(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
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
A Farewell To Birds
A bird– two wings, one body,
beak, two legs—
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
according to the same design.
Does it matter to the flock if one bird dies?
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.
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.