Three Poems          

Excerpts from a longer sequence

3. Frankfurt Airport

This surreal city, this underworld, inside out. I wake to black sky, the terminal’s interior in bright lights. Moments ago, I was flying across an ocean to a transitional place, not imagining warrens and caverns, customs officials, slick shops, glass boxes where men puff cigars as if packaged sardines in see-through containers, giving off an attenuated but unmistakable smell.

4. Porto

At the old market, I walk among stalls stacked with winter kale cut for cooking caldo verde, and tubs of dried beans, green and black olives, lobes of fish roe like lungs. The hens are crammed together in cages. The chicken seller pulls one bird out, shakes it, fluffs its feathers, shows it off. The chicken buyer nods, says she’ll pay five euros for it, take it home for dinner, plucked. And so it is done. The hen is taken around the back, behind the stand. I wait for the fast sound of the cleaver, or perhaps the farmer twists the chicken’s neck.

5. Leaving Porto

On the bus ride north, thoughts come to me from a missed grandfather. No one invents themselves. Blood carries the rod, the pen. Angler, writer, he once was. His son tried to write in a foreign language, his child create her own tongue. As I listen to my grandfather’s imagined voice, clouds hang low and loose to the ocean. Trails of smoke drift over pines. Vines are trained along a cross of wood, or rather they are stick figures, their shoulders shrugged.


This morning one foot of fresh snow. The innkeeper's wife spent the night stranded up the road in her car. The urge to return, to be home -- what wouldn’t we risk for husband, for son?


Lying in bed, I think the ceiling is a child's game, a tic-tac-toe board of rafters and wash. Child, I say, you could move the O's and X's, give yourself a sky filled with kisses and love.


The innkeeper tells me a story about a man. Once a city lawyer said goodbye to his homeland, struck out for the Isle of Skye, steered his own lobster boat, trapped blue lobsters in lobster pots, shacked up in a seaweed cottage, spent the happiest days of his youth. Do you ever ask what are yours? Is it better to follow a wanderer’s calendar sooner rather than not? Before the bad leg, the limp, the crutch?


Is death private? Would I want someone else in a corner of the room holding life’s thread, humming my favorite songs? All I know is the window above my head is both liquid and solid, cakes of snow cut by water channels. Clouds travel on hints of wind. The books at my feet are an atlas of European mammals, a rough guide to the universe. I cannot square my own doubts.

18. Going Home

Found island, childhood island. I know no one on the ferry, names on the boat basin’s remembrance benches are foreign to me. Why must nothing and everything change: skates’ egg cases, brownie shells, the carcass of a horseshoe crab, a sea robin’s dead wings? The surf is pounding. My feet are strangers in the sand. Behind the dune, a young girl runs to the beach, crests it, passes me without thinking, heads to the ocean. I watch her long brown hair rise behind her, as if to float in the wind.


My Mother Was No Techno-Geek

Never drove a car,
didn’t ride a bike,
couldn’t play the phonograph,
typed family letters on a Smith-Corona,
made carbon copies to file away in drawers.

Could sing the Internationale,
read Proust, memorized Robert Browning’s
"The Pied Piper of Hamlin," and Garcia Lorca,
recited his poems on long car trips
when we had nothing to do.

Would wake early,
read in the dawn’s light
in another language,
a huge dictionary at her knee
while my father snored.

Played the piano every day,
repeated the same scales and runs,
continued to do this after she turned 90,
broke her hip, needed a walker,
taught her helper how to cook for her,
make orange marmalade in a copper pan.

Became a photographer, taking snapshots
of trees both native and non-native species
planted by the condominium developers,
including one tree she called the everlasting
even though it was uprooted in a hurricane
that tore across southern Florida
months after her heart stopped twice
and the paramedics in the ER
threw everything they could at her
but she had her own ideas.


The hooded moth,
door to her Romeo,
domed, tethered, doomed.

The other hero,
remote, odd, hot,
the ode, the rood, the mere,

home her order,
her terror.

—Ronnie Hess, Madison, WI