Poems About Loss

From Navigation (The Habit of Rainy Nights Press, 2012)

Birds of Passage


you tell me there’s a stunned bird
on the sidewalk by the high rise
people stepping aside
as if it is nothing
but a lost tourist
you are on the 18th floor
maybe thinking
of the brother you lost
how he visits
your sister’s rooms
his voice on the wind
you don’t know
what kind of bird
some sort of hawk
don’t know
if it flew into a window
fell many stories
is this how we are
with our grief
not knowing
building from sky
the police have closed
a lane of traffic
enough before rush hour
that it doesn’t make
the news
we hope the phone
will never ring again
to tell us anyone we love
has died
by the end of the day
the bird is gone
and I want to know
where they’ve taken it
if wherever it is
will ever be safe enough


several states away
the smoke of your brother
pauses in the air
another hawk flattens
against a window
it is the house next door
to your brother’s birthplace
no barriers
only reservation stillness
so much sky to choose from
who is he looking for
forgetting how to pass
through walls
we open and close our palms
blow out candles
burn sage
in the corners of rooms
the sky must be falling
stars smack into our windows
storm clouds spill under
our doors and the birds
double back on the wind
flying feet-forward
to land on our shoulders
whisper into our days
somespacewe want to tell you something
somespacebut we keep losing our way


four months to the day
and another
relative dies
we expect a hawk
to land on the windowsill
it is said
that when someone
we love has died
in twelve days
will come a sign
of safe passage
now all of us are looking
out our windows
through our dreams
into faces of people
we walk past
waiting for the message
hoping they will step
out of a crowd
calling our names


Scotch Broom


“To me, they will always be glorious birds.”
— Maude, from
Harold and Maude by Colin Higgins

Just when people seem to be falling away from me
like stars too old to hold on to the sky any longer,
the daffodils are opening their mouths into the grey
spring light of this city with its small rain, its wide
belly of clouds, and I wonder how they can do this beautiful
thing without the sun to raise their hopes and warm
their heavy faces.  It was two years ago I was driving
to the coast and first saw the yellow flush lining
the highway, asked a local what it was:  Scotch broom —
a weed, a determined, spreading bush — but like Maude
and her seagulls, I was thinking, to me they will always
be glorious birds
, this full brave yellow that hides
the clearcuts, the grass just back from a fire, the eggs
of birds who make their nests in the ground.

And I wished for Scotch broom in my own backyard,
for jade plants which a friend insisted were a nuisance
in California, nothing of value, something to be uprooted
to make room for smaller, more colorful flowers.  I wished
for my world to become an easier place, where the people
I gathered around me would spin together like vines,
tangle themselves about me like the morning glories
on the fence of the house I lived in when I was five —
the slender lengths curled in and out of each other
and into the neighbors’ yard, the neighbors who wanted
us to tear down this quick weed and its white cups
of flowers with their inner surprise of blue
waking each morning and folding to sleep each night
as I do now, waiting for the season to change.

My hands are full of small eggs, small flowers,
delicate hope.  What of this is ordinary?
It is people who create constellations, not the stars
who die long before we will ever realize they are gone.
I am thinking of the highway to the coast, of two years
ago when my arms could hold everyone at once,
nested.  When did these relationships change so wildly,
grow out of my hands, cease to be beautiful?  I know
I am close to the ocean when the seagulls come
in pairs, then in threes, then in whole families of wings,
when Scotch broom gives way to sand —
to sand and the long reaching of a landscape where
things arrive, stay barely long enough to be discovered,
and are taken back, slip under, fall away.