There Have Come Soft Rains
In kindergarten during the Cold War,
mid-day late bells jolted us,
sending us single file into the hallway,
where we sat, pressing our heads
between our knees, waiting
During one of the bomb drills,
Annette was standing.
My mother said I would talk on and on
about her, about how pretty she was.
I still remember her that day,
curly hair and pretty dress,
looking perturbed the way
little children do.
Why Annette? There’s nothing
to be upset about—
The bombs won’t get us,
I’ve seen what’s to come—
it is the days, the steady
pounding of days, like gentle rain,
that will be our undoing.
(originally published in Rattle, reprinted and
quoted widely. Available as a comic in The Book of
Bones and Shadows
She kept its bones in a glass case
next to the recliner in the living room,
and sometimes thought she heard
him mewing, like a faint background music;
but if she stopped to listen, it disappeared.
Likewise with a nuzzling around her calves,
she’d reach absent-mindedly to scratch him,
but her fingers found nothing but air.
One day, in the corner of her eye,
slinking by the sofa, there was a shadow.
She glanced over, expecting it to vanish.
But this time it remained.
She looked at it full on. She watched it move.
Low and angular, not quite as catlike
as one might suppose, but still, it was him.
She walked to the door, just like in the old days,
and opened it, and met a whoosh of winter air.
She waited. The bones in the glass case rattled.
Then the cat-shadow darted at her,
through her legs, and slipped outside.
It mingled with the shadows of bare branches,
and leapt at the shadow of a bird.
She looked at the tree, but there was no bird.
Then he blended into the shadow of a bush.
She stood in the threshold, her hands on the door,
the sharp breeze ruffling the faded flowers
of her house dress, and she could feel
her own bones rattling in her body,
her own shadow trying to slip out.
(originally published in Ted Kooser’s newspaper
column, “American Life in Poetry.” Available as a comic
in Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town.)
After the Changeling Incantation
To become a goose
had seemed important, earlier,
when he made the change.
A gray goose for some reason, fat,
with the ability to lift above
the archers’ arrows,
fly past the leafless autumn trees,
and cross the bowl of the mountain valley,
beyond those far peaks.
There was a mission—
to get something,
or to return with someone—
some reason to be a goose
other than just gooseness,
other than filling your wings with sky—
Hands drop the wand;
feathers cannot pick it up.
We forget when we change
we become something else.
Things mean differently.He circled the great alpine woods,
forgetting. There, below,
knotted in the trees,
were the plottings of men,
creatures like little gods,
with their endless violence upon things.
They make such noise. They wail and bleed.
It is no place for a goose.
It is no place for one who can find
north and south within his body
and know which one to choose.
(originally published in Strange Horizons and
available as a comic in Stairs Appear in a Hole
Outside of Town)