Crazy for Living
Poems by Linda Sillitoe

S e c t i o n  I I:   J o u r n e y s   i n   T a n d e m 


home from the north
[15]

only from the nesting hollow
      of our bed
will I say how cold it’s been.
      so cold
deer feed in backyards along
      the foothills
like dark, small-hooved cattle.

the bus winds through a canyon
      of snow
cattails spring from white banks
      in tandem
far dusky trees align their tips
      in a long brush
five black and white crows pulse
      into white sky.

the close crooked branches interweave
      cross and weave
again outside the window, love,
      cross and weave
a basket rising softly, an intricate
      slow enfolding. 


the spell
[16]

endurance wears you lean
like a dark arrow
you pare down your sorrow
to a shadow in your eyes

in the flight of sparrows
toward the flat horizon
you follow him
and air is wilderness

we are talking
but your eyes narrow
tuning in his cadence
you answer him
with paragraphs of silence
and cannot hear

give it up
let it go
let it be
my sinewy friend
or burst free 


Some Nights
[17]

Some nights in a small cove
sea and shore talk endlessly
(of dapples shallows hollows)
seeking sun despite the polar
breath from dark’s yawning throat

Some nights we hear crickets
(never sleep never sleep)
beneath warm moonwashed trees
composing old impromptu music
with silent mouths and singing limbs

Impossibly other nights
crickets sing in that crack
where sea answers shore
violining melodies pitched
between the currents of our speech 


missing persons
[18]

i know where the bodies are buried in my house
and can whistle past
indefinitely before i sift

almost at once
the remains of a girl scout at nine
her green uniform folded
more neatly than when it was worn
the sturdy body quite gone

a turquoise bib recalls
the docile boy with oatmeal around
the mouth that opened, swallowed
despite sleeping eyes

lost her baby i heard then
in between those i kept
only to find the more they survive
the more i lose them again

what do i do now
with this doll dress my lastborn wore ten months

how do i greet these ghosts
who haunt the remains of the children

the young mother who dressed
each child in red for this photo

the weary one who rocked until dawn
the yellowed newspaper girl smiling like a bride

under the most dust i find the diary
kept from twelve to sixteen
about boys often as not
keening for them as if nothing mattered but love

there is nothing here i can keep or discard
i’m putting it all back
sprinkling dust over the top
and closing the closet door

as if in the dark the ghosts will rest 


Hearing from friends

that their son has been born
with Downs Syndrome [20]

I have read all the words. Now I watch
as blue script on a gray page moves,
curves and spikes shape a woods outside
a window. Beside the window, you rock him.

I feel your hands twist in the blanket as if
my chin rests on his head; then we are seeing
that flurry of blackbirds over the trees,
the dull stickiness on half of each glittering leaf.
The odor of mold in the turning of tree roots
winds through the screen as squirrels
acrobat branch to branch, sunlight
dappling them like whirr of butterflies.

Above them, the cries of gulls winging back
to sea, having flown these miles inland;
their blacktipped wings lift like lead.
So I write: see how they rest on the wind. 


from the laurel
[21]

we come playing flute
and violin      the notes
lift limber as the green
aspen      see how we sway
as the music unwinds
and yet keep our form
see how we fill empty jars
with arpeggios      we bear
pots of crescendos in our hands

you recognize our clothing
the way you know the wallpaper
above your own bed
yet we are unfamiliar now
we are like spirits stepping out
from the sealing bark of trees
we come clothed in our own light
weaving sonatas      we have
composed ourselves

call us wife      mother      daughter
in your own language
but our music is the wind
that draws us into light
we are out now
and never shall that fear
in our legs shield us
our hands no longer
wave another’s leaves 


A Lullaby in the New Year
[22]

One week is not too soon to learn a very
early language; for your spine to be aware
that a rocking chair means comfort and your wary
nerves want sleep. Nothing will disappear
forsaking you to vast, fluorescent air
your fists and feet can’t pummel. You shudder
at my kiss, a random bother in your hair.
I tell you this, my loud and little daughter,
you have now all there is: familiar dark,
a blanket’s wings without, warm milk within,
balanced with your head in my hand’s cup
in a second cradle of flesh and sound. We rock
and still you rage. I kiss your hair again.
All right, I whisper, accept, accept, and sleep. 


Song of Creation
[23]

Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever.
Mother’s hand
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas,
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home.

Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
Mother clashed
fire free from stones
and breathed it strong and dancing,
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.

He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
her fingers flickered
hummingbirds
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow
a waterfall of flowers.

And if you live long, my child,
you’ll see snow burst
from thundercloud
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother and Father laughing,
listen to Mother and Father laughing
behind the locked door. 


Charm for a Sick Child
[24]

we will dream now of a cave
with a figure at the entrance.
see the magic seeds she holds

to twinkle new stars into your
angry blood. two fingers cross
your wrist, then above your head

my hand traces the entrance;
dream beginning and end
as you swelter in bed.

remember the godmother
little one.
pockets of glass slippers
and surprise home runs
your wishes hover here
like candle smoke

the wave not the wand is potent.
and godmother mothergod mother
will bring you seawater, sun

and thunder, a fresh start.
what in my bones knit you
within me still weaves magic.

sleep now. here is the sign
more ancient than memory.
here is the turn in the tide. 


Stairs, Grandma
[25]

He is only helping you
      down another flight of stairs;
            no one knows how long it is,
                  and he thinks you’re climbing up.
                        You say, Oh, I just don’t know,
                              but sometimes I think you do.

Stairs, like the bleachers last summer
      where he’d settle you. We would narrate,
            now he’s pitching, stealing base,
                  striking out. By summer Grandma can
                        come to a game, he said this spring,
                              but you shattered on a shallow step.

Now everything you can’t see an inch away,
      or hear fade in from so much out,
            or name as time slicks back and forth,
                  all vanishes into a ravenous void—
                        he pitches there in sunlight,
                              Grandma, into and out of a full count.

Days you ramble, we feel losing stalk us.
      but he sees you squarely how you are
            like a pitch over the base or not;
                  even an unfair call means a windup.
                        Oh, once it looked like we’d lose hold
                              of you, we said. He excused himself.

went in the shower and howled and pleaded
      then came out dry-eyed with more questions.
            Those black eyes, you’d say, tending him
                  before he tended you, before you both aged.
                        To this place you hate he brings his trophy,
                              and we bring him, fearing for you both. 


For my sister, nearing armistice
[26]

You now are sentry, also army nurse,
deep in battle plans to blast the horde.
You also bore the battleground and the prize—
this dark-eyed girl who, at three, won four and five.
Outside her hospital window, spring gains force,
spurting dandelions through bricks and boards,
loading birds in trees as pollen swirls the skies.
In all that life, where’s one for her to live?

If the needles stabbed, the chemicals all failed,
and her hair drifted from her clever head like all
your questions (prayers) scouting the nights,
still, each dawn you woke with her and smiled.

Now trust each cup you lift to soothe like rainfall,
for bending toward her, you are rimmed with light. 


love song at 17,000 feet
[27]

the rockies jut like blue islands
      partly painted with snow
            in a hazy still ocean

they more than pucker the globe
      despite the distance that
            tends to flatten everything

i glimpse you in the reflection of my hand
      on the window and surrender wholly
            to the absence i can ignore

long enough to know how skin aches for skin
      and you somehow always out of
            reach             long enough to say

i see how distance and death are one and
      the same in kind        unmapped at all
            except by imaginary lines

do you exist actually out of touch or
      reach            and where is that stilled
            second in the center of flight 


Appearances
[28]

By day, this evergreen is only
a tree, a triangle between my window
and the unseen valley below.
Mountain bluebirds streak from it
and return to disappear, squawking.

At night, the evergreen opens
like lace, for the valley lights
glisten within its dark branches
like distant magic or sparkling
nightbirds, flickering in dreams.

Things are all they appear,
therefore. You, for instance,
have the aspect of an evergreen;
sometimes alight from within,
sometimes a city of promise. 


Demonstration
[29]

The building next to mine has been leveled.
You could say nothing is there now,
nothing but concrete and wood chunks
scrambled twelve or fifteen feet high.

Branches twist away from the wreckage,
bushes that held sap and root yesterday.
Now sparrows and transients hop
over them and the rubble, seeking salvage.

Or bodies, I think, locking my car.
Let’s say everyone got out when it came down.
Still, I didn’t want to know how much is left
to cart away once everything is gone. 


To an ESTJ* from an INFP**,

with love [30]

Your world enters on airwaves,
repeatedly, letting you scan a dozen cities, traumas, forecasts,
and have the day pinned by breakfast.
I dangle in a corner spinning
fiber from my suspected core
to transform the door we agreed on.
If you blunder through the web
I have a choice: I can show you
the shards (you’ll feel bad,
the web may come easier tomorrow)
or not.

I pounce on the crumbs you toss
fondly into the corners and I swell
with more fiber. Spin, you say, spin!
How we’ve relied on knowing I can
enthrall you, twirling spirals
up from your feet, securing your hands,
leaving only your eyes to listen.
But a distraction—what happened
to the cable tv guide?—and you
burst your bonds without noticing.
Threads become dust, an archivist’s foe.
I can always do it again.

Under the same moon, we dream
one another’s nightmare:
you stride among shelves in area
sufficient to place every thing
in each edition and sequence,
astonishing as so much proof;
I dream a room where I spin
myself empty, and empty again,
until intricate threads connect
every corner and edge, explode
in their own sticky joy,
and thrum in the ineffable breeze.

*Extra-verted-Sensor-Thinker-Judger
**Intra-verted-Intuitive-Feeler-Perceiver
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(Consulting Psychology Press, Inc.) 


Request
[32]

Just for now
while I find no sky
or horizon
no mountains
only fog on the twigs
for beauty,
could you please
return my calls
instead of
stirring my dreams? 


the hard dance
[33]

under this wide warm sky
wake up
the daffodils are straightening their spines
you can’t ignore that yellow behind your eyelids
any more than they can

rust in your thorns, yes,
and sleep corrodes your roots like sludge
but light is licking behind your earlobes
ruffling your eyebrows now
blowing the down between your bent
shoulderblades, buzzing that warning strip
across your forehead that signaled childhood bumps

the problem is you can’t rest long
what seems dormant only multiplies
you’d might as well inhale
the sharp surge          let the hard dance
break you open once again


crazy for living
[34]

“What is Life in reality other than receiving
impressions and interpreting them.”
—Kyriacos C. Markides,
The Magus of Strovolos

dark downtown: neon and rain glaze the streets.
mist coats my mouth like bittersweet chocolate.
ghosts who know my name sidle the sides of buildings.

morning: a jet noses into nothing constant but blue
as I wind up the concrete bridge to a parking plaza,
crazy for living and for no special reason.

afternoon: talking we do violence. conversation leaves
us blue with shock. we hone our weapons carelessly
and hide our injuries. we never cry.

evening: eyes amber as light angled through beer.
laughing at a private joke turned telling,
walking toward an impossibly balmy night.

once we invented rules for each other.
now we huddle and circle. we fly as if unaware
that an explosion coils in every flower’s heart.