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Revised 2011 Edition

Acknowledgments Poems in this collection also appeared in Active Voice, Alberta Poetry Yearbook, The Antigonish Review, Ariel, Athanor, The Blotter, Canadian Literature, Clarity Between Clouds, Cross-Canada Writers = Quarterly, Descant, Erindale Review, Exchanges Between Us: More Intergenerational Connections Germination, The Longship Review, The Malahat Review, Mamashee, The New Quarterly, Of Cabbages & Kings (6X FM Radio, London), OSSTF Forum, Other Channels, Parthenon Poetry Anthology, Pierian Spring, Poetry Canada Review, Prism International, Quarry, Secrets from the Orange Couch,, Simcoe Review, Songs from the North, Spare Words, The Squatchberry Journal, A Tapestry in Six Textures, The Third Taboo, Tower, Treeline, West Coast Review, Where the Light Waits, Whetstone, White Wall Review, Wordloom, and Ygdrasil.

Second Digital Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-38-8 Copyright © 2011 by Susan Ioannou.

First Digital Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-26-5 Copyright © 2005 by Susan Ioannou.

First Print Edition ISBN 978-0-920835-01-2 Copyright © 1986 by Susan Ioannou

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Wordwrights Canada

Familiar Faces






A Critics Choice



Collaborators Rival Poets A Literary Affair


Coffee House Reading


First Writing Workshop


Chaucer Class




Metaphors to My Students




DaedalusLast Words to Icarus


Lake Simcoe with My Father


July Beach




Couplets for Poet and Pianist




Le Misérable




Mary Jane Elder




Mrs. Minton Confides






Kathleen Marshall


Fast Exit


Adjuster, Leaving


For My Husband


Plaza: Late December




The Widows




Eileen and Jean


In Your Light

Private Grief




You Are There




Glimpsing the Dark


Advance Elegies:

My Mother and Me Father and I Faces


Somewhere Between


Reflections, on Hearing a Crow




Prayer for Grandma Zoe


Four Poems for Greta Ebel:

Last Words The Angel of Death Visits Inheritances At Gretas


Last Days






The Funeral








Three Poems for My Father:

When 77th Birthday Dinner February 1985


The Green Room


Home Going





For Merla

without whom

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 1

Familiar Faces


Smiling, among the hanging ferns she waits, Byzantine. Icons of singleness consecrate her walls:

a lovers bamboo fan, two pen-and-inks of Cambridge, Vogue cover in gilt frame.

Across the evening stillness Mahler chants. Brown bandana pillows sink upon beige velvet as the sofa kneels. Deep in thick Persian carpet patterns genuflect, while glass, gold table legs lift up old cognac, coral rosebuds taking communion in a crystal vase.

And smiling, in off-white silk elegant, elongated, larger than life she waits, Byzantine in a godless age.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 2


Facing blankness at thirty-eight, before her private metal desk she sits down undismayed.

Four times a day she runs, drumming awkward lust into asphalt. Now explains,

sipping iced tea, serene, how life is pasted to a page, emotions pencilled blue.

Corrected, corners straight, she disdains passions smudge, the ragged right and left of love.

Childless, manless, fit in efficient solitude, she edits into black and white

preface, notes and index, but is void of contents, or a happy ending for herself.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 3

A Critics Choice

Snake coiled to attack, she shivers black and yellow diamonds as I read.

Her venom drips. Will I approve? Will I condemn? Or must she strike me first C in self-defence?

I too am forced to coil,

my prey her strained intent, forked tongue flicking tact, and change my speckles brown to green to suit her mood.

I too must writhe,

intruder on her frightened sands, play hypnotic games with jewelled eyes, or slither soundless, serpentine away towards Eden.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 4


1. Collaborators

We keep our work between usC a bridge and a barrier.

2. Rival Poets

Two itchy bears rubbing egos like ragged rumps against each other

3. A Literary Affair

You make love to me with your Voice

and I respond in multiple poems.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 5

Coffee House Reading

Egos and nerves, poets hunch tight over little tables, shuffling poems, wondering, When will I get to read?

Another open set? I got a bus to catch!(Really, just want a beer.)

Earless, robots clap relief as one more ends and their turn edgesC closer.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 6

First Writing Workshop (for Rose)

A rose by any other name,

you uncurl poems toward the light, but when sheers snip a twig C it stings!

Green stems bend back. You want to shoot thorns into the gardeners palm.

Instead, like rain, you drop and hide dismayed sap bleeds,

as if you are the only one.

Rose, by many other names, Ive watched you burst

to spread your petals red and wide.

Like mauve, pink, white, already flared, you want to share the gardens tint and scent,

match daisiesease, sophisticated iris, the subtle violets whose practised growing turns shadows into light.

What is a metaphor?Where rain grows sun, and past and future root within one moment.

Rose, keep reaching higher. What briar beauty awaits your breaking through.

I know. We all dig the same who garden our passions among weeds, in words.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 7

Chaucer Class: a Tale of Middle Age

The Pardoner =s Taledrones on. Across the touching desks, lolling on the crooks of elbows, the two stretch closer. Hands share scribbles on a single paper to quell the arms from reaching to embrace. Hes gat-toothed like the Wyf of Bathe and she a coy Madame Eglantyne, all Amor Vincit Omnia. They listen for a moment to my drone, then dream themselves away upon a smile, the Millers Handy Nicholas and Alisoun before the flood.

And I, sag-shouldered and distended belly, so very married, middle-aged and stagnant, ponder the Pardoners words: lust, gluttony and greed. I miss his ageless sins, the nights we gorged on kisses till we hurt and drank ourselves to bed with promises, every hill and valley of the body plundered and its pleasures won.

Profane delight C twenty years ago? Im not the Merchants January yet, though May Id long forgotten. September nudges. Tumbling leaves curl dry, though outwardly still golden.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 8


The most important thing in life is money,you insist. What have I done? What have I not done

to change your mind?

Where did you learn that whine?

A motto of the toughest school downtown?

A mouthful that you swallowed

with the guys while drinking drafts? Or a back-street hawkers con barking up your neon night?

Are you prepared for life

or for an overdrawn account?

Will forty see you Chairman of the Board

or simply bought?

And ever after happy? Or instead threadbare of meaning, will devalued, breathing hollow in an empty room, bankrupt when you face internal audit?

Whose words will you quote then? Or will you smash the next guys dream and deal him double what you got?

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 9

Metaphors to My Students

One up on you and nearer to myself (to death still dearer) Ill rock times ladder.

You down there, how beautiful you are! Heed my voice:

pull the hours from your ears.

You star-dazzled climbers of the morning, you lineless and lucent, rejoice.

Where you stand the ascent is long, so much to gain (and so much lost) upon each rung.

You just begin. I am half done.

Hips heavy, mind wrinkled, hide thickened, the hand grips harder.

Few stars in my eyes when the sun settles down past four in the afternoon.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 10


Dont believe them. Beyond texts and tests, beyond projects overdue, beyond 3 1/2 hours nightly recommended study, beyond no-drinking-at-the-fountain-or- opening-lockers-until-lunch, beyond these grey walls there is joy.

Want C so much awaits you. Reach and find yourself. Delight breath perfumes the body, colours rock the eye, words break open music in the mind.

There are three dimensions, not just pass or fail.

Buds swell into apples. Caterpillars graduate to rainbows. Pebbles roar in chorus on the shore, There is more!

If I could tell you where

Dont believe them. You don =t need them. Arc into a clear unknown!

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 11

DaedalusLast Words to Icarus

Love made me push you past yourself, out of your lizard skin off mottled rocks, squawking at first, then flapping higher, higher, nakedness plunging through the sky.

Invisible to all but me you soared one with the blue, sun-bold and swift as light. I shone along your flaming hair C then watched mortal explode into infinity.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 12

Lake Simcoe with My Father

Down rocks, toward water slapping, we ran.

Gulls soared and swooped, sky not the blue my mother and sister would squint at crouched on the docks weedy steps, but iron grey bearing down, shoving the surface high into swells, clouds racing on wind.

Stiffened to jello, waves rose, peaked, then crashed out in foam. Yelling, we thundered straight in.

Outspreading arms like an angel, toward a crest, back Father flung onto the topple and smashing. White hair dissolved into froth. Leaping, I threw myself after. Torrents flashed as I hurled down.

Swirled into ebbs pull and thrash, shoulders churned over soft sand. Foam in my nose, round I wriggled, broke toward sky with a shout at winds howling, faster and faster higher crests galloping up.

Again and again we heaved ourselves out, harder each time, and I learned to ride on the moments rolling, not fear what a down-swell brought.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 13

Growing up means swimming alone or taking a daughter, a son with me, over the rocks to run for the highest waves and dive toward our own beyond.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 14

July Beach


breasts, thighs



mounds radiate






Warm green waves sprawl.










Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 15


Alma & Verne welcome you with their names swinging from little black chains on a postcard lawn.

Come on in a pansy-filled swan floats at the edge of the walk.

Come on in wrought iron curls up white steps to the porch.

Come on in geraniums nod over a red window box.

A breeze rushes off the lake. Waving by hedges, it skips over the gravelled drive.

Spin-ninn, cut-out geese whirl. Hee, hee, a lawn squirrel squeaks. Three wooden skunks won =t budge.

Come on Gone down the block, you hear the pansy-filled swan.

But now a marmalade cat brushing your knee, meows. CDid Alma & Verne say goodbye?

Only the wind hears them whisper behind the panes potted fern, through the lace curtainsrustle.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 16

Couplets for Poet and Pianist (for a wedding anniversary)

She is the words to his music, he, the variations on her theme.

Her images lighten his fingers, his chords ripple her dreams.

She accents his measure, his signature marks her key.

Each honours the thoughtful caesura between the others beats.

Two movements performed together shared intricate leitmotifs.

Andante to allegretto what will the thirds tempo be?

May octaves rhyme into sestets, and verses sing harmonies,

old lovers creating new couplets to gracefully play out the years.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 17


As winter stiffens quivering hands, gift after gift Thea* Helene crochets:

web-light doilies for her favourites far away, foreign wife.

Each loop, a moment remembered, Arachnes straggling fly. Greek, Canadian interconnect filaments dainty as pulse.

Wherever chryso mouher golden one”—smoothes lace on a polished dresser or chair, Thea Helene takes comfort. Their love tightens in unsnappable threads.

Across an ocean, fine borders, two women, day after day, lighten death

* Thea is the Greek word meaning Aunt.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 18

Le Misérable

He has the desperate certainty of a man cheated by life:

two canes, arthritic knees, back a stiff confusion of wires and pins. Each Friday night at ballet class the mothers cringe.

Women stir up problems and men solve em, eh?He chuckles to the silenced room, then slashes down his list:

teacher, Frog, Jew-boy, postie, cop C he jabs obliquely some close corner in each womans life, setting her lips, thin steel, upon cold rage.

To fight back is futile C a screaming tantrum with closed mind. The women know: theyve watched each other grind against frustration, bleed. Upon his groaning metal chair he reigns absolute, and head braced high, laughs down their small truths, sworn deaf and blind.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 19


Every room in her house had its clock. Night after night, she listened to moments falling between shadows and moon dust under a smoothed bed.

One morning she felt the lilacs breathing her in, breathing and breathing her dizzy from window to window.

Pane after pane she slammed shut. Shadows resettled in corners and cupboards. In her drawer, white nightgowns lay down in a row, white slips not touching white socks.

Never let chaos in. Never permit one inch out of place, not an inch.

Behind glass, ticking metal hearts spun their hands, watching her watch herself locked in.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 20

Mary Jane Elder

Jangled from winter she tried to mark out life in quiet squares:

hopscotch games, patchwork quilts, house snug as gingerbread, small gardens where dreams could vegetate and weeds never strangled vines.

She cross-stitched samplers pink with truth, found faith in fresh-scrubbed floors. Love baked apples, steaming bread. Peace was a thimble of wine.

One quiet day she disappeared, aproned forever into her daffodil mind.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 21


When a mind is a fragile wire that bends too far, or vibrates


a frequency higher than calm,


loses touch with the sun

arcing through noon to night, and sparks an inside-out universe where images leap helter-skelter like cat-and-dog rain crowding the sky,

littering unsteady ground.

C follows Z.

1 times 3 equals 9. Down jumps up, and across dives somewhere between. Words nest on unfolded palms,


caw zigzags across the page


flock, wings pounding, inside the ear.

The right-angle world hums on out there, lodged in a corner of the eye

or a voice knocking on the wall. The only password is love, patient enough to pause, insistent enough to wrench the mind back

through a lens of frozen stars

to calms other end

right-side up.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 22

Mrs. Minton Confides

When the Fear comes and hunched into bony shoulders gnarled hags hiss, swarming black shawls over my consciousness, I sit tight, if I can remember the cure:

ride out the maelstrom of voices, show nothing, but smile thinly and nod at the world through a web.

As long as the old women go and I awaken to sunlight wiping ashen streets clean C

As long as fat walls become straight, pictures becalmed behind glass C

As long as reality squares off into three meals a day, my hands grow fingers from clawsC

I pick my way between heart beats, serve tea, write letters, mend socks and arrange graceful clusters of flowers fresh for my dining room table.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 23


My last hill remembered,

I look at the quiet carnations,

fresh, white as this gleaming breakfast table.

Lighter than yellowed leaves on the wind, long I had climbed, through thick grass. Behind me the locked white rooms, nightgowns cold with sweat,

I felt a smooth dappled froglet

spring from the wide, flat stones, rush me high into joy, and smash against the leaning cliffs of longing. Plunging breathless we broke on the water, splashing too dizzy to waggle sideways to the edge of calm.

Now silence glows in this space between flowers, the pull of trees leafing the empty whiteness of plates. Orange juice is my sun in a little glass, the blue napkins silver ring

a piston that moves the sky to spread across my lazy horizons lap.

I shall smoke a cigarette,

sift hard pebbles from sand at the rivers bend.

I accept my limitations,

cup water, memory, trees, kerchunk to none but lost children firm as a white coffee mug, cling to simplicities.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 24


(for Elizabeth)

Cold as morning sand waveslong white tongues slide beneath your chair, then froth, run out, arise, return.

Relentless patience, they pull and push. A deeper centre impels. Forward, back, they mount, lace, spill, withdraw again to shifting pools.

Rising slowly with winds cry, wide they surge, soon horizontal cliffs. Crests tatter, rage, hiss blue-black spray from sudden clouds.

Sky falls dark. Cold fury smashes against your legs. Possessed, cling to His rock lost wings batteror break.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 25

Kathleen Marshall

Widen the window, Kathleen. With loves long, slow hum come stalk the flowerbeds, faded forget-me-not among yellows, reds bobbing over the sunken sill tangled with wet-earth scents.

Leave regret to its lost dreams:

trains rushing the high black trestle, from town plunging into the blue-banked clouds toward New York, Geneva, Rome.

You were easy in that light:

chandeliers, silver, crystal, white linen stiff beneath Mozart and wine. You moved among leather-bound books, nudes leaning flesh from long gilded walls until age tore them down.

Come to the flowerbeds, pull old roots from cedar-thick shadows wrapping the mornings stillnessthe sun burns through the deepest windows. Tulips remember only tomorrow. The grass, though worn, is warm. A simpler music, this garden, but enough, enoughhum!

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 26

Fast Exit

Old man Sturdwell hated Gus like blisters. Dang cat squatted down, dropped his dark gift always on the greenest patch of lawn, like a mongrel, murdered prize begonias, and ripped the ear near off Sandy, Sturdwells darlintiger.

Well, the old man stomped and yelled, pitched a closetful of boots =n shoes, strung a dozen cans on Guss tail, even fired his shotgun illegal. Nothinscared that animal. Gus come back, three times a week at least, blacker n new gifts and crimes.

One night Sturdwell whooped awake, I got it!Eyes agleam, he hacked up a hunka fresh liver and under full moon, in orange striped pyjamas, he crouched in the dirt, croakin, Here, kitty, kitty.When Gus snuck up, eager to nip his hand, Sturdwell stuffed him in an onion sack.

Grinninlike a crazy man, in raincoat and slippers he hiked them half a mile to the CNR yards, and when no one was lookin, pitched sack and Gus hard on a fast freight for Vancouver.

These days Sturdwells got the greenest grass in town. Begonias took second in Sunday=s garden show. Sandy sprawls in sunshine, watchinbirds, washinher silk ears, and Sturdwell grins from sleep as the 2:00 a.m. express whistles.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 27

Adjuster, Leaving

My office echoes, a grey box dusty with privacy. Against the dark, filing cabinets lean, their long, straight drawers gaping.

No more will I sort and assign their eccentricities:

Policy Lapsed Claim Closed Beware of Dog

Pulled out they dream their phantom pages leaf, flower into a highway of white coffee-stained words speed down, skidding the corners of risk, burning past settlements, riderless reinstatements contesting death.

Slammed back on themselves, their ghostly passions file Fire, Negligence, Theft under GC for Gone.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 28

For My Husband

Shuffling through plazas, sixty years grim will we become that couple, irritably scrawny:

scowl, hang familiar as faults worn into withered skin?

Will we peer through glass walls and strain to fix each other colder than price-tags, crooked as mismatched shoes, two shadows at odds, yet ironically comfortable?

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 29

Plaza: Late December

Propped along a plastic bench Old Greek men in black bend stiff as sticks inward. Although they clasp each other =s hands, nod, share gritty laughter, over snugly knotted scarves the eyes wait as silent as slow cigarettes.

Around them flows the mall, bright red and green, snowsuits, parcels, carols flashing Christmas off wide tinselled walls. Santa in a plywood sleigh Ho-Ho-Hos and doles out candy, cotton his white fantasy for age.

The old Greek men in black chat on, each within his private winter needing ask no more if God exists or Heaven waits.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 30

Giagia *

From the ominous corner where sofa arm and darkness meet, fixed against sea green folds of velvet drape, black crag of chipped and weathered flesh Giagia through twilight looms.

Her fists are rocks slung in a shallow valley of taut crepe, skirt overhanging the void between harsh widow=s knees, feet flat spits of land eroded but unmoving in the wave-blue rug. Solid at base, silent, secure and strong or so the massive body says.

But in the face under forever =s mourning band, pain, fear, bewilderment flicker like fireflies to leap out, flames when no ones in the room to watch her crumble.

* Giagia (pronounced YAW-yaw) is the Greek word meaning Grandma.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 31

The Widows

Pale among damask and flowers Dora passed Mavis the teapot and watched how her bone cup and saucer balanced on tweed knees.

Dora, stop staring!snapped Mavis. You look like a mislaid spoon. Who said the universe had to be paired off? C No cream.

Dora folded thin hands tight in her lavender lap. Forever=s a long time, my dear.

Forever!barked Mavis. Two years I mourned Hugh. Thats enough. Stopped it the morning I met him smack on my green garden bench. Sun lit his face gold, body fleshed as a peach, not a rack of bones like the end. Drat that man, he just sat, but I read in his eyes this was it:

Good-bye, Mavis. You =re free.Gave him my best C then got stuck knitting the nights by myself.

Dora looked past her and sighed. We were closer than leaves:

thirty-nine years, four children, and one long winter to die. Cancer cut off both legs. Pain! My beads begged him dead. Ever since, nothing seems real. I hang in shadows. Why go out? Each footstep echoes.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 32

Sunlight only reminds hes gone and I hover alone.” “Hush.Mavis patted her hand. Little by little youll find new patterns for outliving pain.” “You sound like Mother,shrugged Dora. When Dad C she hugged me and said, Were like old lace, we widows, threads hooked over a void but strong.I wish she were here.

Mother! Youre sixty at least, grandchildren climbing both knees. Grow up. Pour me more tea!

Of course.Dora fluttered a smile, startled to find that she could and wondered when she, like Mavis, would balance an empty cup. Sugar? Where is that spoon?

Over there, under the doily.

Mother crocheted me that too.


another five minutes, steaming.

.muttered Mavis, and emptied

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 33


Earnest chickens, white permed, spectacled, six old ladies bob and cluck round an orange plastic mushroom, pecking tea from styrofoam.

Their barnyard a suburban mall (roosters roasted long ago) this hour suns fluorescent bright, fences straight as glass, and chrome gate secure that locks them spindly, darting-eyed (oh relief) together.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 34

Eileen and Jean

AToday we want to dance six wrinkled years away, twist the radio loud with our living, tangle our tinted hair, unbutton down to the rug, kick caution across the picket fence neighbours sniff over watering their own weeds.

Cancer ate my Jack. Alzheimers wasted Jeans C she used to smile from Eatons, polishing filigreed silver, ringing up bills like chimes, wrapping politeness in tissue softer than Blue Grass. She misses that thread into brightness, you know.

Me? Fluorescent lights? Typewriters out-tapping clocks? I dreamed my daffodilled lawn, paper Romances, long walks down to the beach for tea, sighed my solitude, slow.

Two girls a-blush at men, weve kept our hemlines straight, powdered the shine from our loss; six years, folded our hands, nodded, patient and neat, the

But today we have to dance!

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 35

In Your Light (for Grandmother Wright)

Without frame or lens

to freeze this pine-narrowed bay,

you are clear to me still as shallows glassing over ridged sand

the acid clarity of northern rains.

Years have rippled your skin. Hands like rugged mounts fist through fishless water, thrusting cedar and spruce against skys low, inverted bowl.

Eyes almost transparent, you root along this rock. Through evergreen shade twisted feet scramble the slope, shore to stairway, step to shore, refilling an emptied pail.

When you ease into the boathouse chair, pink and mauve pansies bob under white eaves. Sunned into morning, your chocolate home sways above water with love.

A finger begins

curling, uncurling, a single strand of white hair. Memorys mainspring unwinds clear as the norths thin light.

It was all forest, then,

clustered thick to the sand, trees chopped down, one by one,

another rock for the pilings dragged up.

A few feet further each year

the fiddlehead tangle flattened,

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 36

while lawn spread up the slope, a slow tide, till it stopped high enough for four children to run. Winters back in the city curled seven dayswork round a week:

all your kids helped with the store. The Great Depression? Contentment:

hot food and enough hand-me-downs.

You married for love and it stuck fast, on this rock above skyless water, building three more small chocolate houses. Petunias straightened the lawn.

Cold as the sand you found him one morning. Forty-nine years And now?

You still summer here on your own. Water curls, uncurls at your door. Your granddaughter weeds her begonias. Others come by and go. You cant walk far, but your eyes absorb the transparent sky. There are islands far down the narrowing bay, little fists punching up rock, firs reaching into the wind.

Thats the way things are, and stay, in your light.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 37

In Memory of Sophia Maniates

Be a garbage man if you want to, but be the best that you can,urged the doctors youngest daughter from an island of Greeks so stubborn when a man bit a block of soap believing it to be cheese, bubbling, he chewed the rest to swallow his moneys worth.

Sophia C your name meant wisdom enough to teach at nineteen, enough, when your father passed on, to shy from Canadas cold. Sophia also meant yearning:

months you lingered in sunshine while over the ocean a young man waited to make you his own.

Once ringed for life, fine hands served onion rings in his diner, circled three childrens misspellings, kept little fingers in tune. Your family grew, until letters stiffened fine hands and harder drove you across deep water lap after lap every morning,

then to your countrymen, helping in churches, the courts, where over and over you turned broken English to Greek. Not even a numbing stroke kept them far from your bed. Sophia, please help us,many would swallow you still.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 38

Long days, clicked by, now lock. Rest well, Sophia, in wisdom. For you, we shall all eat cheese. We will be the best that we can.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 39

Private Grief


Some day we die

The simple song, unending, haunts the inward ear. Breath is but the counterpoint to silences of time.

The notes ring forth C and fade

What matters then? What matters now? We hear the sounds and shut our ears in vain.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 40

Elegy (in Memory of David Anderson, 19701987)

At sunrise, who can believe in death stalking a pink horizon? High across hills, shadows run, slide toward the creek.

Here, in a boys wilderness waking under the road, too much life sings. A finch flickers frost off a wing, crickets chirrup first light.

Here is no space for endings. Mists lift, gilding blue rock and reed. Leaves flutter the creek orange-red. Everything alters. Old bends into new.

Silence is relative, also, squirrelled quick between rustlings, or canyoned black behind dawn, echoes not gone, but transformed into an unknown tongue.

Here nothing ceases. We live magnified in a great breath rustling over woodrushes, skipping under smoothed stones, humming silver to gold, twig into sky.

This wilderness under a road, moment by moment changing, constantly gathers into itself and absorbs time, shape, a thousand minuscule deaths, and sings back a fluid permanence

where nothing, ever, is lost but, passing at dawn, remembered.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 41

Glimpsing the Dark

A wild wind howls cracks through my black window. Your half of the bed waits white and cold.

I shiver, think of you deep some December night married to the ground.

Lightning: how alone one from two can feel and, one night, will.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 42

Advance Elegies

1. My Mother and Me

We watch dead leaves drift past her kitchen window, islands of stillness seaed in childrens chatter ebbing down the hall.

We sit, stir silence round bone coffee cups, mine half full, hers a drop or two.

Wordless, we drink comfort from each other. We have faced the wavesdark rim and are agreed:

her ashes to be scattered among rushes, river stones, home behind long fields

and for dusts hard return I, calm now, the one

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 43

2. Father and I

Raising rare old Scotch, in his green club chair white-haired Doubting Thomas tosses back one fact without question.

I nod my silent toast,

fond words stuck hard as hereinafters signed and sealed, ice upon dry lips.

Our blue eyes meet and melt only slightlyC mourning misplaced among fine leather and cigars. Dark voiced, a steward bows, motions to the foyer, and at once Father, tall, unhurried, disappears.

His Will and Testament upon my lap, emptiness fills up the green club chair.

I wrap my sweater tighter,

sip my drink and shudder tasting dyings permanence.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 44

3. Faces

Faces from childhood, now rutted deeply, gaunt and frail, snap short-tempered, suffer long a jaw that trembles, eyes blank stones, ears hollow. Such near-skeletons they totter towards death.

Faces from childhood, then with careful red lips praised or arched neat brows above a manicured warning. Under mistletoe or a birthday balloon they flashed down winks from cocktail glasses while across my innocent sky they gossiped in cigarette clouds. Blond, red, brunette, they bobbed spit curls, French braids, chic amidst olive crepe, fox and silk shoulder pads. Wafting Parisian perfume, air rippled their Exquisite!, Prosit, Mdear.

Our past, mute chiaroscuro, remembrance two-edged: to face my guides, my gods, magnificent mothers friends, shells that totter towards death C Oh, we mourn each other.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 45

Somewhere Between

Grandmother in mail-order paisley, poured tightly in a rocking chair, what do you watch in the starched-lace window passing above geranium leaves?

Johnny, your cousins half-brother in his high box borne, black soil heavy for pale city sons, down back roads to a Lutheran plot?

Or Lizzy, a Mennonites daughter, lent white by the LadiesAid to wed the towns wan student-preacher, springs most parlour-prattled event?

Or children on church stairs playing robbers, impiety that begs a few stiff switchings to keep Our Lords afternoon tranquil for hymns you strain to hear?

Grandmother, what does it mean to your old heart beating fainter than cedarswhispers down on the farm where hands never ached from five minutes crocheting and you read egg prices by candlelight?

Grandmother, what does it come to:

eighty-nine years work, a family of ten struggling on sausage, potatoes, hand-stitched clothes and three to a bed?

Old woman, forgotten in helplessness, leaning on gossips lame housekeeper, and once a season written by grandchildren far away, at mothersstrict requests,

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 46

what do you see, set silent by the window:

present, past, or do they both diffuse somewhere between the paisley, plants and church into a lonely, patient dream of death?

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 47

Reflections, on Hearing a Crow

On Grandmas farm crows caw cut each morning. Sipping hot tea, we listened in the sun:

warm red bricks, cedar porch

a womb,

fields ploughed straight ahead,

a life,

forest tangled, dark,

a warning.

Now crows caw breaks through huddled trees. Old bricks sleep between tall yellow grass. Past the stubble clouds roll over dawn.

I listen and grow hoarse, remembering.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 48



a cry sandpapers

fields glassy with sunlight


a rusty gate

grates on its single hinge


a pail scrapes

along white stable stones

Caw rips out a throat mouse-tufts, bit of bone

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 49

Prayer for Grandma Zoe (dying in a nursing home)

May you mend with dignity each falling days despair.

Lean against the swollen clouds pressing white upon your head.

Also turn to contemplate the blue boldness of cornflowers poking through bent rust, believe a path winds among weeds, followed even when unseen.

Find sparrow, raindrop, one forgotten stone Gods peculiar gift.

Become beautiful again C ZoeC patient in your slow coming Home.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 50

Four Poems for Greta Ebel

1. Last Words

You are giving yourself away piece by piece:

ringed aquamarine, bowled crystal, leaded vase.

We see you in their light, white, smooth, solid clarity telling our disbelief you are about to break.

One by one we have come, slowly swallowed our darkness, lit nerves into calm.

It is my turn to mirror your strength,

pretend love is a room words strip and pass on.

You write down the watercolours

I could not ask for, then turn

to the tulips, each petal embroidered

a different stitch to hang.

My house will fill with you opening my hand at each drawer. What brooch can fasten this space white as remembering?

One by one we have come, summoned to lighten parting, unwilling last words you fold as we all wait.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 51

2. The Angel of Death Visits

At your little white table, snug by the window, Frau Ebel, I must pull back a vacant chair. Yes, I will whisper verses from Ringelnatz first.*

Ill give my book a name of my own make,

Use words and spell them any way I care! Who does not want to read me may forbear


You lean against the past for support, framed among Solingen watercolours, crooked streets jutting pink upper storeysstubborn chins over cobblestones, like you, refusing to crumble.

He died playing billiards. At his last shot, Seraphim carried him heavenward unto Abram

Indeed, one last time, let us raise an invisible tumbler of schnapps, smiling up from the gold-rimmed photo of Max sleek as hair crème, brown double-breasted arm hooking your plump silk waist. In black and white, you are thirty forever; husband, ashes ten years.

Now youve become brooches and pictures and rings, And I have an ashtray thats made from your wings


Admit the old days are gone, the past is a needlepoint rose, although, Our Lady of Lace-Doilied-Tables, you lovingly polish the Hummels and Rosenthal vase, and underneath a starched housedress wear opals to feather dust from memoriescrystal.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 52

Hang onto life like an overfilled cream puff? But when the bone-handled knife cuts a peach, both halves fall back, one scooped of the pit. You had no children, only friends.

They will think, as coffee perks in their own little pots, or sunlight catches on window-sill cacti, of you: fine-spun white hair nodding in smoke-ringed laughter.

Never to dig out her bones again Nor touch them in their earthly bed For one must leave the dead to rest.

My recitation is at an end. You pretend not to see the closing book, but you know I am here, you know I am cold, you know I must fold your jewelled small hands and never let go.

* Excerpts from Kuttel Daddeldu, the Sailor by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934), translated from German by Frank E. Thomas and Norman C. Marshall

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 53

3. Inheritances

Like a clear blue stone your memory is set in silver in my house. Your love embroiders pillows flowering on my bed, hangs rushes, reeds, green music among the quiet frames of watercolour townsblack-inked bridges, lost roads:

an old world C and you, young.

My mother wraps herself gold and brown crocheted into afghan affection. She dreams a pink fraulein, daisies, three wine glasses poised, a river winding deeper through white days.

Along the crystal vase my sister hears you sing, ping beneath her fingernails. You are pearls in her ears. The Hummel boy stomps homeward, little basket filling up with dusk.

We all walk that way, only you have gone before. The rest of us watch for signs.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 54

4. At Gretas

In August, wallpaper roses blue as her eyes meandered beneath the chandelier past Hummel figurines fishing the top glass shelf, round gold-framed sepia husband, godchildren, to where we sat by the screen door and sipped lemonade.

At Christmas, through the kitchen archway hair like spun sugar bobbed above flour-white hands grating nutmeg, our laughter into a silver bowl.

On February afternoons, coffee perked us together. As sun crept across her sitting-room window embroidery grew in our laps. Silver threaded through yellow. Mauve restitched her years alone.

In June, legs blackened, mind, a glass shelf layered with dust, Hummels shattered, a thousand fish Without her, I sat and watched. No moon ever rises from the west. Darkened roses twist and die. On the tongue bitter coffee lingers.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 55

Last Days (in memory of Bets Reynolds)

Poised on the rim can you see a far morning rising?

Do your eyes turn fragrant with longing to drift in the petalled whiteness of peace?

Can you taste the dew of undoing clearer than any earthly transforming?

Does a rushing light lift your flesh on a motionless wind?

When you hear the stars hum you are close to the centre, the secret.

Bright and shivering now as you step into air know that we watch and regretand fear

for time spins us all inside out at its whim.

Yet deep in the dark neutron is zinging an infinitesimal spark

that physicists whisper at once to both be and not-be.

Between winks, one by one will we find you waiting?

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 56


(for Doug)


the baldness and boldness of it the round, shiny, metallic truth of gone stuns like a gong, struck with blunted love

the numbness of gone

the forgetting that a familiar hump in the feel of our world


the gaping after a finger snaps on off white black now and for(n)ever

an encyclopaedia poofed into dust shocking!

in time we forget

a little

(we never recover)


heel before toe teeters, Earths edge every year sharper

peering at space we taste

a black hole

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 57

swallow unending and alone

what comforts the naked moment? we all face it in turn

dying, if we reflect, makes living kinder

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 58


By the wall, on overstuffed chairs, they crouch, two, dark combed and pressed.

Eyes ice, they nod at each other, voices skating slow, as if

replaying shots and penalties from last night=s hockey game

except thin hands fiddle empty at the net, zero, the final score:

to think that this is all a human life comes to


Hard words no one can pass, fatherless at fifteen.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 59

The Funeral (for Aunt Mary)

Great comfort flocks from family:

stately birds descend, aged aunts and uncles of a gnarled tree spreading far back across old meadows, mists and umber forests past remembering.

Sombre they assemble, softly nodding words of consanguinity, cluster closer, bend dark heads and in a sudden rush of wide black wings sweep the new-flown spirit to their midst.

Remote she watches us at graveside weep, and puzzled as a faded photograph cocks a sparrow head in curiosity.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 60


Invisible dark glasses cant shut the fright from his eyes.

Fog thins and under his feet, the edge reminds how far, far down a figure has disappeared.

An aftershock of sparks flies up singeing his skin, C promises unkept too long:

shes gone.


Wipe wings off emptied sky.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 61

Memoriam (for Uncle Louis)

Uncle, yes, the chairs can sit still, and empty jam jars neednt care. The woodstove is done with the stewpot, the table untroubled. C Unfair? Who can say if a house loves its woman? Does a cup or a spoon feel despair?

Yes, I saw the spare room. Sunday black oxfords are hiding bunions under the bed. The blue quilt stiffens. Embroidered prayers hang off walls, still unread. Pitcher and bowl shun each other. The towel is blank. Past the vase brush, comb and hairpins scatter. Sunlight withdraws behind lace. No, I didnt hear a footfall. Shut the latch on the door. No more. No more. No more.

Sip your tea while its hot. We go forward a breath at a time. From each one take the offer: love in a held hand, groceries left on the porch, a letter consoling the mailbox, dustcovers washed, yard mown. On Sundays a shave and a prayer ease aches gnawing deep in stiff bone.

But now looking over the garden? Beans and tomatoes have fled. Roses defected to ragweed. The clothesline has fallen. Instead

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 62

of an apron bent over cool chives, an old man stirring tea bends his head. Years yawn behind and before. No more. No more. No more.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 63

Three Poems for My Father

1. When

When mowing one ragged row triumphs over lungs clogged with mucous, shrinking toward suffocations last thick breath

When climbing four steps exhausts, like Sisyphusstone grinding down yet another hill of weak muscle, never quite reaching yesterdays open door

When night collapses sleep with choking half-hours, fumbles across bedside darkness to snatch one more small round of relief

It is time to relent,

look death in the face,

a long-neglected friend

Time to count off diminishing days with the tattered grace of those who accept what cannot be changed or brought back from vanished power and beauty again.

It is time. Have courage.

We watch you curl and fold,

a paper slowly consumed by cold, thick flames silently, but for the rasping cough that spits insistence louder and louder

against defeat.

We stand in your thinning shadow, unable to stop the moons sad, sure rise, but shaking hands limp at our sides, here, awkwardly here.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 64

2. 77th Birthday Dinner

The chandelier trembles. Cling to the velvet-flocked walls holding back death. Flag down the maître dwith a handkerchief napkin, jab a tarnished fork in the oysterless shell.

Why must bones snap brittle as crusts, breath sour to lukewarm wine? Send back the overripe camembert. Rattle your cup at the curdled cream.

Death creeps over the tablecloth nonetheless, nibbles your fingertips, gnaws on the limp yellow rose. Demand the bill be tallied again, no tip on the Absolute, after taxes. Refuse to let the captain pull back your chair.

The dining room closes at midnight. Stop our clocked hearts if you can.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 65

3. February 1985

This is the end. Good-bye, good-bye, by degrees. Slowly you turn away from me, nod toward the transparent multitudes clutching no cracked loaves, no slippery fishes. They have come to partake of you.

Day by day they press closer, reaching long quiet arms to fold you into themselves, their white calm. Soon you will fill their invisible eyes.

There are no choices left. Thin and frail you are wedged deeper into their midst.

This is the end C the slow swallow of memories.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 66

The Green Room (after the death of my father)

Walls hung high with tilted dreams that reach into the dark and dance, the green room breathes out, in, sucks the corners smooth of dust.

The silver world outside is cracked. Do not block the frozen glass. Blow a bigger circle back.

Tonight no squat brown china lamp pokes light through a broken shade. The whole house swings, one darkened lung, swaying the children over their beds, rolling them into sleep.

Outside the moon-cold world grows twigs. Do not pin the curtains fast. Let the ice-pick stars scratch.

The green room breathes deeper and deeper, pumping the furniture round. Pictures jiggle frame upon frame, cushions poof, the dust twirls high. Dreams spin fat with sound.

The silent world outside is sharp. Not one escapes its waiting edge. Breathe deep C oh, dance, dance.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 67

Home Going

As spring rushes down grey snow running hills to rivulets, round this weary house worn shutters sigh and swing out wide.

Sun embraces potted flowers on rough window sills. Brightness flaps from curtain lace. Bricks blush, mellow woodwork, dappled ceilings celebrate:

hatchings, greening orchards.

I too am thankful,

I too have survived

cold brittle to the bone.

I too am wild

when buds bump bark and black field ants swarm up a crumbling porch.

Beside this house checkered gingham dreams eased from endless peeling old potatoes, wiping eggs. My own, her mother and grandmother blossomed, ripened, in this earth now rest. They too felt spring sun weariness from hearts, aches from tightened hands.

Each year as hills run wet

I stand and watch

house burst shutters, sighs spill over grass, but as sun marries rooms, and joy hatches, buds, swells fields,

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 68

sudden yearnings press for home, a past.

Slowly I turn my back, reminded, wiser:

my springs lead other ways through other winters.

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When we lie beneath the earth, children, why weep?

Count our white crocuses fingertipping up.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 70


Easy as leaves mound the low-trunked hollows,

as apples wrinkle under black twigged snow,

we dream beneath cloudscold definitions.

Earths slow dance unwinds us without sound.

Familiar Faces / Private Grief / 71


ISBN 978-0-920835-38-8