Sunday, November 18, 2012

barn owl

barn owl, Tyto alba

the window glass
a quarry unforeseen
the backward fall
to stony ground
silence until found
the snapped neck
throbs like a pulse
between bones

Monday, November 5, 2012

cactus flower

first a fuzzy knob 
swelled from the side of a spiked column
slightly larger week by week
'til suddenly a vertical sprout
& one morning — this

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Middle

I have been in the middle
for a very long time —

the middle

of writing,
of life,
of being a wife, mother,
grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, niece,

though my niece-ness soon
enough will come to an end —

Mary in her upper nineties.

I’m in the middle of

cooking chicken ratatouille,
weeding the yard after being away for nearly two weeks,
reading a book by Lyn Hejinian.

It’s not the middle of the year or the month.
Soon it will be noon.
On the first of the month Mike usually cuts my hair.

In the middle of next month
we will have lived in Argentina for a year & a quarter.
During that middle we’ve traveled to Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, & Dominica.

The timer going off means the chicken is half cooked.

Middle as everything

since babe in arms,
since tonsillectomy,
until kindergarten,
until graduation of high school.

Alternately, as mother
after the birth of my first child,
my second, the surprise of pure love,

as surprise when I fell for Mike,
for such a long time now
another middle.

Is the entire length of Zeno’s paradox.

Is softer than I'd like.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Were You My Sister?

after cyst removal surgery
she felt the spasms, watched the dark
mass slither down the bowl

she was not surprised, she
knew she would lose you, fourth
child — Esperanza de Felicidad

she would go on
to bear a fifth, a second boy, despite
the doctors warning

but no, no second abortion —
remembering the bleeding after the first
so nearly killed her & would have

negated three more of us —
she disregarded their male
pleadings, taught John & me to read

while growing David, yes, a
happy child but not
you, my sister

Thursday, October 4, 2012


new grapes

is the crossroads

space or line
end open or closed

square or
unfinished tri-
angle or parallelogram

who’s X, who’s O
are you playing across or
diagonal or down

let’s choose
where to cross
and how: checkers jump
or knight’s move

of letters is it L, T, or D
P, Q, or R
F or H, O, J
C or B, U or I
Y, X, or wannabe E

below is 3

common broom in flower, Cytisus scoparius

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Girl in the Swing

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing, 1766

The too much digging I did yesterday sent me this morning for a warm soak in the bathtub, but yesterday the sun didn’t burn off the clouds, so the solar panels didn’t heat the water, & because the Argentine-manufactured instant hot-water heater doesn’t work as well as it should, I took a not very warm soak & climbed out chilled to the bone. Thank goodness Susan gave me a down vest. Either the coolish bath or the Ibuprofen or both have silenced my sore cheek.

How would I have written that if I lived in the age of Watteau & Fragonard? My servant would have boiled water to fill the tub. I wouldn’t have been digging in the first place, not if I was the girl in the swing wearing flouncy petticoats some loutish suitor tried to look up. Probably I wouldn’t have bathed more than once a week. I would have worn strong perfumes to hide my menstrual odors. I would have married one of those louts, born six or eight children, demanded more servants & a better cook, grown stout.

Dressed in complex undergarments under my elaborately fitted dress, I would have written with a quill pen from my desk in Cheltenhamshire to my sister in London, asked her whether her unmarried, childless, still at home with our parents life [her governess life; her nun’s life; her whore’s life] suited her better than the life she would have lived — mine — had she also been beautiful. 

I would have told her how every day I wish she would come to live with me, to help care for these children rather than reading & sewing the day long; how if I die young, she could become my husband’s second wife in order to experience all of my life, to bear more children from his urgent loins, some of them girls who will follow in our footsteps as slaves of men.

He is no lion, my husband. Not of industry or intellect, generosity or geniality. No, he is a person late to rise, annoyed by children, dissatisfied with meals, unwilling to socialize or travel. He lives for his dogs, guns, hock, whiskey, cigars, two or three friends in the same mold. He stinks of them all when he stumbles onto me in the dark. I pray an accident will carry him off.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Argentine Horses

I hear teeth tear at
alfalfa. The horses ravage field after field
to roots & earth.

Cattle egrets forage
near hooves, perambulate spines. Frolicking
heads jerk, long necks twine.

I watch & listen to
hot breath exhaled through nostrils
like doves rowing through air.

Unbridled inside
the electric wire, one horse idles toward me:
ivory socks & blaze.

Her soon-to-be-born
distends her torso down & sideways.
I measure leg bones.

She reaches for me
hikes her nose to my outstretched fingers
angles cheek to my palm.

Tendering mare's velvet
she scares me with strength & mass, all
I don't know of horses.

Watching me, repeatedly
she blows —her call, my unschooled response:
Are you saying hello?

I answer her back
while weeding my vegetable rows:
Hola, pregnant caballo

knowing today or tomorrow
the herd will be shifted to some far meadow:
I won't see the birth.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Winter simply ends as the ill-mannered
Zonda wind arrives. Now budding willows
sway red, thorn trees green, succulents
polka-dot yellow, irises three to a spike
purple & white.
                        Wearing but a T-shirt
& gardening shorts, I dig through frost-scarred beds
fork up mint, transplant curry, crewcut
cold-browned stems of oregano, sage.
Seeds await in multi-colored packets —
passion fruit
                   rhubarb, papaya, artichoke
cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, carrot & kale
lettuce & beans, echinacia, beet & tomato.
Strong walls will rise in the east of bricks
& cement to stymie ill winds from tearing
young leaves, downing stakes.
wild hares will come to graze.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


In slow, careful Castellaño, I ask Pablo, "Can you make me two wooden boxes, 60 cm wide by 50 cm deep by 30 cm high, with top & bottom (tapa y fondo)?"

"Algorrobo or pino?" he asks.

I stop to think. Algorrobo is the hardwood the builders used for our window & door frames.

"Pine is cheaper, algorrobo is more expensive," he says. His workshop is outdoors, a sea of wood & sawdust, partial & completed rustic-style furniture, two dogs. The table saw has a meter-long vertical blade.

"I don't need such hard wood just for firewood boxes," I say. "I'm going to put one box on either side of our wood stove, one to hold logs, one to hold kindling & paper. I need these boxes because I have a kitten who strews kindling from one end of the house to the other, all over the furniture, too." He smiles when I say kitten.

"How much?" I ask.


"So much?" I know the pine will be unfinished, the hinges unevenly placed. Mike will sand & varnish them. One will not close perfectly.

"250 per box. The box is 50 centimeters high," he says.

"No," I say, "only 30 centimeters high because it fit beneath the electrical outlets."

He moves his hands, extends his measuring tape: "Dos cientos."

I nod my head, "200 per box," I say. I always repeat numbers to make sure I've understood correctly. It's still too much, but I am a gringo & must pay more than a local, though not quite as much as I would if I were speaking English instead of Castellaño.

"When?" I ask.


"Morning or afternoon," I ask, knowing he will say afternoon. Today is Wednesday. Little Miss Vee must wait at least two more days for two new boxes to play in. Back home I realize I forgot to specify that the hinges go on the 60-cm side. Does it matter? I measure the space again. The boxes will fit turned either way.


The sleeves of my Lands End cotton turtleneck are prickly with thorns, even though I wore it under a Lands End jacket with a nylon exterior & fleece liner. The thorns studding my blue jeans prick me when I sit down. All because I wanted a third load of firewood that was half-buried in sand under thorny grasses. My mittens, my hat, the ends of my hair are clotted with thorns. Easing them from my hair is the hardest. I pull tiny thorns from my fingers all day.

Much of the firewood I bring home is too large for the wood stove. Mike tells me so when I drop it on the pile. He doesn't notice my thorns. I point at him, which means, "You'll cut it with your handsaw." Soon enough we'll drive three hours to Salta to buy a chainsaw. Next winter we'll lay in a large store of firewood before winter comes.


As long as the sun shines & the wind holds off, which is most days, the sun warms all the places we spend our days, inside & out. If I put the thermometer where I am sitting, it would probably read 35ºC, nearly body temperature. The cat is sleeping on my shins in sunny heaven.

Outside the north-facing picture window bearded irises are blooming, most of them purple, one white. I don't know why irises would bloom in winter, but the plants that thrive here at one mile high possess some desert hardiness I've not met before. In New England most small- to medium-size plants disappear with frost & winter under snow. In Hawaii's temperate rainforest you can generally only kill a plant by burning it or carrying it away.


Mike spotted two woodpiles along the main road. The first contained wood too long to fit in our stove, & we don't have a chainsaw yet. The second looked promising, so I hopped out while Mike turned the car around. Plenty of logs & kindling that will fit. The logs especially are welcome, because we have used all that Federico's guys brought us.

I select & toss firewood onto the road; Mike loads the car, warns me not to injure him. We both work hard & fast. Soon he is breathless. I ask him to rest, please, I will load the rest into the car, but it's hard to stop selecting more because the trove contains such treasure. He rests for thirty seconds and starts again, breathing hard. Regretfully I stop & take his place. The trunk is nearly full.

Back home I drive the car around to the north side of the house & unload into a tidy stack on the veranda. We're in good shape for the next cold spell. Not only that, Roan called from Salta last night to get Mike's approval to buy us a Stihl chainsaw.


The firewood boxes are not ready on Friday or Saturday. “Monday,” Pablo says. When we pull up late Tuesday morning, he is just installing the hinges on the second box. They are solid boxes, unfinished pine, irregularly spaced hinges.

We drive to Keti hardware to buy wood stain, which is not called mancha de madera, just as Mike suspected. The older woman beams with pleasure to see us & kisses me hello. We buy a liter of protector de madera, finish satinado, color nogal — walnut. As we leave the middle-aged woman tells us how happy she is to see us again.

The boxes are sitting up off the ground on blocks of quebracho, the local hardwood used for our roof beams. Today Mike will stain them, one or two coats depending on how much the pine absorbs.

This afternoon we will move all the firewood inside the house out to the veranda, we will straighten up our scattered messes, because tomorrow Elba comes to wash & wax the floors. We thought we would do that ourselves, but in the three months since the floors were sealed, we haven't done it. There's too much floor & too many more interesting things to do. Perhaps we'll have her wash the windows, too.

Saturday, May 19, 2012



This morning the man with missing teeth
told me to take a hose & drown los ocultos — rodents
(similar to gophers) that dig labyrinths
under the gardens, ruck up gravel, eat roots —
run a hose down the hole & drown them.

The waiter who always wants to help us
including ordering us tables from the furniture maker
because he can get them for what locals pay
instead of the price charged to gringos — what we are —
Our waiter is missing six or seven teeth in front on top.

The man who has worked this land for 25 years
(before that it was virgen, he says)
is missing four — top middle — I have difficulty
understanding what he says, but I fake it
he fakes it — we want to understand each other
why I saved the fox skeleton, how los ocultos
will go elsewhere once our garden grows.

Most women in town are missing teeth
accidents? decay? mens’ fists?
women in town shop, cook, clean house
raise children, ride bicycles — the men do nothing
to help in the home & are missing teeth.

Professional women from the city wear braces
the money they earn buys them braces
nor do they bear four or eight children
if any, they bear one or two, & hire a maid, a cook
help is cheap here & always missing teeth.

Even though I speak the language
correctly & with a passable accent
even if I were a young wife with small children
riding a battered one-speed bicycle to el mercado 
even if I already knew how to kill los ocultos
the locals would know me for a gringo
speak to me, want me to be a friend.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Miss Vee

Welcome, Miss Vee, 
nth kitty in my cat parade 
beginning with early
Names-I-Forgot including
not noticed sleeping 
behind a rear tire 
when Mom backed down
the driveway, also
that Careful-She-Bites
cat & dog Blackie
dispatched at the vet
though Mom claimed
they ran away, proceeding
to Siamese-purebreds 
Nefertiti & Tutankhamun, 
to Jacob born on a boat,
to Münkin son of Titi 
whose only ever squirrel
misstepped a gutter
& fell on his head, 
to long-haired Jason 
bearing the Golden Fleece 
who survived a tar bath
by plucking out his coat, 
to Ooblek who disappeared, 
to cooktop-parked Bartholomew, 
to muscle-packing Mumbles 
also called Stripley on Steroids 
after a passing car
pitched him on his noggin,
to seven-toed Lobster Boy 
Only Six Inches Long 
but Plays the Zither
also called Fred, 
to soprano-toned Baba, 
to feral-born Akalina
featured on our coffee label.
Welcome, Miss Vee,
what will your story be?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chapter End

Japanese White Eye, Zosterops japonicus, juvenile

Soon everything on the farm will be gone. Already
the tractor, lumber, Mike’s chair, a cast-iron pot
have gone for good. Customer cars juggle in & out
of parking slots. Keikis call me Auntie, lay 
their heads in my lap before marking the white sofa 
with black-bottomed feet, scattering books I might 
not keep. Ciao to hand-painted plates I brought 
from Italy to Cali to Carolina to Hawaii. Aloha 
to the double-bladed axe, to ratchet-action loppers
cane knives & the chainsaw once the bidding war 
was won. Sold are the food-grade buckets 
once filled with kilos of nuts, rice, & beans 
to feed us through Y2K. Now goes my chair.
The comforter off our bed. But not my knives.
Ditto the camera, shoelaces, shaving mirror, Mike.