Two Nonets: Explaining Death to a Six-Year-Old

My grandson makes the preacher nervous
asking way too many questions.
The preacher makes me nervous.
Why would Joe say he wants
to go to heaven
to see his dad?
Who planted
that seed?

breaking I say, if there’s a heaven,
your dad will wait and watch you grow.
Even though he didn’t, he
wants you to grow old. You’re
his eternity,
what’s left of him
here on

This piece is unfinished. I believe this topic would work best as a Zuihitsu. I need to do some research about the form before I revise.


In the new cloud park,
the forest ranger pulls on his gumboots
and steps out into mist.
He’s accustomed to trees,
and he doesn’t know quite what to do
with the clouds in his care.

Yes, he lied to the park superintendent,
told him he had experience in skyscaping.
The superintendent believed
because he wanted to.

Skyscapers are in demand, now,
in this wet, rainy climate.
Forest rangers, not so much
with so many of the forests gone.

He wasn’t sure he could take one more season
in the fire belt. He’ll learn how
to sculpt the clouds so people on the ground,
and in penthouse apartments can look up

See something besides the constant rain.
It’s either too much or not enough,
floods or fire. Clouds
are a tourist attraction now,

attracting visitors from the dry zones.
Some enterprising real estate agents
have been renting out balconies
in the clouds.

With a shovel, he beats the mist into a froth,
and with a custom made spatula, forms the high cloud,
spreads it like fondant. Briefly, the sun breaks through
making the frosting of his cloud cake pink

It’s a quick show, before the bottom falls out
and the rain begins again.
Good work, the superintendent says.
You might as well go home now. It will rain

until morning. The hours are erratic,
but at least it’s a job. He changes into street waders,
slides down the tube, and goes home.
The smell of fresh sourdough greets him at the door.

While he eats his bread and soup, he dreams of designs.
It can’t be cake every day. He thinks of an old movie,
wonders how hard it would be to make a cloud Godzilla.
Would the folks below even know who it was?

The Poet Takes a Break

The rain gauge says almost two inches of rain.
In the brief respite,
the dogs and I go out.
My bones, and the weather app, tell me
it isn’t over yet.

My job is to feed the chickens
and chase a packrat out of the coop.
The dogs patrol the fence
and keep an eye on me.

While I’m out
I pick a handful of green beans
and one ripening tomato.
I’ll cook tomorrow,
and mop up the muddy paw prints in the entry.

Today, I’m writing,
eating out of the fridge,
and letting the dogs run.

An English Teacher Talks about Rules

It is good to obey all the rules when you’re young, so you’ll have the strength to break them when you’re old.
–Mark Twain

Why wait until you’re old?
You kids know a bad rule
when you confront it.

Now, don’t break rules
just for the sake of breaking them;
have a damned good reason.

If a rule is bad,
it needs to be broken.
That takes strength,
and courage,
no matter your age.

Regarding writing rules,
you need to know them
before you break them.

Don’t break writing rules
because you don’t know any better,
break them to make your writing better.

The Science of Memory

There are some things that stick with you.
some combination of emotion and the senses
that keep a memory alive,
like the morning I awoke to the Monarchs,
mid migration, all the limbs on the trees alive
with butterflies flittering like leaves in a breeze.

I remember carrying my son, not yet a day old,
wrapped in a blue crocheted blanket
and my arms. How careful I was
as I got into the back of the car
to take him home. And how hungry.
I hadn’t eaten for thirty-six hours, at least.
We stopped for hamburgers.

Three years later, in a hospital this time,
a nurse brought my daughter to me.
She was as light as as a hollow-boned bird.

I was embroidering a gown for her.
As I set the embroidery aside to take baby into my arms,
the nurse exclaimed, “You love her!”
as if that were in question.

I remember the first time I made love
to the man I’ve slept with for the past 38 years.
Maybe I knew then that he was forever.

And it only takes a tiny jog to the memory
For me to see the balloons
rising from the valley floor
that morning in the Sandias.

This Isn’t Normal

My son-in-law died of Covid.
I wrote his obituary.
I sent flowers.
I didn’t go to his funeral.
I knew it wasn’t normal.

The governor was at Jerad’s funeral,
without a mask.
He shook hands with my grandsons
who had tested positive for the virus.
Not to worry!
He was the first US governor to get the virus.

He refused to mandate masks in Oklahoma.
After all, he survived.
This brand of governor
has become too normal.

My son came from Virginia
to help his sister navigate
the roiling waters of widowhood.
He brought his laptops and his work.
Working from anywhere has become normal.

We visited, son, daughter, grandsons
on one side of the dining room window,
parents on the other side,
talking on our phones.
Not normal, but we were where we needed to be.

The first thing I did two weeks after my second vaccine dose
was hug my daughter and my grandsons.
My son will be here next month for a family memorial.
I’ll hug him, too.
The governor won’t be there.

My friend died two weeks ago,
the latest in a string of relatives and friends.
She didn’t believe in vaccines.
Her family says, We think
she died of a cardiac event.

I worry for the undertakers,
for family members,
and for the churchgoing faithful
who never miss a funeral.
Worry is normal.

As has become custom,
I sent flowers
and didn’t go to the funeral.

Normal is a fluid state.

I Didn’t Need a Thesaurus, or A Tool in My Self-Care Kit

Every day, I try to take at least ten thousand steps.

Every hour, when I’m writing, I get up from my hard chair,
measure time with the clock
and the laps through the great room, down the long hall,
and back again.
The scientist in me measures everything, including how many laps
in an hour.

In the before time, there was a huge treadmill
filling the space between the sitting area and kitchen.
It’s rumbling noise bothered the dogs and
made it hard for the man to listen to the television
as I let the machine do the counting, miles,
miles per hour, the daily hour
while I read from the tablet in front of me.

I read a lot of books that way, carving out time
for two tools in my self-care kit.

Then, when everything shut down,
when I had more time than ever,
the treadmill quit.
Just like that.
I ordered the mother board from Amazon,
but we never got it set just right.

We hauled the treadmill to the thrift store,
set it on the covered porch,
and drove away.

The house felt bigger.
There was space to move,
and I worked out my route.

I had less time to read,
but more time to think.

Today, in the sixth hour of writing,
I measure my laps
before sitting to write again,
and guess what the prompt is,
what I’m to write about.
Tell me without saying the word.
Your turn.

Buried in the Soil

My garden is a time capsule,
it’s contents a catalog
of my successes and my mistakes.

In the corners and along the edges,
irises, cannas, and lilies bloom
when it’s their time.
My small white rose bush,
a gift from a secret pal,
blossoms all summer long.

It’s a history of my education–
of hyssop that pleases the bees,
the weeds I leave in spring
because the butterflies like them,
the goji berry plant, confined to a pot,
the blackberry bed,
the run amok strawberries,
and the things I shouldn’t have planted,
wouldn’t have planted, if only I’d known
what great bullies they were,
pushing out all the other plants,
staking their claim
with some type of herbal manifest destiny.

Each year I work to keep lemon balm
and tuberous-rooted sunflowers in check,
to make sure the annual flowers
and vegetables have room to grow.

Each year, I’m surprised again
when the time capsule opens up
and reminds me again
how much I have to learn,
and how nature always wins.

Melissa and Me

When we left home,
left our preacher fathers
for the parochial school my mother,
also a preacher, had attended,
we knew nothing.

That’s not true. We knew a lot.
We could quote the Bible.
We knew the words and melodies
to dozens of hymns and choruses
and spoke Spanish well enough
to spend a summer on the mission field,
you in Costa Rica,
me in Mexico.
We knew how to read people.

We found each other in the hall
of our first dorm. For all our similarities,
we were different.
I was a scholar.
You were a cheerleader.
I rushed headlong into trouble.
You sauntered into the mess.

What we learned that year
had little to do with algebra, history, or religion.

I learned to avoid the preacher’s sons
and the preachers to be,
the former sent here by their parents,
the later by hopes or a calling.
The local boys, just back from Viet Nam,
were safer and more fun,
despite their bags of weed and white crosses.

The school didn’t appreciate our off-campus education.
The letter I received at the end of semester
asked me to choose another fine Christian institution to attend.

I’m not sure what they determined were our sins?
We went to our classes.
We turned in our homework.
We were in the dorm by curfew.

Maybe it was the questions we asked.
Maybe it was our brashness.
Maybe it was the basketball player I’d started dating.

Her daddy blamed me.
My daddy blamed her,
and kept the letter secret from my mother.

You and I kept in touch.
We married.
Had children.
Married again.
Learned what couldn’t be taught in church.

You never lost your faith.
I gained a new one, in nature, in critical thinking, in love and kindness.

Then the pandemic. My son told me you were sick,
a blood clot. Not a stroke.

I wrote to you, and you called.
After all those years, and it was just like always.

Not Covid, you said,
but you didn’t know what had caused the clot.

Jenny lost her husband to Covid, I said.
My daughter, a widow, the daughter
you helped me raise when I left my first husband.

Two old ladies.
Decades of history, of education, formal and informal.
All those years, some happy, some tragic.

And somehow, we had survived.*

*from The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Illusory Truth

It’s a sort of truth itself that
repeating something often enough
gives it the illusion of truth.

Advertisers know this.

How many of us can go a day
without applying deodorant
or moisturizer?
Who told you the smell of sweat
was something to be feared?
Or wrinkles?

Advertising is mostly harmless,
but not so much preachers and politicians.

Who made you believe that you were going to hell
just for being you?

Who told you democracy had failed, when, in fact,
it worked as it was intended?

So you wasted money on those vitamins
that were supposed to make your hair shiny,
but didn’t.

Advertising is mostly harmless,
but not so much preachers and politicians.

Who told families that the polio vaccine
was a plot by western countries
to sterilize their young men?

How many children will suffer
for that lie?
How many healthcare workers have to die?

Who tells you that this candidate or that
is a socialist
without telling you what socialism really is?

Hey, if your government doesn’t even tax corporations,
much less seize control of them for the people,
yeah, even that for the people shit is a lie,
this isn’t a socialist country.

Who makes you fear refugees
who are only looking for a safe place
to live and love and work?

You may have bought that latest kitchen gadget
that takes up space on the counter.
Advertising may make you waste dollars,

but preachers and politicians,
both the true believers and the liars,
will use their words to make you believe
that bondage is freedom,
that your neighbor is your enemy,
that earth doesn’t belong to us all,

and their words, repeated often enough,
can cost you your freedom or your life.

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