Joyce Schmid ~ Poems

(Speaking for WS Merwin)

The date of my death
turned out to be the Ides of March
Paula no longer with me
to insist I stay at home
not there to warn me lions were being born
and ghosts were shriek­ing in the streets
and sim­ple skies were catch­ing fire

I was too blind by then
to every­thing but grief

why had I sung my hap­pi­ness so loud
I knew the Fates were listening

the night of March fifteenth
I dreamed of Paula
leave the house she said
the palm trees
stand­ing where we plant­ed them
will be all right

twice I thought I knew what love was
and was wrong
until I saw the one whose voice I’d always heard
the one I’d nev­er known
sit­ting in the high room
dressed in pearl light
how could I not believe in life
believe in afterlife
believe the Nameless Invisible
stretched down Their hand that day to quick­en me

I plant­ed trees
and rest­ed in their shade with Paula
posed for photographs
frond shad­ows on our chiaroscuro faces
our dear chow Peah tawny at our knees
I let myself imag­ine we’d be back again
that we would be as we had been in our late happiness
though even then I knew
that every­thing and noth­ing are the same
like the blind black dog who led me through the night

I thought I would at least retain my emptiness
but I was wrong
I told myself remem­ber this
goldfinch­es and black cher­ries in May light
but now I am pure memory
same boy and same old man
same braid­ed noth­ing­ness I was
when clouds of earth­ly moments
drift­ed through me


55th Wedding Anniversary in Yosemite

The path at dusk
is pud­dled ice
between two fields of snow.

You’re hold­ing me,
I’m hold­ing you,
so we won’t fall.

Lit up by van­ished light
above the sil­hou­et­ted cliffs
one last red cloud.

The more it dies
the more its color
in our win­ter faces
comes alive.


Lunch With Granddaughter

The almost-woman at the table
eat­ing salt­ed avocado—
is she think­ing of the tree it came from
or the tree that she will be?
Her eyes are green, surrounded
with an arti­fi­cial shadow,
yet the mys­tery is real.
Is she look­ing at me
or at the hum­ming­bird outside,
its small bird body glow­ing greenly
at the edge of visibility?
Is that the sunshine
com­ing through the plate glass door
to make a won­der of her hair,
or is it time illu­mi­nat­ing her,
seduc­ing her to ripen toward the light?



Death ripens in my sister’s brain, it deepens
like the pur­ple on a Santa Rosa plum,

or like earth-shad­ow spreading
on a moon unable to resist.

There must be some­where strength,
a pair of arms, a bomb, a spell—

Just say the word, or even
only think it for a zeptosecond
and she will be healed. This prayer
I, a form of nothing,

The plum turns ripe,
its bloom white-silver

and the dark, night-bit­ten moon
glows red.


A Farewell To Birds

A bird– two wings, one body,
beak, two legs—

shape pre­as­signed
like music—different in every set of hands.

A moment’s hes­i­ta­tion in mid-air,
a down­ward slice through sky

to break the lake, and rise
not sated,

every tern
accord­ing to the same design.

Does it mat­ter to the flock if one bird dies?
Don’t cry.

Or, rather, cry.

Our Milky Way is just a dot among the voids,
who else will grieve?


Catharsis in the Palo Alto Baylands

White pel­i­cans, great egrets, great blue herons? Yes.
But this—

a crea­ture with the body of a falcon
and a turkey’s head?

We over­hear a boy: “Ooh, Mommy, look—
a turkey vulture!”

I google it: Cathartes aura.
A car­rion bird that finds dead things by smell.

Remember when old Uncle Mark was dying?
How we smelled his death on him while he was still alive?

I won­der if this bird, pulled from the sky by hunger,
smells our death on us.

Last night, you mur­mured in your sleep— “HellO!”—
as pas­sion­ate as Bogart, seeing—while the Wehrmacht vio­lat­ed Paris—

only some­one beautiful.
Even at my age, I hoped I was the Bergman in your dream.


Turkey vul­ture—I am absolute for you,

your com­pact body hid­ing the poten­tial of your wings
to car­ry us inside you,
tran­sub­stan­ti­at­ed into flight.

Note: Italicized line from Seamus Heaney

Joyce Schmid’s recent work appears or is forth­com­ing in Hudson Review, Five Points, Literary Imagination, New Ohio Review, and oth­er jour­nals and antholo­gies. She lives in Palo Alto, California, with her hus­band of over half a century.