poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

Blog Archive

Monday, October 22, 2012


The heron blends in. The heron is hard to spot. The heron is the charge.
The heron is the most vital. The heron looks like sticks.
Everyone else drives past. Invisibility: that's my superpower too.
I can be invisible. Natural. I can go without
any human-hands-made-things. Driving by, people peripherally notice
all the brightly-colored trash that has washed down
to the riverside. I stand naked in the middle of the flood
and no one sees. Ducks tell me secrets then. Herons are royal and ignore me.

This is the spot where we saw that small cow leap into the road
and I made us stop. We drove back. This morning there is no small cow
to care about. Maybe it's good
that we have the rain and the grey light, so the colors can really vibrate.

Water is deep around these bones of trees. A charcoal sketch of trees.
The trees have no leaves but each has a crowning nest.
On my side the water is green. Behind everything there are always
mountains already old and we’ve loved them forever
in geological time. Humans live in leaf-turning time
which really isn't long enough to love anything
or to write anything more meaningful than a note anyway.

So this is my note,
set in this atmosphere of leaves and raindrops,
beside a grey horse in a green field,
where the deer blend in perfectly except for their little white tails
and a huge branch covered in hawks
is loudly protruding from the reservoir.

Driving west into America, there’s a certain plateau. The air changes.
Over there is it raining. Over here it is all cello-music.
When I was a girl I had nightmares about being buried alive.
Now I am a woman and in my dreams I explode.
The landscape says “love me” as purple leaves shake off the trees
and we’re busy filling our mouths with unpronounceable town names;
Schoharie, Wynantskill, Owego.

Cows in the valley. Cows on the ridge.
Black/ Brown-Red/ Black-and-white/ Look
the mountains are imprinted with red/orange/yellow vegetable fire
in the rain/ in the here and now/ beside us
there’s a circle patch of sun
making it seem that the trees are reaching up towards the light.

There is so much purple over there.
When I was in elementary school my parents would drive upstate
and we’d look at the turning leaves
and I’d come back and dream about them
and make crayon drawings in school where I used all the colors
in the box and once my teacher said to me; Rena, were the mountains really purple?
I didn’t feel like I had the authority to contradict her. Perhaps
there was something wrong with my eyes. Something wrong
with using all the colors.

Evergreen trees and ever-grey pavement,
farms always seem rectangular in the flat parts of America,
clouds, trees, grass, grain, cows, sun
(what magic feeds the whole country) that hill is in the clouds
and the air of the fields
make the bighorn sheep fuss
and the bulls lay down in their own weather
while a pony gazes into the pond and her foal eats grass.
The pond is full of white ducks
and in white letters on a green sign it says “Fairgrounds” and an arrow points
vaguely sideways at more cows.
America rises westward.

Causeway. I love that word.
As I loved the thirteen years before I turned thirteen
(years that befit childhood) more than I loved the thirteen years that came after.
That birthday is a sort of causeway. On my side the reservoir is green.
Birds love dead boughs. Anything can be a perch. It has nothing to do with love.
Pitch shifts in the mouth. It doesn't have to be sturdy to work.
I don't always have to stand up. I don’t know how to stop being a child.

I can't fly.
That's a good thing.
I'd flock to the light,
a little girl
dressed as folly. Ribbons. Make-up. The works.
Ribbons are supposed to be beautiful but they are never beautiful.
So what is truly beautiful, besides the grass and the trees and the animals?
Is there any one thing people make that is truly beautiful?

In the movie No Way Out But One, the woman
left her children notes in the refrigerator, so they’d say, “Can I go get a root beer?” and they’d find the notes. That was beautiful.
Also beautiful: how she made a photocopy of her hand
for them to reach out to her when she wasn't with them. Put your small hand
on this piece of paper
when you are afraid.

Canadian geese in formations are southerly screaming across the sky
and I have a picture of a whale in my pocket
to remind me of the sea.

I made lines of cinnamon on the table
(that’s not true, they didn’t have cinnamon, I had to write it in hot sauce)
I tore off a corner of the menu and wrote you a note
(at Lights Coffee in Elmira, New York)
and if you never find the note
(I don’t expect you to find the note)
that’s okay because leaving notes is my protective strategy
(otherwise how would I or anyone ever know that I was here?)

Alone at a diner writing poems
while people standing in the parkinglot outside the bleachy window
blow cigarette smoke into words and plumes. Poems, maybe? I think
I can read that one, it says:
We are written together in a certain form
where I haven't yet figured
out what the rhyme scheme and rules are.

The note I left you says:
Life is a short cigarette smoke + air poem.


The note says: you are perfect
even though I love you
sometimes you’ll feel alone
and that’s okay.

Better to be the invisible heron—
what wings that bird has!—
than the offensively orange soda can; ultra-visible but obviously empty,
both hard and crushed.
Don’t bother coming here, or looking for the note.
I’ve told you all I have to say.
As though I know how to be a good mother.
As though that should come naturally to all the female animals.

Next to Elmira is a town called Horseheads.
The first person I asked was a woman and she could not remember the war
(because it was “before my time”)
but said it was from some war where horses
were just dying all over the place. Various reasons. War-related.
She said the town was called Horseheads because the children
in the town would make a game out of lining up the dead
horses heads in various states of decay
and jumping from skull to skull.

The second person I asked was a girl. She said it was the Civil War
and that there was a hospital in the town but no resources for the horses
because the sick soldiers had to get the resources first. So the horses were just
tied up outside the hospital and they died. Horses that had taken bullets
just starved to death there. A travesty, considering what heroes they were.
And then what remained were the heads. And people saved them.
And maybe traded them. Or maybe it was that if you needed a horsehead
you knew you could come to this town to get one.
Every town has its thing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Specifically the Lungs

The ceiling is falling, white rectangle by white rectangle
and it’s very hard to get the attention of those people who should fix it.
The tiles you need were made so long ago, they tell me,
that they no longer exist, and above the old tiles and dust there’s asbestos.
It’s a great product, that asbestos, really keeps the heat in.
The only thing is the effect it has on humans. Specifically the lungs.

Is it really a problem?
No, I don’t think it’s such a big problem.
It’s a wonderful product.
Yes, asbestos really keeps the heat in.

Don’t tell anyone, but tonight
they will sneak in a team of Mexicans to do the work
no one else will touch. Don’t tell anyone, but
tomorrow when we breathe
their undocumented suffering (so carcinogenic
that the ceiling on my life will entirely dissolve)
we will deserve the psychotic weather that comes with it.

When it rains we all go down
and when we drown there will still be someone standing where I am standing
now, saying how good it all is:
these products and the work we do here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chipmunk by the River

Last week I made you pull off the road because I saw a heron in the river
but I closed the car door too hard and it took off
all blue wing span and wild/ shallow river,  rocks and sticks. I am terrified of love.
The sunflower road to the river has a chipmunk heart
and when I’m quiet like a bear, nothing moves.
Everything that sounds like that means empty. I stand
still for a listen, then
each of my steps seems so significant,
causing the birds and chipmunks and bugs to ruckus and riot.
How I chase love away, with heavy steps, pretty little chipmunk
skirts the sunflower road and I am listening still
for rain or the white spread of milkweed.
Perhaps today love begins like this: it’s both the car door closing
too hard and the silent stand by the river
waiting for rain with that same secret song,
all beats and flows, saying: it’s okay to be afraid, my little chipmunk heart.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

(Recursively) Reading Lewis Caroll at my Grandfather’s funeral, Age 8

It is legal for one function to call another; it is also legal for a function to call itself. It may
not be obvious why that is a good thing, but it turns out to be one of the most magical
things a program can do.

-from, Think Python (Chapter 5.8 Recursion) by Allen Downey

Welcome to the hotel called Heaven,
Welcome to the underground, Welcome Alice
in Wonderland. There’s nothing
different here, space is measured in dirt instead of air, that’s all.
It’s the same as the space between the stars—
didn’t you ever notice all that space?
There’s so much more empty space in the sky than stars.
It’s not necessarily lonely.
Don’t cry. There’s a singer, from the opera,
and just think, there’s a logical skeleton at school
that hangs in the corner
and tells us what we really are. Dear
Skeleton, all of your bones are crying.
Crying is a function that calls itself.

When we first got in the car and I played the song
I could tell by the quality of your silence
that you thought the words were meant for you
and it’s true, but more than that, I meant the sadness for us both.
This is called recursion.

It was never a house. It was always just paper,
nothing permanent—a view out the window, a lovely bog
where I sit to write, where I type out
a single line
from Moby-Dick every morning
in a sort of skeleton way, each day a tiny new bone
of the body is worked into a method. I am trying to be friends
with Herman Melville. I would not want to have been friends
with Lewis Caroll.  Forget the smell in the morning when the air is river mist.
Get away from the field.
There never were any stars in the sky. Tonight I’ll show you stars.

Tonight we can make light with our eyes, like
the headlights from the car parked across the street shining in the window
almost by accident, and I noticed but
her baby was screaming and screaming and screaming in my face
and I didn’t know what to do—sometimes when I am sad I listen
to Radiohead, sometimes that makes me cry, but—

“Forget about your house of cards,” I sang, trying to be louder than her baby crying, because I was supposed to “shush” louder than the crying
but it’s such a soft-spoken sort of song:
I don’t want to be your friend
I just want to be your lover. How inappropriate. Sour,
like being given Alice in Wonderland at Grandfather’s funeral
and asked to understand, the operator overloading, shapes of bones,
how necks and shoulders move and shouldn’t move, before
knowing how to ask a question. Featuring information. Being told:
No matter how it ends
No matter how it starts.
Forget about your house of cards.
This bowl of land out the window is the subject,
is full of red leaves on yellow-greens: everything is mine, yours, mine.
No autumn can wake you.
Start early, start falling,
as all stars logically fall.