UNDER A COLD MOON
He's at it again. Sawing glass, hanging grainy circles,
disks the color of Chinese plum sauce.
Last week it was wax from a glassblower's
pipe formed into eeling balloons and spirals,
coils of blue-green snake. He can't leave it alone.
It's the foreign light, I think: sun on spirals
he's hung from branches along the lane, light catching
on the hundred droplets strung on threads
in the bedroom, droplets that chime like forest rain,
when we tumble into the bed.
And naive delight: clay, wax, or mud
squeezed and shaped, risk in the molten radiance.
He finger-paints us with the red mud from the river,
on birthdays, gives us Venetian cristallo
filled with cake. I tell you, he's different.
Would replace his teeth with obsidian,
or Chinese eye-bead inlays; score the new panes
with his fingernails. But I won't have him
any other way. He tunes us to the shimmer of light,
plays the family like the ceramic pipes
he gathered in the yard, crystalline organ
singing out in the dawn, all of its own accord.
He named the babies: Lalique, Galle,
Marinot. Made them glass-brick playgrounds,
millefiori balls. Let them dissolve the waterglass
into shining syrup. My throat turns viscous cullet,
his face translucent vitreous china,
when we come in the beaded dark,
on our bed of clay, under
the plink and ring of teardrops.
A skunk is a powerful totem
teaching how to give and expect respect.
— Ted Andrews, Animal Speak
My thirty year old daughter and I
plant seedlings at the cabin. She laughs
at the pantry full of tomato juice
laid by in case the dog tangles with a skunk.
I do not tell her the skunk is my new totem.
Skunk, moving at her own speed,
A few days of crankiness, some spots
on her torso, no bigger than seeds
in a new tomato. She was tender
under her arms when we picked her up,
cried out. We would remember
telling her: that didn't hurt.
At nine I took a salt shaker to the garden,
ate warm tomatoes ripe from the vine.
My grandmother blanched them in her yellow kitchen,
slid the skins off, served them sliced, swimming in vinegar.
The day I ran to him with bee stings, Grandpa grabbed the dish,
slapped vinegar soaked tomatoes onto my arms. Pungent red wheels,
juice and seeds running down into my hands.
In the emergency room they separate us.
Alone, she shivers without her skin.
Which one of you burned this child?
Chemistry lab, third hour. Smell of skunk and rotten eggs. Mr. Schaeffer
explained: the black stains on our fingertips wouldn't wash off. The nitrate
would slough away over the next weeks. At home my mother rubbed
my black-brown fingers with pumice stone, tried in vain to erase
the singe around my nails.
There's the story of a maid
who finds a giant footprint,
and inside it, a single tomato seed.
She fits her tiny foot into the imprint,
and later, bears a child that grows
to be a towering warrior
the savior of her people.
Her skin slides off in strips,
nothing to hold it in place.
The doctor says—Now we know.
Staph, flooding her system.
He never apologizes.
He reminds us of an owl,
swooping after rabbits, skunks,
squirrels. Nurses wear gowns
and masks to protect themselves.
Wrap her in silver nitrate
soaked bandages, neck to knees.
When they move us to the Burn Center
the cleaning crew fogs the room.
Beside my daughter's bed, half-dreaming,
I bring the tomato seed to rub along
her foot, new skin grows before our eyes.
You know the famous photo
Vietnam—a thin girl
burned by napalm
my daughter standing naked
on her bed—arms out
like unfeathered wings
Her father's father grew tomatoes. Last son of hard-hand pioneers,
most of his siblings gone. He tied up vines, burned fat tomato worms
in a tin can. His first grandchild died in her crib. We never told him
how close he came to losing the second.
Sometimes skunk shows up to teach us
how to pay attention...Those with this totem
may have a sensitivity to tomato...it is part
of the contrary or balancing medicine
The doctor stammers, doesn't like talking
to both of us—wants to whisper the facts
to my husband in the hall, let him water it down and feed
it to me in little sips he thinks I can swallow.
Down the hall at the blood donor clinic
volunteers dispense small cups of tomato juice.
on "Skin": My daughter was only four when a massive staph infection threatened her life. It has taken decades to find the manner in which I could write about it. That is, in a way I was comfortable sharing.
on "Under a Cold Moon": A postcard picture of glass pieces, a recent Chihuly show I'd attended months before...that's what got me started. Then I discovered all the literature on glass making that was out there—history, science, art. The task became one of trying not to attach everything I'd found out to one little poem!