Imagaination Comes to Breakfast
poems by Kathy Evans
O n e
Don’t Believe All You’ve Been Told
[p.3] The first sun was a black widow’s belly
the first moon, a compound eye
all those kinetic insects snapping on wings
were stars, and in the absence
of angels, a relentless chirping—
the sensational crickets
rubbing exoskeletons together
for the first congregational hymn
and the hum of mating, the unstressed,
of horseflies, hornets, and the high-pitched
gnat in the ear—
the sky was spun by arthropods,
larvae clouds, fruitflies, fireflies,
Then dew on the branch—
and the seven seas,
such an immersion the fish flew out
and land lifted up,
tufted and green—
honeysuckle, root pulp, pepperpods, mulch,
and worms, slick as tongue
they stepped out like jazz,
then up from the thicket, a big black beetle
like a preacher came, he came down,
he came down on the world
and that, simply, was a beginning
[p.4] When a child is born
the universe widens an inch.
Stars spin loose
The clouds say, “This is
a minimum day.”
And, of course, the sun
sends its best colors
out from the sky factory.
The rain and the rainbow
until the earth gets the message
of birth and newness
to every root.
Then the woman’s bones soften.
She closes up and sleeps.
[p.5] The baby also sleeps, while the moon
paints little moons
on the baby’s fingernails.
Poppies and birthmarks brighten.
The world, the actual air,
this infant’s pilgrimage
from dark curl
Bright Waves and Separate Entities
[p.6] Gulls tumble in air.
They circle in gowns.
The only light is the white light
of their wings.
There are four stars over me.
She is one of them. She falls,
kicks through my sky; surfaces,
thrusts upward for air.
She’s out of me, held up
like a prize. Warm, star-child,
born, lovelier than the pond newt
I held one morning in May,
more beautiful than my father
swimming in a bay of jelly-fish.
My head is a loft of bells,
clanging out of sequence, and I hear
eight million peasants cheer this infant,
breathing inside her satin skin,
crying “World! World!”
to the midnight gulls.
At the End of the Year I Come to a Grove
[p.7] Lately, I’ve been thinking of myself as a kind of tree,
the branches of which grow laterally, then re-root
into the sky agaln, as if the sky itself
were another kind of ground—a tree
with leaves of brilliant colors:
red, umber, vermillion,
gold leaves, too, shaped like a little girl’s lips,
veined, and limber in the light,
and black leaves like pirate flags.
Ravens advertise from the crown of me.
The smaller birds,
the narrow limbs—no scavengers,
not these December birds. They are here to instruct
with the widest arcs of flight. These birds
won’t fly off for the winter,
but will stay in my branches
I’ll listen in, bristle with all that I conceal,
all I’d never dare lend to the wind,
then I’ll send them out agaln,
like bower birds, out
into the sky
to bring back just one thing, blue and unimaginable.
[p.8] A cat crosses the path
each syncopated paw
in the dirt,
quiet claw, alert;
a slow prowling
sleeking orange through the grass;
one leg suspended
like a booted majorette.
Her oiled glide,
the ticking rhythm
of her arrowed tail,
a spell, a certain grace of
no house cat here, not this undomesticated
All Hallow’s Eve
[p.9] We remove the rubber masks,
reach inside the scraped white walls
of pumpkin skulls for the last
of the wicks and candle wax.
We blow flames, watch
the last small witch follow
a late wind home. The skeletons
swing from their nalls, and the fear
that shimmered from a yellow grin
is gone. The warm skins of the round,
round rinds go dark; a final fairy
leaves the park with broken wings.
Frankenstein is home. He counts his candy
in his room, almost human once again.
Little Red Riding Hood steps through the door,
says good-night to the wolf, drops
her cape, leaves it puddled on the floor,
and we sleep, at last, inside November.
[p.10] Outside there must be three hundred of them—
blackbirds in the confusion of wings,
rushing to the overhead power lines,
as if one of them had called a secret meeting.
Remember as a child, lying on your back
in the long grass, the whole world
in slow motion? Even Time, that purveyor
of small minutes, stood there
like a beautiful woman waiting for a late train,
everything in that dome of the world circling—
clouds, kittens, birds winging it
back to a perch, soft blur of birds,
as if thought came and went that way,
and heaven and earth.
It’s November. Autumn has hung out the stiff rags.
All scarlet is fading, except near the hinge
of their wings. Above school football fields
blackbirds dip and swerve, as if they knew
the air was warm with rain, knew, as we know,
that Time is traveling away from us again,
her cape blowing backwards in the wind,
her songs, scarves, and hair unbraiding.
I Know Little of Death
[p.11] In a trapezoid closet
at the end
of a long hall
it hangs there like an unworn garment.
I have heard a moth
flutter from the chamber,
felt a draft
in the hall and beyond,
but it remains singular
upon the rod, sleeves
dark and dangling,
the door ajar.
[p.12] My daughter sleeps in the upper bunk
so the robbers won’t get her.
They’ll go first to the drawers, she thinks,
time enough to slide the spare line
of her body between mattress and wall,
hide just below the posters and thumb-tack holes.
“Can rats climb?” she asks.
“Not bunkbeds,” I answer.
“Snakes can,” she states, “but I’m not afraid of snakes.
“But I am,” I mumble to myself, not letting on
that every third night I dream of them folded
quietly at the foot of my bed in hibernation,
stacked like towels … the Corals, the Boas
and Black Mambas, the Puff Adders and Pit Vipers,
molting in the moonlight.
With the back of my finger I stroke her hair,
dark strands splashed over the pillowslip.
I tuck her in, hand her the bald doll,
the dismembered bear, and before I bring the guillotine
of the light switch down, she asks if I’ll get the broom
and sweep the spider from the ceiling.
“Spiders won’t hurt you,” I tell her.
She whispers, “I know.”
Combing Her Hair
[p.13] When we come to the mirror
hung just above the desk—
soccer trophies, a voodoo doll, lost
knee sock, shells, beach rocks
and bottle caps, we stare, my daughter and I,
at the double-decker us. My fingers
in her hair, I unclasp the matching blue barrettes,
slide off the rubber band, and lose myself
to her; the ritual of brush, the unbraiding,
a straight part down the middle, and it falls
past her shoulders in all those browns—
maples, umbers, mahoganies, and when the sun
hits it, amber. My wrist disappears,
then all of my hand. I lift one side
into a wing to let her fly as she must,
out from me.
“All happy families are alike …”
[p.14] My oldest son, eighteen, existential, and wearing
an extra-large, has dropped from his vocabulary
the word “curfew.” He and the newspaper arrive
at the same time. It is Sunday, the sabbath,
and all of the other children are downstairs
watching on VCR, much to my own horror, The Fly.
I have failed them I think. Charlotte’s Web
is missing the middle section, and at seven,
my daughter still sucks her thumb, but only
when her ears are cold. There are soda pop cans
on top of the “spinet,” buffalo wings
on the furnace vent, dust. Scott, the rueful,
spindly one, announces the hamster is missing.
One of the dogs, he says, got it. There is blood
all over the bathroom. Aly says she had a bloody nose,
and, Jake, twelve, having just learned the scientific method,
returns from the scene to proclaim, “No hamster
could have that much blood!” In my dreams
we are all masked and shoplifting. What I think
is a sigh from somewhere in the house
is only the pancake batter hitting the griddle.
Ah, Tolstoy, the small, imperfect circles of our lives.
Mill Valley Autumn
[p.15] Here the leaves don’t turn
a bright New Hampshire red.
Maples deepen into rusts and plum;
the poplars in the upper boughs
go golden. Grass stiffens
with insistent frost; pine needles
from the limbs above
lay strewn upon the ground
like a game of pick-up sticks.
There’s a clean edge to things—
fences, roof lines, ridge.
The air is cold.
Suddenly, the dog seems older,
the children taller. We pull
the collars of our jackets
tighter at the neck, slip
our hands inside our sleeves,
and go on believing, as did Penelope,
that a world this loved will not vanish.
[p.16] It has been November all day.
The trees have inquired
into the nature of color.
The sky has deepened in its hues
of blue—the first faint star.
I float home over wet streets,
each leaf beneath me
a tinted fish. Under streetlights
I seem beautiful again.
Each window I pass
asks to keep my reflection.
[p.17] For Autumn
I have chosen two deities.
The buckeye trees go bare, blacken,
the sun, through its narrow slot,
takes back the day.
He stands there, tired of war stories.
The bright leaves of the Japanese Maple fall
to his square shoulders,
and for a moment, he looks decorated
like an old general.
He lets the words fall away from his mouth
in the same manner all leaves fall,
then walks over them tenderly, lifts
his head only once to watch the blue woodsmoke
stun the hawks and disappear.
She, on the other hand, waits under elms
in taffeta. She shimmers under streetlights,
watching the clouds tum shades a newborn turns,
all those milky pinks and blues. Her hair,
unbraided, frizzes around her face,
falls over her shoulders like spun cloth.
She wraps herself in umbers and wanders off,
securely desirous. The air alive with her smell.
[p.18] If my daughter can paint a paper fish
this gold and blue
with one white eye and a purple gill,
then I can enter the rain from inside this grey,
swim down to the end of the block
to touch with the tips of my fingers
the last red leaf
kept like a secret by the branch.
If pigeons can scatter like seed
in black calligraphy upon the sky,
then I can fly from this winter husk
toward something holy and blue—
If the mallard can dip its neck into a green
I can tie a ribbon around my waist,
a satin magenta sash,
twirling into the rotunda of the world.
[p.19]If the egret can pause
above its own white breast,
above water ripple,
If the raindrops can stroke
the dark lanes of the sky,
if the ducks and the birds and the fish
can be this brief,
if light is diligent enough,
then I can bring home in my hands
wood berries to match your eyes.
For the Bishop’s Wife
Some of us stood together
on star-grey lawn
and sang you Christmas carols
in warm California air.
You stood under a porchJight.
Your arms, luminous,
wrapped around the yellowing infant,
and you kept your son
from blowing away.
You tucked his feet into the drawstring gown
and said, “Thank you for coming
here in this darkness to sing.”
These flowers on the table
do not know a child is dead.
I take the stern stems of lilac
and anemone, jab them in a vase.
The petals fall open, brilliantly indifferent:
the leaves are green, the water clear.
Tomorrow the sky will be the color of smoke.
I will bring you the vase in bright daylight.
You will thank me with your eyes,
and as I walk away I’ll remember
the wooden carols last December,
and the quiet length of your arms.
[p.21] The eyes of these beasts shine into my own.
The archangel’s hair is on fire. I stumble
through the mudprints of cows and ewes
toward the damp side of the cave where
all gods are born. In the odors of hay
and mortared dung, toward a slit of light
that falls onto her arms, I move closer toward him;
my feet awkward on brindled straw. All night
we kneel. Morning comes. The sky
still bright with suns,
shows me the blue of my own veins. The world
is left in the absence of wanting. I walk
among the sheep with new eyes and the reasoning
of an insect. I say to the angels
brandishing the hills, “I saw him,
the swaddled fists, the tiny mouth.
I heard him cry.”
Elegy for the Soprano
for Carolyn Lewis
[p.22]You would have sung to them,
the backs of my grandmother’s hands
at rest in her lap like spotted fawns.
Last night I couldn’t dance at the wedding.
The stars in the sky multiplied like cells.
When they covered your knees with the gown,
we knew. Death fell through the air;
your hair fell in clumps to the floor.
It was the last of the leaves.
How do we walk through all this brightness?
The children look larger through the glass.
I want hope to hang above you,
like all the moons on Jupiter, but
Cancer spirals through your bones,
blood climbs back into a vein, and we start
with nerve and light all over again.
I am dazzled by your dying.
When the angels stand before the dark feudal lords,
have them count off by twos, then sing
to them from the lit set
the high notes of your own magnificent name.