Poems by Marcia Lipson, 1948–2001

Notes on Everything

At the very least,
we go from one thing to another,
until the latter obscures the former
we thought paramount,
how to prepare a lecture,
say, until one day you can't
pick up a pen for the pain —
so things shift,

the sunset’s pinks and oranges
take on a new importance,
as does a walk down the road
where a crow, beak open atop a sandstone
totem, sits like an acolyte,
and doesn't stop to reconsider

or is that what he does
as we pass him in the daytime field
where a chickadee snatches a sunflower
seed and swoops over a hedge,
mockingbirds dive around pokeweed ’s
red stems whose clusters of purplish–
black berries droop poisonous
to the ground, white–faced heifers

hunch over blankets of buttercups
they float above by moonlight. Jupiter
rises and someone explains the compatibility
of Cancer and Capricorn. Day after Day
a spider weaves a web across a path
to the pond, but we forget
and break its threads. A black
exclamation point, she hangs midair
waving her legs, ready to begin again.

The Vole

I almost step on a vole lying dead
on its back along the prairie trail,
its tiny pink paws extended,
mouth open so the front teeth
protrude. He looks asleep, tucked
into his grey fur, thought it’s early,
in the morning, cranky red–winged
blackbirds already on patrol.

I wish the vole would run off, reveal
where he was bound in grass crowded
with black–eyed susans, downcast
yellow cone flowers, periscopes of queen anne’s
lace amid weaves of violet bee balm.

I got up this morning to wander,
to watch the cattails sway
over the nests of the blackbirds,
but the birds’ apprehension rekindles mine
or is it the reverse,
theirs no greater than mine,
though they have young to protect,
while I've come to walk off
what can't be named,
down through the dry prairie,
up through the wet, to the Skokie River,
sluggish in summer.

To measure the speed of a stick bobbing
in the current, I could count the beat of my pulse,
more irregular than a musical measure,
but all I have
along with the river’s ebb and flow.

The suspension bridge sways as I cross,
rises and falls with each of my steps
toward trails shaded by elms, where orange
day lilies lean together like marionettes.
How simple it seems from here:
the boldness of the blackbirds,
the friction of the current in the bed of the river,
the vole going back to the body of the earth.

At the Funeral

According to Jesiwsh tradition,
amputated limbs are buried in the
future grave site, to be reunited with
the body at the time of death.

I paid a hell of a lot
to have those legs buried,
but when I shoveled in the dirt,
they weren’t there.

Were they deeper than the reach
of the shovel, deeper than your coffin
waiting for fistfuls of earth,
for the last prayer,

or had they walked off,
outraged by their plight,
determined, as in life,
to go their own way?

Were they lost on the road
to the cemetery, traveled by each
in the course of a year,
or buried

in someone else’s grave,
or thrown out with trash
after each amputation
by hospital workers who blundered,

then pretended
that each leg was preserved
and trasnported,
awaiting your body

and inseparability?


What I have to do is waiting, silently,
for me to pick myself up and begin to do it.
What I have to do is waiting for me to begin,
even if it means getting smacked as I did at seven,
bending over to kss the back of a boy I loved
who was tying his shoe and stood up suddenly
hitting me squarely on the nose.
What I have to do is waiting silently
for me to stop hovering over kisses in memory,
to stop hovering over what’s close at hand,
and to end the waiting for what I have to do.

all poems © Marcia Lipson

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