Janice Gould Photo Credit by Jason Ordaz, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Our Mothers Death
A long vigil in the dim room,
the blue curtains drawn at night.
All of us dozed on the hardwood floor
or leaned against a wall in numb wakefulness,
We knew death was prowling,
perhaps among the trees and downed limbs
behind our house.
It rapped at the windows, then
stood in the room attentively waiting. Three days,
a little more. Finally the moment came
to escort her—mid-afternoon, gray like any other
with its filter of fog blowing through the grass
on the hill.
Bereft, afraid, we held her upright
till her last breath spiked
and guttered out, like
a person drowning,
and it lifted her
away from the hot mass
of flesh and nerve that still was
our mother. She was gone,
though some reluctance remained
in the cooling air.
Eventually it turned, as we all might,
into something less than air,
more than light.
I find a few words you scratched
on blue-lined paper, ink fading over time,
a photo of you as a child, frowning
as you hold a blanket to your naked breast.
I remember everything you said—
not each word, but enough
to know your goodness, your resolve.
Where have you gone, dear soul?
Have you learned to value the luster of
your own bright heart? Always I wonder
which star you have become.
Have you joined the flight of birds?
Are you in sunlight shining through
the green of June? Or are you in the wind,
a chime tolling its one true note?
I have decided to befriend the night
and the blank, cotton-mouthed sleeplessness
that claims my spirit.
I am anywhere the half-moon sails,
its ghost-light breaking through clouds
in the salty wind-swept sky. Like owl,
I float over shadowed walls
and fences, the nocturnal alleys
of backyard blossoms—hollyhock,
blackberry, wild anise. In the deep thicket
of pines that grows in the creek bed
behind the house, I perch,
or among blue leaves of the eucalyptus
that click in the breeze while its cool
oily fragrance lifts into the dark.
I try out my voice, send forth
its husky syllable into night-stained streets
and rain-washed boulevards in cities
where the poor sleep, bunched up
against the cold in doorways,
their breath of tar and acids.
Navigating black currents of air,
unseen, unremarked, I understand
the giddy pleasure of darkness,
the uncanny moment of calling
into the pitch of morning. These wings
take me anywhere. Over shuttered houses
I glide, my voice stuttering—
an energetic harpy, a rasping entity
of unappeasable appetite.
Before the earliest birds sweep through the yard,
light a candle. Ask this day for refuge,
music and poems,
for sunlight warming the walls,
for the animal self at peace.
Ask to know the path into vibrant stillness.
Give thanks for humble foods—
the leavened and unleavened breads.
Praise the sun edging the horizon,
the dove-colored sky, washed clean.
Our Mothers Death, Dear Soul, Owl, and Dawn were all published in Janices fourth book of poetry, Doubters and Dreamers, University of Arizona, 2011.
Owl was also published in Pilgrimage Magazine, Vol. 35, Issue 3, 2011.