vietnam??? I guess I never
realized the hate, the loathing and the self-defeat
that those who thought we could have won it felt
through almost twenty years. Forget the jungle,
the civil nature of the war, the hero status
of Ho Chi Minh, much less the armies of Chinese
who were poised to cross the border. Why not just accept

we’d been suckered by the likes of Bao Di?
Well, we could have bombed it back a century,
but some of us were just a little squeamish after
Hiroshima, we figured we’d better leave a few
green patches. At least I could rejoice when
we left some of the children with their skin.

Since then, some credit is due, I will admit,
we took in Cambodians, Vietnamese adrift
in boats, we’re working on it yet. And we did
get out without the domino effect
although the Hmong might beg to differ
as they write their odyssey, stitch by
stitch, into this quirky quilted land.

The other side had a point, we protesters didn’t play
out the right scenario. We stayed behind,
thought those that went should have known much better.
While we marched, they died or lost their limbs.
We didn’t have a parade from them, however,
we finally commissioned a shiny wall & etched it
with the names of all those returned in body bags
and those with bodies that didn’t need a bag.

But would a parade have wiped away the names or
the jungle nightmares of those left alive?
Yes, we should have done it. If they do return this time,
we won’t begrudge them their hurrahs. However,
let’s do it right, let’s celebrate only the heroes,
the decent common Joes. I’ll cheer for those

who just got trapped in this predicament, or others
who felt the mighty call to defend
our American freedoms–we certainly can
understand how no one’s love was lost on Saddham Hussein.

So they flew the planes, they fired off
the artillery that freed Kuwait and felt
no jubilation for the humans who met
a different fate. But let’s not include or overrate
the heroism of the likes of one returning
Minnesotan who said (in a very close paraphrase)
It’s the ultimate game to watch them drop.
I certainly enjoyed it.

So let’s get out the yellow ribbons
for all the patriotic military men, but
I’d like a little prime time for
an American army of another sort.
Maybe in the not too distant future
we can ribbon heroes that do not carry guns,
but wear their missions on their hearts.
Let’s have a parade of ticker tape for them.

There’s Rosa Parks who claimed her dignity,
battling white men who wanted her seat on the front
of the bus in Montgomery and her legions
of freedom riders, the high school students
at Little Rock or Andrew, Michael and James
killed by sheriff’s deputies for registering
black Mississippians and that General Martin

with his “I had a Dream” speech, or even earlier,
the likes of Harriet Tubman and Phyllis Wheatley.
We’ll let them call out the cadence for our stride.
I’d line up the company CEO’s who divested
in South African apartheid and furthermore,
I’d ribbon the 30,000 peace corps workers
who, with less than a sergeant’s pay, have risked disease
and death in third world countries helping people
in ways unrelated to the defense industry,
learning indigenous languages and then
quietly coming home. We’ll include those scientists

trying to save the rain forests or those helping
the Yugoslavians, but those rearming
the dictators of the world before this latest
conflagration and before the next, we’ll not
include them. We won’t leave out Gloria Steinam.
I’d add all the low paid social workers and even
the police who hold their fire and those as sick to death
as anyone of the racism that stalks our city streets.

We could name names of those leaders
who deserted this war on poverty and left
the enlisted to tinker with the rusting
machinery of care, certainly we don’t want
them in our ranks. And bringing up the rear,
we do want all those adoptive parents, fearless
Sarah Brady, Greenpeace, and, last but not least,
Amnesty International that doesn’t let
the sun set on anybody’s inhumane prison.

So far its an uphill battle, jingoism
can’t cure it, a frenzy of waving flags
won’t purify the heart or wash away
the consequences for those of us
too intimidated or too old
to call for bolder strategy. So let’s roll
out what we must, now that the Kurds
are on the mountainsides,
no food, no shelter, no place to go
in the icy upper atmosphere, and
ethnic cleansing is beginning to take its toll
in Bosnia, Herzegovina. But after this

let’s dismantle the armaments, the rockets,
and stem the diaspora of our despair,
send in the United Nations forces
before a firestorm is set that sends us
out into the next century with nothing left
but an upper hand to wave.