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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Family Hymn

 

The Midwest settles into a blue temperature.     

The landscape darkens and I am inside it.

I look out as the last of the day’s light diminishes.

Hills and seamless grasses merge like tributaries overlapping.

Where one field ends another begins.

Queen Anne reverberate inside their expanded kingdoms.

If there are topographical inconsistencies I cannot tell.

Here, evenings even everything they touch.

Only the myrtles dilate. Congregations of bluebirds

gather inside their branches, supplement their color.

Native, indigenous, one feels you owe

the afternoon’s last breezes to these birds,

to their seasonal carpentries, to the upward sweep of their hymns.

Tomorrow I will leave, go home to what is familiar.

My visit has been long and long enough.

I wonder a lot about the love of family, its flight,

what you take with you, what you leave behind.

Perhaps a few tokens if you’re lucky,

photographs, a few illustrated brochures.

I don’t know what you learn about family except what you don’t.

The heart is a plain language, one I’d learned

to keep to myself  not knowing otherwise.

My family never talked much, preferring the occasional glance,

a tap on the knee under the dining room table.

Perhaps, seems, maybes, ifs scale our family tree.

I’ve discovered that the older I become the more I am my father.

Seems he and I have been going on for generations,

all the while quietly rowing.

There are trails everywhere, obituaries, names, faces lit with candles.

Every year I blow them out one by one like birthday wishes.

Newspaper clippings inside the family bible uncover our gradual descent.

I’ve learned that there are no single goodbyes in any single year,

that they arrive in multiples, in sets of twos and threes like teacups.

Sometimes I’ve wondered about my capacity to feel.

Sometimes you can lose yourself in that kind of thinking.

Alone, you can lose yourself anywhere.

              

                                        —Mitchell Untch

 

 

 

 

Always Somewhere One Finds Goodbyes

 

I look up from the page into the cool center of the room,

remember something I have to do tomorrow,

then turn back to what I am reading,

a book of poems by Walter Benjamin.

It’s taken me ten years to get around to this/him.             

Whole passages drop from the page like edges of cliffs.

The clock strikes half past ten then quarter till.

The woman who lives across the street

sweeps dead leaves off the sidewalk

in her bathrobe and bunny slippers.

I see her mouth move under the streetlamp,

hear her screen door wheeze.

Though I cannot make out words,

I think she loved someone once, or must have.

There’s a ring on her finger she never takes off.

Always somewhere one finds goodbyes.

Tenants in the apartment above me

move from one room to the other, arranging things.

Someone’s moved into the empty rental above me.

They are, no doubt, in the process

of making a home ideally suited.

Nothing is ever completely silent I think.

Not air. Not light. Not loneliness.

I turn the page and read a few words aloud.

I think that by speaking them I will understand them better,

hear something I had never heard before,

like when a teacher says  “repeat after me”

and a word or two rings deeper.

Now, it is as if every word were shouting.

I wonder if it was like that in the Beginning,

when everything was its own before it was called out in the naming.

I wonder what it was like before desire.

Perhaps I am just getting old.

Grandmother lived ninety-seven years.

By the time she died, she had heard it all.

There was nothing left to say.

It’s getting late and you are not home.

Outside, orange blossoms gather moonlight,

all afternoon thrilled with bees.

 

                        —Mitchell Untch 

 

 

 

Mary, Mary

 

 

“As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field.”  Psalm 103: 15-16

 

I remember how last week I sat on my yellow lawn chair on my newly minted grass and watched my neighbor across the street weed her garden, her broad brim hat, a sundial as the sunlight flew over the bright red bricks, unswaddled her house, the host of hedgerows, the honeysuckle, the crows bickering in a bed of sweet peas. Her sunny rubber garden gloves smudged with dirt, essences of broken glitter and flints of Mesopotamian bone, unstitched ragweed, lopped the heads off recalcitrant dandelions. Fingering her trowel as if it were a scalpel, she searched for a spot to root petunias, circumventing an earthworm’s misguided crawl, the directionless wings of a ladybug, an itinerant bee, filling the banks of her fertilized nests with slips of African violets, misting them with water, their petals like dusty windows after a rain slowly toweled in the sunlight. I saw how she lifted dahlia’s from their lime colored hammocks of moss, measured the crochet of circular walls on which they would cling, spraying the leaves like she would the back of her neck--O’ Lady Day, another gardenia, a spotlight in the wind’s applause, O’ Lady Day, a strand of poppies pricking the effulgent soil as it gives where it needed, as it always has, swiftly as gifts, as rain. I see her knees selfless swelling in roots, her narrow fingers narrowing in the long stems and in the blooming crowns, a resurrection. I wondered if what she was doing was right- love hacking the soil, the switch grass, scissoring, scaffolding, meddling with what has managed for so long to make beauty from the dead, what we give it, the entrusted soul, while the wild OxEye, butterfly weed, the insatiate lupine sing over the blonde fields, over the wind, over every living thing.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                —Mitchell Untch