Excerpts from If Mercy

Antiphon for remembering and forgetting

Now that my mother’s elbows crinkled with loveliness
are bone grit and flake

No broom can shoo her away from a cabin porch
nor kerchief cleanse her sigh from a storm sash

Her atheist heart is rubble

And now her worried miles wash away, a hurricane
lost to itself over northerly waters

Gulls, take up your scavenged glints and go on
Fish, go back to your breeze-flecked leaping

Coyote, crouch beneath the eaves of your cold, luxuriant hackles
Deer, come to the edge of your intelligent shyness; drink;
for there is no one to witness you

Psalmless woman, gone to the oldness
God kept for her, beyond the fatigue of erasure

She is unselfed, and safe now with all of her death

and strewn too wide for a meadow to matter

O relic denture, ungainly bifocals—toss these off
any prow

and they will bob for a moment

O sink-thee-nots, small things, o wedding pearls

First appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal

Portrait of Mable Departing

... yet do not grieve;
she cannot fade, though thou has not thy bliss,
forever wilt thou love and she be fair!
—John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn

One clump at a time the dog fur abandons the dog.
Next go the toenails, tail-tip, abundantly tickled

insides of ears, the lacey detritus of her
slipping free with the nonchalance of a garter snake.

Next go her sepia teeth and the five dry kibbles that crust
her dish, next the trash bag that carries them out

and the wheeze of the Tuesday truck and the handsome,
foul-mouthed boys clambering off the back,

next the corduroy bed stored in the basement
beside the ice skates,

the puttings away, the slow forgettings,
the knucklebone scarred with chew-marks a keepsake now,

next the siren with no howling to echo it, next
the grass her urine scalded

greened over, the cataracts dimming the days in August,
the nights that bring enough crickets to breathe

next the grit her paws tracked in from the street,
finally the carpet grayed with it finally the house

and the key and the dweller finally
the street itself

for Joaquim

first appeared in Ascent

Improvisation for a Friend in a Time of Sorrow

The mare asks what else she can give you,
for she has dragged the last knotted star
out of the barn by a nail come loose from
her back left shoe in return for
the baby-cut carrots
you packed in your lunch;
she has sloped her polished neck
and eaten each one from between your thumb
and your forefinger: she has taken all of
the time that she needs, her teeth
the size of chapel doors, the peaceful steam
of her nostrils’ velvet tunnels.
Still it is late in the year and the pasture is frail
so she offers her bruised horse heart, a few
strands of hay, the motherly damp
of her nickering.

first appeared in The American Poetry Review

Elegies Written on Water by Children

For Kathi Aguero

They crouch on the shore of the old
summer's evening: Deirdre, Elizabeth,
Jack. They have not yet learned to read,
soon enough for that. Tonight the dark is kind
along their narrow backs; they know
they can still love the loons
for their wobbling calls from the cattails.
They have brought the sacks they filled
with Indian pipes. And each has a favorite
twig the last storm tore from the sapling
beside the dock. And now the splashless moon
wades in, turns like a taller sibling,
and beckons. Tonight among all of the nights
they will some day press and close into
their own children’s palms, the sand still cups
their toes like lucky stones.
Their sweatshirt sleeves are soaked
with readiness. So they draw
the first quick ripples of their poems,
like notes when no teacher is looking.

first appeared in Salamander

Prayer for an Old Woman Stepping out of the Shower

That your breasts make of this water
an unfettered sacrament.

That this pearled soap be the last palm on your belly.

That the unvisited cleft of you moisten aimlessly
just for a while.

That your hair be as wind-drenched boughs
sweeping aside the terrible summers.

That your mirror steam with the long-ago breaths
of those who once beheld the sway of your skirts.

That your buttocks, your languorous buttocks,
be as peasants’ aprons filled with orchard fruit.

That this egret-white towel envelop you always
like clemency granted.

That the dust of your grief for gone things—the lovers
who warmed your bed, joy’s shocking extravagance—
be as jasmine and wild rose talcum.

That your knees bear the lore of your girlhood daring.

That your shoulders thrust back, gleaming
as if to begin this proud and partnerless dance.

First appeared in The American Poetry Review

 © Frannie Lindsay.