Light. The rapture of it, heft
and weight. Two birches wear the white sheen
of it, a zinnia’s face blazes gold in it,
sidewalk shadows change size because of it.
Quick as that, a gloss of light lands
on the cricket’s back, then leaves. Leaves in Fall
are charged with it, fierce light pulsing out
from colors against black bark after rain.
When dark falls, there is an absence,
a quiet sorrow in the realm of eyesight.
Edges blur and soften, and we no longer
recognize what we knew so keenly yesterday.
Then daybreak, when the rapt world flames forth
again, scattering bits of light, delirious light.
I Can’t Breathe
for George Floyd
All week the helicopters whir and drone
until they feel like wasps
inside my head, until they lodge in hot bits
inside my ribs, until they take me back to Vietnam
when Jeff was dying high above the gauzy clouds
in that Huey chopper.
Sirens scream down the streets
and we smell the smoke that curls
from torched buildings. Look at us,
America in 2020, no different from
the year we lynched Emmett Till in 1955.
Today I mourn the death
of George Floyd, whose neck
was pinned for nine minutes
beneath a white cop’s knee
until the only thing that could be heard
was “I can’t breathe.” I mourn
the officers who didn’t try to help
him, I mourn everyone
who didn’t get the news in time
to intervene or yell “stop!”
For the residue of the lynching tree
in the blood of those who killed him,
for the brutal fires and looting that came next;
for my dear neighborhood in ruins
and for the small businesses
that just couldn’t bear the weight;
for the fury of provocateurs
who torched peaceful protests
with their hate, I toss my own
grenade of grief up to the sky.
Only ninety steps from house to forest.
I counted them, summer days, my whole body
pulled like a magnet toward the green light
humming through the thick stand of pines.
It was the otherworld I craved, the air
silver with dust motes floating down between
deep green needles, the pitch of pine scent
tuned tightly to a high thin note,
the forest floor worn and soft as an old rug,
and all the lure of foreign places calling.
We danced there, my sisters and I,
twirling our gypsy skirts for an audience
of mute trees in the clearing. By noon
we were heady with possibility
of claiming the lost Irish crown, the coveted role
of Queen Kathleen, Ruler of the Forest.
And each day ended with my mother’s voice
sounding the dinner call, pulling us back
again. While we ate, while
we played, every hour surged forward
and away from us into the future,
and never once as we filled our lungs
with great gulps of sweet green air
did we consider this.
Poems Copyright © Ethna McKiernan, 2021