The following poems are from my second book But How Did They Live? forthcoming in September, 2013. These poems are inspired by photographs in the book The Last Album by Ann Weiss.
Photo: Entrance Gate In Morning
The trees have listened for years to the orchestra.
They've watched people
walk back and forth so many times
to the sounds of the instruments.
The wooden shoes
come back to them in dreams.
If you close your eyes and walk through the iron gate,
you'll see the cellist.
She's sitting off to the right, across from the brothel,
in front of the black kitchen.
If you close your eyes, you'll hear eardrums vibrating
in the same pattern as the instruments.
The trees have been thinking too much.
Of the bows, the strings, the fingers.
Of a time they knew before this.
Photo: The Children
The tree holds their weight without effort,
the roots beneath growing outward for miles.
The water, the minerals, travel a long time before reaching the trunk.
Air goes into the soil, then around the roots.
Rabbits know, too, that the ground won't collapse.
Old roots anchor, and their hairs,
each a single cell,
value the time they have left.
Above, the tree is shaped like a U.
The children hold each other up.
It's easy to tell them apart, because one wears a cap.
A voice says The Great Synagogue burned.
The flames spread through the stained glass windows. The voice is unheard.
The children hear only their mother, who tells them to stand still.
The trees are still there. So are the earthworms.
To drag fallen leaves underground, to return minerals,
to make sure the roots can reach them.
They stood in the same tree.
The light wasn't visible
but forty days before they were born
it was decided.
We spend a lifetime looking, don't we?
if we don't respond.
Their black hair, their eyes far apart
their thin lips.
His shadow not dark behind her.
So, will they bend
like seedlings toward the light
or will they curl
like death, behind us?
Photo: Man Holding Violin
He pictured Stradivari in his workshop
while making his violin.
He pretended to be him,
choosing his materials carefully,
shaping and finishing, assembling the parts
until months later, the instrument was finished.
When his wife heard him play,
she thought of the laundry piling up in the basket.
After he finished, she put her hands on his shoulders
said, I'll go make dinner now.
He was left with his instrument on his lap,
fingering the chin rest.
He thought about the highest string.
How his wife hadn't noticed the rich sound.
He looked at the varnish.
Saw himself mixing oak pigment
with dragon's blood, to coat the body.
He wanted his wife to know how it felt
to drill holes for the tuning pegs,
to carve the scroll from a block of maplewood.
How, after he cut soundholes
in the belly and finally fitted the strings,
Paganini's devilish solos played in his head.
But she did not understand
how the vibrations of the strings
passed through the bridge and into the hollow frame,
spreading evenly, making the body resonate
to produce his sound.
Photo: Woman Thinking During Portrait
Isn't it strange that the trees behind me only become real when I look at them?
And, that what happens in the trees happens
only when I turn around to see them--
that a leaf skeleton, a pepper moth, the nest of a wood ant
exists in this world, rather than in another?
That the universe is split into two, and that I live in only one part of it.
When I talk like this, my husband listens.
When I tell him I worry about what happens when I'm not looking,
he says, things that you don't worry about are the things that happen,
which makes me think that I should worry about everything.
The bicycle shop, my daughter, the possibility of war.
When I smile for the picture, I hold my daughter's hand.
I feel her weight lean into me.
I try not to think about what's happening behind me,
that I don't need to know everything that exists simultaneously.
I could go mad if I don't stop.
Everything is next door to each other, but there is no way to communicate.
There are so many choices happening at the same time.
But I'll stop now.
There is a decaying world among the leaf litter, but I won't look.
I won't think about what hides.
The ground beetles, the centipedes, what remains of the tree.