Spring/Summer 1992, Volume 9.2
Poetry

MARGRETHE AHLSCHWEDE

Watching Water

for hours I watch the water
this rolling sheet of steel
between us and the haze
that is Sweden
three blurs, tiny walnut shell halves,
tooth pick masts,
construction paper sails,
little mobiles of viking ships
sail closer and closer
from the haze
become red, brown, blue
baby sailboats
skippered by boys in anoraks
coming about
off again toward Sweden,
their young blond mothers
waving from land
I look over the sea wall
to a smokey circle
one jelly fish, another, hovering
conforming to the roll
under the shelf of the thinnest layer of water
for hours I watch
sails, white slips, triangles like bookmarks
too many on the horizon to count
the ferry from Malm_, the ferry to Oslo
how can there be such solitude
in watching water
for hours watching water
sails and gulls, kayaks single and double
sculls, four plus cox
slender whisps of vessels
slipping
arms and wrists and oars rotating an even circle
pull up turn down
pull up turn down

 
Life After

the Platte does not flow enough
under the bridge where
I-80 crosses
sand bars, gray water
with the interruption
of an island of pine trees
where a Boy Scout in 1955 hiked,
became lost and drowned
in this flat, wide river
nor is Turkey Creek big enough,
grasses falling from the bank,
woody stems of trees
slowing the water
so take my ashes
over the Missouri
and fling them
my ashes will color
the water chalky gray, swirl
as if on a potter's wheel, streak
round and round in the rush
of water, a billow of water
where something bubbles on the surface
and underneath, a rush the other way
my ashes will cloud the reflection
of weeping willows,
sweeping tips of yellow branches over
inlets from water eddying
the years the river has been alive
upon the Missouri my ashes will float
in single particles
like snowflakes, each
distinct, bone gray,
or clump where hip parts could clump or
flow in one long line like a leg
is one long line or an arm
with its hand and fingers
a line, like a dancer's
my ashes will roll with the roll of water
to the mouth at the Gulf,
toward Florida, south and east
to the Canaries, farther
yet to the North Sea where
finally by that beat of water
at Tisvilde I will connect
to the stories,
to the privilege
of sweet childhood

Living History

an ancient church
is buried under grass and
grains and grains and grains
of sand in northern Jutland
drifts seal the door
windows become dead from the mass,
the tower so full there is no room
for the swing of the bell
but the priest lives
in parchment skin so thin
you can look through him,
see the shadows of his bones, his cross,
the way you see your fingers
when you splay them across the back of a plate
when you hold it to the light
he wears the priest's robe
full, like a dress,
the cleric's white ruffle pressed stiff
by air and silica
he lives among the crypts
above the pagan ritual circle footings
and spends his days
moving from crypt to crypt
making a sign of the cross over every soul
the sides of the church lean
everything angling in upon itself
except upon the now bent priest
whose kneeling affects no one
whose communion meditations
and sign making
affect only the sand,
the parched dryness of his church
above this sand, in bright light
caused by the reflection of the sun on
waves of two oceans coming
together from opposing directions,
in the light, like the
light an artist goes to Taos for,
one large grassy knoll remains,
the church, people think,
though they dug through it once
and missed the crypts, the priest
and found no bones,
no sign of hallowedness
nevertheless, they keep
believing there is a church,
the strength of their imagination
convincing them of their history,
their life above reflecting the life below
a slow moving
from place to place to place

24 December

He counts the needles on the evergreen,
one by one, short needles,
plucks them until one branch is bare
all the way to the stem, the mast of the tree.
He wears a suit for this, a vest,
the watch chain across his belly
from small vest pocket to small vest pocket.
He looks at the pile of needles at his feet,
his shiny black shoes under his gray trousers.
It's slow work plucking needles
from one branch of a Christmas tree.
But it's thorough work, tedious,
like the work he does as a lawyer,
something he knows, something he's accustomed to.
Across the street at the Soviet Embassy
he cannot this night see the satellite dish,
a scooped platter open to the cemetery below.
Lights are on in three windows
father, son, Holy Ghost,
the three wise men, but it isn't time.
It is time to pluck and so he does,
one needle pulled and dropped, glancing
off the polish of his black shoes.
He does all of this with his left hand.
In his right, a cigar, long, a little less full
than the diameter of an American dime.
He draws now on the cigar, long and low.
It's what he can do at age sixty.
He knows he's not dead yet if he can still do this
draw on the cigar, savor the smoke,
slowly let it out, all out,
after dinner, the time for smoking cigars.
He stands that way, drawing on his cigar, plucking needles.
The branch is nearly bare now,
brown and sticky among the green of the rest of the tree.
The needles collect at his feet over the silver green
of the carpet, the red and gold and black of the Persian rug.
The children are in Sweden with their mother.
Evening comes soon in this country
so it has been dark long
past these tall windows, through the trees.
It nears midnight.
The cigar is blunt and cold in the brass ash tray.
Three fingers of his left hand are sticky,
the fingers that did the plucking, his right hand warm
past the last knuckles
of his forefinger and middle finger.
The clock behind him strikes again and again.
He looks out the window
across the four empty lanes,
his old Volvo a shadow four stories below,
through the black night
to the light of three windows at the Embassy.
He twists the branch of the tree,
twists until it tears off
at the twelfth strike of the clock.
"Gl_delig jul," he says. "Gl_delig jul."
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