The present arrived at Christmas,
Bound with bow,
A white ribbon tied just so,
Caressing the slender tome
Of Emily Dickinson poems.
Carefully, I undid it,
Teased the knot free,
Tossed it to the
Back of the bookshelf,
Out of sight,
Out of mind.
Months later I searched
For a sash to bind up
A bouquet of white roses,
A gift for the grandmother
Of a 10-year-old boy now dead.
The white ribbon lay
Exactly as I had left it.
Gently, I wrapped the roses,
Bound with the tie that binds,
Placed the bouquet
In the grandmother’s arms,
Where it rested like a newborn
Now fast asleep.
Later, I let the gift giver know
I had recycled the bow,
Passed the tie on to the next in need.
When my text came through,
They were steeped in
Multiple trauma cases in the ED:
A motor vehicle accident victim;
Two gun shot wounds, both children.
“Your anodyne arrived when most needed,”
We hand each other along in life
Until the circle completes itself,
And we recognize the ribbon
For what it has become.
New puppy pounces on tossed toy,
trots it back,
paws pounding on wooden floor;
mouths, chews, searches for squeak;
dashes behind sofa—
head protrudes below skirting,
disappears, darts out,
gnaws the wooden foot;
onto the white pillow at my wife’s feet;
tracks the single strand of yarn
dancing to the crochet baton above;
attacks ball in basket and sprints,
paws thumping on rug;
in a woolen mesh.
The eve of Valentine’s Day he died,
Hours before the mad rush for roses began.
We learned of his death this morning—
When the belated e-mail arrived.
Red roses for beloveds,
Yellow for friends,
Lavender for mothers,
White for the departed.
I bought a red rose for my wife,
A burnt rose for my daughter,
A white rose for the little boy.
Years before I had inscribed him
A copy of Maggie Brown’s “Runaway Bunny”
And left it with his grandmother.
(The author, to demonstrate
Her robust surgical recovery,
Leapt out of bed,
Gave a Can-Can kick in the air,
Threw a pulmonary embolus
And promptly died in Nice.
No one expected her untimely death at forty-two;
We knew the boy was dying at nine.)
Our new puppy fetches
The old toy again and again;
Silently, we eat a hot meal
To ward off the wintry chill.
In fading sunlight
The white rose
Sheds its petals,
One by one.
In between low granite walls
Two workmen stand in snow,
Watching as the steel rod falls
To pound the earth below.
Some distance from their younger years,
I pause in my descent;
The pounding sound pricks up my ears
And echoes some lament.
Further by the frozen stream
Woodpeckers tap their tone;
In winter stillness, cold extreme,
Ice floes crack and groan.
In the distance whistling sounds
Break through this winter day;
The noontime ironhorse resounds
And bleats a hollow neigh.
Down among the bittersweet
Descending in a rush,
Bluebirds peck the russet meat
And flit among the brush.
Small warm-breasted fires burn,
Reminding me in winter’s chill —
Though every creature waits his turn —
I move among the living still.
When Winter, in her flirtatious ways,
In part to tease, part to amaze,
Showers down her powd’ry air
Upon the Lantskip, cold and bare,
I sit amidst my books and things
And ponder idly what Winter brings:
Ice and cold and snow and chill,
Titmice on the windowsill;
Steel blue skies with ravens black,
Icy dams that groan and crack;
And in the night, while half asleep,
The snowplow rumbling down our street.
The air grows cold, the house now still;
The furnace coughs —
Then burns to break the chill.
“These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live.”
to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
A sudden snap-crack—
Blind eyes flash open.
I listen for a thud
In the night
That never comes.
The back yard remains
Not even atoms of air.
At first light
My eyes search overhead,
The massive splintered branch
The sturdy limb below.