The Zoogoers

Out on the street,

a steady flow of feet

leads to the National Zoo.

One of our Smithsonian treasures,

bison graze there once again,

and a snowy leopard paces nervously

as you pass by. The birds in the aviary

fly, but they can’t really go anywhere,

not that they care.  They like it here,

but not the elephants. The tigers, too,

would like to be somewhere else.

They would have left with the panda,

who recently went back to China,

or should I say, was summoned back

to China. Some of us wept to see it go.

What You Are

YOU WILL BE WHAT I AM

Someone read this to us in Latin
at writers group tonight, translating
as the living do for the dead, as she
does for her lover who no longer speaks,
who lives in a memory care unit down
the street, who once danced and laughed
with their little dog. And tonight I get up
and do what must be done, disassemble
the books and bookcase, get the giant
photo of Willa Cather ready to pry loose
from the wall. I do this because we, all of
us, must be free to go where we go, in our
minds or on our feet, our little feet, no one
would believe could climb such mountains!

Teacher

You were formidable,

my first crush.

You surely knew the hold you had on me.

I picked up the chalk pieces, put up

the new bulletin board,

and followed you after class

when i noticed you were crying.

i had no idea what had happened

but you did, your surely knew. Your

husband was in Vietnam.  Maybe he was

never coming back. i followed you

to your car, my heart breaking on

your behalf. I gave you my most

precious treasure, a 45 of “Hey Jude.”

You smiled, and gave it back.

Somebody’s Baby Boy

So many missing people in Virginia,

you can tell a certain serial killer’s

out of jail, although last I heard

he had moved on to Utah, then

to Colorado. Very upset citizenry

in Provo and Durango, but not to worry.

He was on his way to Yellowstone,

and no one’s seen him since.

Downtown St. Pete

There is a man who fishes all morning

and feeds the birds all afternoon.

He is always surrounded by pelicans,

gulls, even great blue heron, and the

occasional wood stork flock to him for food.

Up at Mirror Lake, the egrets and ibis compete

with the ducks and moorhens for morsels from

office workers on their lunch hours and teenagers

playing hooky from school. Homeless people, too,

are generous with the shore birds and the geese.

One man who admits he gets only one meal a day

still shares what he has with a roseate spoonbill

who has somehow flown in from Fort DeSoto or

Lassing Park. “See,” he says. “This is God’s own

beauty, right here. An Audubon painting, eating

out of my hand.”

Janet From Another Planet

Omega Institute, 1987

So many souls in transition

Ram Dass tried to keep us grounded

by leading guided meditations each evening

reminding us that we were there to be of

service to others, sore and needing.

Some were living in tents, others had dorm

rooms, all had troubling events we were

trying to leave behind. One woman in

particular, muttering to herself all the time,

when we were doing self-introductions, said

“I’m Janet from another planet,” and we all

knew it was true. We were there, too, whatever

spaceship she was on, we had come along

for the ride, just for the summer. Like Ram

Dass said, we were all just walking each other home.

Table for Two

We sit across from each other

your eyes never leave my face

looking for the mystery to be unlocked

why are we here, what is this place?

I cannot help your confusion

though I understand it better than most

we have been here before, you know

for birthdays, for eggs and toast.

We will keep returning, time after time

even though you no longer know my name

the familiar tablecloth, the glassware is the same.

Warm Beer at 3 a.m.

I cannot sleep
for thinking of you
in the airport
waiting for me
like old times.
You wanted to see me
again and again
as if there were still
something between us
something you couldn’t
quite remember but you
knew it was significant.
I cannot sleep after seeing
yet another news report
of a man with Alzheimer’s
missing for more than a week
trying to go home to where
he used to live in Illinois.
He’s been in the news every
day, his family more frantic.
And news of a crash on I-95,
someone going north in
southbound lanes, one dead, 21,
another hospitalized, 29, but the
driver who crossed the median
walked away. I know you would not
want this, any more than you could
stand to see the apartment buildings
burning in London or Honolulu, any
more than you would want our own
oven burning from the plastic-handled
knife misplaced there before you left.
I want to keep you with me, stay with
you, not in any cloying way, but you
have decided I will not be your nurse.
You will come and eat breakfast with me,
go to dinner, galleries and museums. But
there will be no more tucking in at night,
no watching over you. Until you are stopped
cold by the brick wall, by gator or grizzly,
you will carry on, alone in the wilderness.

Antonia

Life is not fair, for those who

come from the old country.

I can barely remember my father

but they say he was a fine musician,

a beautifully accomplished violinist.

Somehow he ended up in the barn,

at 3 a.m., where he played one last

strain of the “Ave Maria,” then put

his shotgun at his feet, where he

could operate the trigger with his

big toe, and BAM! he was gone.

They buried him at the crossroads

because suicides are not allowed

in the Catholic cemetery. My mother

and brothers did the best they could.

I tried to help them, becoming a

hired girl to one of the best families

in town. I thought the man who made

promises to marry me would help my

family, but he only made me pregnant

and left me, all alone in Omaha. This

good man, my husband, has given me

thirteen children, fourteen all together.

He raised my first child as his own, like

Joseph in the manger. All are in the book,

Leo the most famous. They called me Toni

in real life, but my literary name has more

pizazz than her book that won the Pulitzer Prize.

The True Lancelot

The old legend, the myth

of Arthur’s Knights, had

it somewhat wrong, it seems.

Yes, Lancelot was in love

with the queen, but Lance

was not a he, but a she.

And Guinevere knew

and loved her anyway

because even in those days,

,two ladies together

was hotter than hot.

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