Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's newest book, How Time Moves, will be released into the world two weeks from today! The author has already received her copies and has been busy signing and preparing them for your hungry reader eyes.
This week, Meadowlark shares with you the first poem of every section of the book. Much like the arrangement of songs on a CD, each poem's placement has a purpose. Do you see any patterns or other nuances of note?
Please enjoy what we have plucked for your late-night reading pleasure.
How Time Moves
How does the world tell our story?
A line of one cloud overlaps another.
An airplane gone but for its tail.
A first star barely inscribed on evening
before the page turns dark.
What does the first reddening leaf sing down its veins
to loosen the grip of twig from branch?
How does the cricket know to comb its wings
into the rhythm of August ending?
In the middle of a life, what tells us to turn quickly
from the oncoming car or edge of a nightmare
before dropping down to safety again?
What speaks through us at the cusp of winter,
the heavy hands of the next day’s humidity,
or the last magnolia bud not ruined by last night’s frost
knocked off the tree by a speeding squirrel?
Look away from the words composing the mind
into the blank sky, not quite gray, not quite blue,
that dissolves into the wind of the world.
At the edge of the yard somewhere in Lithuania,
she takes it all in: the white bark of the forest,
the dark vertical shadows, the tall field between here
and horizon. Wind rises from the banks
of trees and rushes everywhere, reminding her
to lift her chest, inhale sharply, remember.
Who will come after her, and then what?
Will the grasses part the same way in tomorrow’s weather,
the leaves sing their breaking song, the air hold
the weight of the world evenly around each being?
Is she the first or the last to hear the ending world?
From years ahead, I wait for her to turn into the future.
When she does, her face catches the late light,
and she sees me, sitting cross-legged on a wooden floor
in Kansas. What is there to say from there to here
that would help? A cow walks through a parking lot,
a peacock screams, all of us far from oceans, wars,
the urgency of living in a world on the cusp of vanishing.
My great-grandmother doesn’t know she will die
in that very spot facing away from soldiers and fire.
How most of this village will face the gun or the gas chamber,
quickly or slowly in the camps or holes in the ground,
little space to think the best, last thought.
The air she exhales falls off the earth, like the sun
tonight and every night. Her surviving children
will spread like water on hard ground that softens over time,
so far from her view at the edge of the yard.
All she knows is the cleansing light of the wind,
the moment her life balances before her,
the way love can shelter itself as a dark bird not-so-hidden
in the birches, ready to exhale from the leaves
that keep remaking themselves and the breath
from her body that will one day be my body.
"Time Names its Age"
When We Were Kestrels
It was easier, of course. Riding the thermals only
required reaching wide enough to make our wings
flush with the flattening slate of wind.
Landing was harder, but you would expect that,
especially in the storms of purple martins, jammed highways
of hail cores, or when the drought broke open the earth
and made husks of the worms.
We persevered, flapped hard to keep aloft, lived on anxiety,
kleed or killyed ourselves silly, flooded our beaks with tasty moths,
or the crunch of cicadas stored in that old woodpecker hole.
We creviced ourselves to safety in the secret pile of rocks.
Yes, it’s true we couldn’t build much on our own, but we were in
fine fettle when it came to making do with others’ discards.
We knew the dance of love is measured not in steps but food,
and we were good at it. We knew survival meant
knocking another out of the sky or carrying the small fish
that almost weighted us to death back to a high branch for a mate.
We didn’t care if we had to fight.
What did we care about? Leaning into the line of air
that pulled us higher, steadied us momentarily, then ruffled us
into quick flapping to save the day. We were at ease
with the chase, the death, the grasshopper swooped up,
the lilting trill of the call to go north or south.
No thought, all flight.
This was long before we were stilted into humans
who can only watch, suddenly lurch in sleep toward the fog,
trip on a sidewalk for no reason except that old bird yearning
to trust the air and fall.
The dog goes out. The cat comes in.
Daffodils so early, and a day later,
sleet clinging to their surprised ruffles.
The ceiling fan spins. Purple redbuds
dissolve the prevernal tangle of green
into anticipation and rain.
I can’t remember in my safe bed
what I dreamt or why my girlhood
chest trembles in its 60-year-old skin.
Tomorrow, I will bend low to where
lily-of-the-valley finally matches time,
which is not time as I knew or embellished
but its own flock of red-winged blackbirds
flashing fire over the wetlands
where I arrive again every few days, weary
of my own mind’s compost pile, to wander
at least six feet away from children not going
to school, parents not going to work,
and dogs not going to sleep on the couch,
all of us casting our wishes on the power
of water, the possibility of flight.
Around the world, pandemic time
sings at the speed of urgency down
one corridor to the E.R. or in a hut
on the edge of one village,
all weighted in the quiet bones
of those who cannot gather
around the dying, the dead, the grave
that cannot yet be dug
in the place we never expected
for him, for her, for them.
The female cardinal, faded orange,
all alarm, strikes her parade of notes, each tone dressed alike and looking
for its match somewhere in the field.
A flame the size of a finger tip
on the one candle still burning
at Shabbat service, then,
“Oseh Shalom, Oseh Shalom,
Shalom alechim vachlem yisrael,”
Jack and Susan singing while
we three sing with them,
one square out of 18 on Zoom,
striking the match of our song
somewhere in the forest.
It’s 2:13 a.m.
or is it? Who
cooks for you,
calls the barred owl,
Who cooks for you now?
No one, I speak aloud.
No one at all, answers
the dark blue sheen
and smudged starlight
landing, after thousands
of years, here,
on this window pane.
"Everything that Rises"
No One Tells You What to Expect
A downpour as you’re running down Massachusetts Street
in sandals that keep falling off in unexpected puddles.
Ice on power lines. The dying who won’t die,
then a single bluebird dead in your driveway.
The deadline or lost check spilling the orderly papers.
The part that isn’t made anymore for the carburetor,
or the sudden end of chronic sinus infections
while walking a parking lot unable to find the car.
Your best thinking won’t be enough to save your daughter
from a bad romance or your friend from leaving the man
she’ll regret leaving. Across town, in a quiet gathering
of maples, someone drops to her knees in such sadness
that even the hummingbirds buzz through unnoticed.
The dog gone for days returns wet and hungry,
the phone call reports the CT scan is negative,
and your husband brings you a tiny strawberry,
the first or the last, growing in your backyard.
Life will right itself on the water when the right rocks
come along, so let the bend tilt you toward
what comes next: the bottoms that fall out,
the shoes that drop, the wrong email sent
while a cousin you lost touch with decades ago
calls, his voice as familiar as the smell of pot roast.
All the songs you love will return like an old cat.
Expect to be startled.
When the Moon Opened My Life
I was expecting it, even willing it.
I leaned out the second story window
to get a better view through the branches
now that the troublesome leaves had dropped.
I was a child in a city, but I knew, like all animals
with their dewy eyes, what an enchantment was.
The moon exhaled rings of pink light dissolving
into darkness filled with more stars, more moons too.
Maybe it opened my life years earlier,
before I had words to catch what I saw: the moon
watching the sun in slivers, halves, orbs.
I would return to my whole life, once from the middle
of a windy field, walking up a slight incline
to catch up with my friends and the car.
Or from the passenger window of a warming car
where I listened to women singing in another language
on the radio, the contractions already hurting so much.
There was no place to go but this seat
where I waited for my husband to drive me.
The moon would wait with me, or wake me many times,
a flashlight in the dark that made me unzip a sheer tent
and squat barefoot on the gravel, looking up, shivering,
but grateful to be so cold and alive while the rest
of the family slept right through that big, noisy light.
Just last week, I stood on the brink of a narrow beach
and watched the moon turn the pages of the ocean,
wave by wave, far from home, but the moon has a way
of dissolving ideas like “home” or “away.” It’s just
the moon, the one that returns me each time it opens
the door another inch, lifts the weathered window frame.
from Following the Curve
Following the Curve
Follow the curve of your body
re-assembling itself from standing to sitting.
Your round corners unmake themselves
when you stretch out on the mat, the bed,
the old couch on the porch in the middle
of the night as the stars circle over.
Follow where the night comes from, spilling
dark ink on wet paper, changing your view.
Follow the very horizon even when it curves
into something else, another kind of body
in dappled shadows beneath telephone poles.
Follow the curve of time out of the forest
down the gravel driveway that inhales rain
and exhales daffodils to make more time.
Follow whatever curves life throws at you
as it patterns each generation and landscape
of each body curling to sleep each evening.
Listen to the arc of the tree working its edge
to catch what it can from the sun, and all else
relentlessly curving into what comes next.
Follow the river, taking what we think is fixed
into its mouth and shifting it into what wants to be
unknown again. The river of your life, your body,
aims for land, but is bent on carving new channels.
from Chasing Weather
You come through the gate,
and your life on earth begins:
light wavering green into the hue
of early spring, the growing
heat pouring leaf into form
just as you did, are doing, will do
with scarcity, rain, rivers,
kisses, wind, and horizons
that come each turning of the day.
You stand up in your dream,
lean on the fence, look wide
toward the stars just beginning
to burn through the sky
that carries the world.
A thunderhead powers upward,
spends itself over the past.
You take it all in, welcome
as rain in the tall reach
of the weather holding
this body of earth.
Cranes pencil the sky. One leaf
tips in its deathcurl enough
to break from the tree.
The trees turn light into something else
under their bark, and small pebbles
rock at the mouth of the pond.
If I see this, do I know joy,
the swooping up toward something,
arms wide open, breast plate leading
into the wind? But what of the charcoal cranes,
the fallen leaf astonished in its twirl,
the dark made by thing on thing?
What of the glamour of a katydid on dead grass?
The black snake with its yellow bottom
under cedars? What about the loud wind?
I lean into the dark of that cool rush upward,
the light leveled on the grass, the sudden meadowlark
song of no surprise, all wonder, the gravity of water.
No distance anymore, only the urge to
stand at that still pond of my own heart
where I’ve swam for years,
marveling how joy is only a lifting
of the uncontainable out of the contained,
high enough that you can see it.
from Reading the Body
I have discovered fire—
a tiny flame in my left breast,
miniature in its heat,
asymmetrical and hungry as it tilts
toward the lymph nodes.
When the surgeon lifted it out
so that it could be magnified
into the blue core of its heat,
someone else also lifted the small flame
from my body, cupped it in her hands,
carried it up the hill to the wide savannah
before she fed it into a burning bush.
Now, not so far from that windy place,
I watch my husband cup the plastic bag
of red chemo in his hands, bless it,
return it to the nurse.
Now, not so far from the heat of this,
we pray for the embers
in my blood stream to turn to ash,
dissolve into underground rivers.
At the same time, along the shorelines,
all the ones I have ever loved
sit at their campfires in the dark
as I’m swept past, as I try to swim again
back to a time before I discovered fire,
back to a place that has turned
into someplace else.
from Animals in the House
When I was a girl I didn’t know
I was a girl. I thought I was
more of a pigment, a choral tone,
some kind of weather that disrupts
everyone’s life in the living room.
I knocked over the cast iron iron again,
and this time it broke. How could
you break an iron iron? they yelled,
but how could I not? The weight of
metal on the earth, wanting to return.
When money was missing, I thought surely
I must have taken it.
When it rained, a hurricane this time,
I thought, see what you’ve done now.
I didn’t believe in cause and effect, elements of
surprise, or the slim chance meetings
that changed everyone’s lives. I didn’t know
that people were supposed to end,
contained as vases to hold
whatever you gave them.
I thought we were more like land, islands even,
unfurling in the brown haze of the sea.
I thought there was water everywhere,
pouring us into changeable shapes—
leaf or puppy or branch. All falling
toward wherever we came from
not afraid or surprised,
not bad or tricked into good.
All falling back into the horizons that come
each evening to meet the fire.
from Lot’s Wife
The Mortician’s Daughter
How much lives in scraps.
So I hold tight to the laundry of the dead
as my dad stretches open their eyes
so everyone can see them
He hides the signs—the marks
on ankles or wrists, the tiny scars
while I blend the skin colors into their faces.
I don’t mind.
Sometimes we take gold from a tooth,
or a heavy stoned ring off a finger
right before the final closing of the lid.
Who’s to know? my father says.
So I drop these things into my pocket,
later fish them out on the kitchen table
where my father waits
right before bed.
But I don’t go to bed.
I sit on the crate in the backyard
in moon or cloud light,
no longer breathing the same air
left over by the bodies or my father.
I eat some clover, watch the starlings fall
up the trees with their new-found food.
Nothing’s a weed—look at me—the invisible girl
behind the dumpster in the alley.
Look at the birds—
so smart to eat the edges of bread!
That’s where the fire leaves its streak,
that’s what tastes best.