“Her life seemed to her a great engineering work scarcely begun. Lately more excavation than construction had occurred. She had lost a sense of her own invincibility.” ~ Marge Piercy, from Gone to Soldiers

Winslow Homer The Green Hill 1878 watercolor, gouache and graphite on paper

“The Green Hill” (1878, watercolor, gouache, and graphite on paper)
by Winslow Homer

                    

Two for Tuesday: Marge Piercy

The Listmaker

I am a compiler of lists: 1 bag
fine cracked corn, 1 sunflower seeds.

Thin tomato seedlings in hotbed;
check dahlias for sprouting.

Write Kathy. Call Lou. Pay
oil bill. Decide about Montana.

I find withered lists in pockets
of raincoats, reminders to buy birthday

presents for lovers who wear those warm
sweaters now in other lives. And what

did I decide about Montana? To believe
or disbelieve in its existence?

To rise at five some morning and fly there?
A buried assent or denial rots beneath.

I confess too that sometimes when I am listing
what I must do on a Monday, I will put on

tasks already completed for the neat pleasure
of striking them out, checking them off.

What do these lists mean? That I mistrust my memory,
that my attention, a huge hungry crow

settling to carrion even on the highway
hates to rise and flap off, wants to continue

feasting on what it has let down upon
folding the tent of its broad dusty wings.

That I like to conquer chaos one square
at a time like a board game.

That I fear the sins of omission more
than commission. That the whining saw

of the mill of time shrieks always in my ears
as I am borne with all the other logs

forward to be dismantled and rebuilt
into chairs, into frogs, into running water.

All lists start where they halt, in intention.
Only the love that is work completes them.

                   

Winslow Homer On The Hill

“On the Hill” (1878, watercolor)
by Winslow Homer

Six Underrated Pleasures

1. Folding sheets
They must be clean.
There ought to be two of you
to talk as you work, your
eyes and hands meeting.
They can be crisp, a little rough
and fragrant from the line;
or hot from the dryer
as from an oven. A silver
grey kitten with amber
eyes to dart among
the sheets and wrestle and leap out
helps. But mostly pleasure
lies in the clean linen
slapping into shape.
Whenever I fold a fitted sheet
making the moves that are like
closing doors, I feel my mother.
The smell of clean laundry is hers.

2. Picking pole beans
Gathering tomatoes has no art
to it. Their ripe redness shouts.
But the scarlet runner beans twine
high and jungly on their tripods.
You must reach in delicately,
pinch off the sizable beans
but leave the babies to swell
into flavor. It is hide-and-seek,
standing knee deep in squash
plants running, while the bees
must be carefully disentangled
from your hair. Early you may see
the hummingbird, but best to wait
until the dew burns off.
Basket on your arm, your fingers
go swimming through the raspy leaves
to find prey just their size.
Then comes the minor zest
of nipping the ends off with your nails
and snapping them in pieces,
their retorts like soft pistolry.
Then eat the littlest raw.

3. Taking a hot bath
Surely nobody has ever decided
to go on a diet while in a tub.
The body is beautiful stretched
out under water wavering.

It suggests a long island of pleasure
whole seascapes of calm sensual
response, the nerves as gentle fronds
of waterweed swaying in warm currents.

Then if ever we must love ourselves i
n the amniotic fluid floating
a ship at anchor in a perfect
protected blood-warm tropical bay.

The water enters us and the minor
pains depart, supplanted guests,
the aches, the strains, the chills.
Muscles open like hungry clams.

Born again from my bath like a hot
sweet-tempered, sweet-smelling baby,
I am ready to seize sleep like a milky breast
or start climbing my day hand over hand.

4. Sleeping with cats
I am at once source
and sink of heat: giver
and taker. I am a vast
soft mountain of slow breathing.
The smells I exude soothe them:
the lingering odor of sex,
of soap, even of perfume,
its afteraroma sunk into skin
mingling with sweat and the traces
of food and drink.

They are curled into flowers
of fur, they are coiled
hot seashells of flesh
in my armpit, around my head
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

5. Planting bulbs
No task could be easier.
Just dig the narrow hole,
drop in the handful of bone
meal and place the bulb
like a swollen brown garlic
clove full of hidden resources.

Their skin is the paper
of brown bags. The smooth
pale flesh peeks through.
Three times its height
is its depth, a parable
against hard straining.

The art is imagining
the spring landscape poking
through chrysanthemum, falling
leaves, withered brown lushness
of summer. The lines drawn
now, the colors mixed

will pop out of the soil
after the snow sinks from sight
into it. The circles,
the casual grace of tossed handfuls,
the soldierly rows will stand,
the colors sing sweet or sour.

When the first sharp ears
poke out, you are again
more audience than actor,
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

6. Canning
We pour a mild drink each,
turn on the record player,
Beethoven perhaps or Vivaldi,
opera sometimes, and then together
in the steamy kitchen we put up
tomatoes, peaches, grapes, pears.

Each fruit has a different
ritual: popping the grapes
out of the skins like little
eyeballs, slipping the fuzz
from the peaches and seeing
the blush painted on the flesh beneath.

It is part game: What shall
we magic wand this into?
Peach conserve, chutney, jam,
brandied peaches. Tomatoes
turn juice, sauce hot or mild
or spicy, canned, ketchup.

Vinegars, brandies, treats
for the winter: pleasure
deferred. Canning is thrift
itself in sensual form,
surplus made beautiful, light
and heat caught in a jar.

I find my mother sometimes
issuing from the steam, aproned,
red faced, her hair up in a net.
Since her death we meet usually
in garden or kitchen. Ghosts
come reliably to savors, I learn.

In the garden your ashes,
in the kitchen your knowledge.
Little enough we can save
from the furnace of the sun
while the bones grow brittle as paper
and the hair itself turns ashen.

But what we can put by, we do
with gaiety and invention
while the music laps round us
like dancing light, but Mother,
this pleasure is only deferred.
We eat it all before it spoils.

~ Marge Piercy

                   

Music by Sarah Jaffe, “Clementine”

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3 comments on ““Her life seemed to her a great engineering work scarcely begun. Lately more excavation than construction had occurred. She had lost a sense of her own invincibility.” ~ Marge Piercy, from Gone to Soldiers

  1. leah in NC says:

    I’ll have to look for that book. I might even have it somewhere. I just finished the Susan Richards book. It was good…

  2. leah in NC says:

    May you find a large pot of gold underneath the bathroom excavations (to pay for said excavations and repairs).

    These poems are so detailed. Every time I read them, it seems I have a different focus.

    August Oprah magazine has an article about people confronting horses (in order to learn things about themselves, in order to heal). I read the book Broken by Lisa Jones, but it was more concentrated on a Native American who aids people in breaking horses, as well as healing. Both horses and some Native Americans seeing into one’s soul is an interesting idea. I’d like to find out more about the horses part. Now I’ve got the book Chosen By A Horse by Susan Richards and will begin reading that.

    The storm tonight missed us. We didn’t need anymore rain, anyway… When you pause for 2 seconds, you are bombarded by mosquitoes…

    I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this Word class. Yay!

    Hope your headache has abated, that you & Corey are laughing through the repairs, and that the house is cool. And, that the repairs go easily. Cut and dried…

    • poietes says:

      Unfortunately, no pot of gold. The crawlspace has been revealed in all of its dank ugliness.

      Headache has eased mostly, with flare ups. Still have this maddening swelling. I had thought that it was gone, but then, nooooo.

      Did you ever read the book The Horse Whisperer? So much better than the movie. A very mystical story.

      We cannot get rid of the flies, flies everywhere. Yuck.

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