Category Archives: poetry

white sand beach shoreline

Poem: April

I’ve been writing and reading a lot of poetry over the past 10 weeks as I recover from surgery for a broken wrist. Marie Howe’s What The Living Do prompted this memory of my father’s last days. He died on April 18, 1995, in Vero Beach, FL.

 

April

I have arrived in this vivid spring: oleanders, hot Florida sun,
strong Atlantic breeze and cumulus towers in the blue-blue sky.

The small hospital is a tidy white concrete low-rise in a trimmed landscape
where shadows race and the wide doors open like airlocks.

Inside my father lies in a bed and I sit in a chair in my summer clothes.
Delirious, he says anything he thinks of and leers at my legs

licking his lips until something occurs to him
and he points at the door, looks me in the eye, and says,

Go to my office and get that book. I say, Maybe later.
Go now, he says and smiles like it’s a game.

He thinks he’s at home, not seeing the hospital around him.
What is it about, I ask, dangerously indulging the hallucination.

Go, he says, commanding. I say, I can’t, not right now.
A moment later he says, You’re having a hard time.

He sees me crying and his kindness breaks me in half.
The doctor and an intern enter and look at the two of us

How are you, the doctor asks me, but he can see perfectly well.
Prepare yourself, he says, and I begin.

I prepare by coming and going, abandoning plans for recovery
swapping vigils with my mother and sister

in the ICU that is a glass cage behind more airlocks
sitting with my father as he becomes quiet, struggles to breathe

watching the heart monitor leaping, the sound mercifully turned off
the oxygen mask pressing into the skin around his nose and mouth.

I prepare by taking an afternoon off as if cutting class or calling in sick
because he is unconscious, because I can’t take it, and that is when he dies

as I lie on the beach close to the restless, mumbling Atlantic
in the salty wind that peppers my skin with stinging sand.

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3 young girls standing on a hay bale looking in a horse's stall

Poem: Riding Lessons

A writing challenge on the prompt “ritual.”

. . .

Riding Lessons

The boy pulls on each boot as his father watches
he grabs his helmet by the strap
lifts it from the dirt where he dropped it
trudges through the barn’s shadowed maw where the ponies stand in cross-ties
and a thousand girls in jodhpurs adore them.

I prompt him at every step of the ritual tacking-up as he
swipes at the pony’s legs with a brush
broods at its refusal to lift a hoof for the pick
forgets where its bridle, saddle, and the stained pad are stored
although he has been taking lessons all summer.

Here’s what he thinks about riding
and his father’s nostalgia for horses

He drops the saddle on the pony’s back
with the pommel facing backward.

. . .

© 2018 Patti Witten
photo / Patti Witten

Lyric: How Can It Help to Speak of the Heart

How can it help to speak of the heart?
Tell me about the horses
Their language of meaningful gestures
Hooves stirring the hay
At night in the dark silent barn

How can it help to speak of the world?
Tell me about the sunrise
The adorable wars of sparrows
Their street-fair circus reunions
Vise-like grip in the thunderstorm

How can it help to speak of the truth?
Tell me about the river
through forest, plain, and desert
to the salty mouth of the sea
over the silty tongues of giants

How can it help to speak of love?
Tell me about the garden
Blooms that nod or stretch or crawl
Arrived for the attention of sunshine
Stoic or showy, brave or discreet
In the brief heat of summer before the rain

How can it help to speak anymore?
Tell me about your drawing
A monster, a building, a hand-holding child
My head is a hostel for metaphors
And faithless memories, like as like not

So a bird is a baby, a touch is a star
Bits of the whole are ciphers for all
Arrayed in a brilliant expanding web
Connecting the beginning with what
Has no end

©2017 Patti Witten
photo / Patti Witten

miniature camera

Recent Poems: My Snapshot Life, and remember when…

I’ve been participating in a writing circle with Zee Zahava. She kindly posted one of my dashed-off poems on her blog, PaintedParrott.

Read My Snapshot Life, inspired by the poem “Curriculum Vitae,” by Lisel Meuller.

 

Here is another from the workshop, from a prompt that starts, “remember when…”

Remember the fallout shelter in the basement?
Remember we thought we were getting a pool?
Remember Dad telling us no, in the living room, with the machines just outside digging up the lawn?
Remember the disappointment?
Remember the fear?
Remember the bomb?
Remember the questions about WHO would be allowed inside?
WHAT would happen above ground?
WHEN the world would end?
Remember the canned food? The cold, clammy, concrete?
The dark? The dim, buzzing electric bulbs?
Remember the generator?
Remember we were not allowed to play in there?
Remember the padlock?
Remember the life-sized poster of Frankenstein that we hung over the door?

 

© 2017 Patti Witten

photo / Patti Witten