Good Harbor, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Outward, beyond the walls of the house — snug
vacation cottage it’s called, its view wide
salt marsh, bronze rippling under autumn sky —
a pond, trees fencing one side gold, ruby,
the other a stand wind scoured, where swans,
glaring at their mirrored selves, and ducks, geese
fish, squabble, beat water, mingling. Farthest,
ocean: the pulse at waves’ hem, tidying,
pulls out yesterday, and everywhere
on and over, perched or wheeling, bipeds
preen and wail (except those wingless, walking,
quadrupeds in tow, not heeling), while
high-flown goose alphabet barks contraries,
Stay! Fly! an urgent hectoring of air.
Within, despite days like feeder after
feeder spread with seed or bread leavings strewn
on water, the skull’s racket and chatter
Didn’t Didn’t Failed! Must! to vacate here,
old thoughts, selves, dropping like shells let shatter
on these rocks, wind’s pickings, and me let breathe.

The 4th of Cheshvan, the 6th of November

Two dates for remembrance, one for the observant son,
the other for the secular daughter, on each a candle in a glass
burns to mark your death, you who hated death yet stood
with your parents, every mid-December, lighting the candle in a glass
that made them shadows, your children, too, afraid, watching
this mystery none explained, afraid of the whispering, of dark fingers
quivering on kitchen walls, your parents engulfed remembering
their son, their first-born, first in the family born in America,
brilliant, young charmer, your loved overshadower forever
since shadowing you. How you hated death! How none
in our home spoke his name or that word (needed, spelled)
as if a word could cast a spell. The pall when visitors did.
Neither your son, bearer of his name, who grew religious, marrying
a rabbi’s daughter, who in his own age, sick to death,
too weak to read held his siddur to himself as carefully
as were it years past and this one or another of his children
in infancy being held so close, nor your daughter,
conceived in hurt and anger — you and your gone husband
(the wife-to-be waiting at their hotel), even then still obedient
to his cold, seeming-pious father’s demand that one more night
you and he try again, in drunken dinner’s aftermath —
begotten, grown no shul goer, unmarried, childless, the one not wanted yet
the one wanted, as always daughters are, when you, dying,
clawed by nightmares, felt death’s terror, its sickening
ravishment … neither forgets. What use candles to the dead?
Nevertheless, every year your observant son one sundown, on another your daughter,
for you, given no other education in the passed-on faith,
burn a candle in a glass in the face of death until it dies.


Ivy, begonia, false aralia, cutting
dog-eared drag of dog-days’ riot back,
I say I do it for the plants’ own good,
to start new growth, root and reach both, wondering
do these cuts pain, wondering does what
checks me, gauging technique, call
each cut good, every severing love.