Traveling twelve miles from Bessemer to Birmingham,
my grandparents visited us on Sunday afternoons,
sitting stiffly side by side with my parents,
until I led Grandma by the hand to my room.
The door closed, we snuggled on my bed.
I nestled in the circle of her arms,
my small hands stroking her wrinkled skin,
investigating her swollen knuckles,
the ridges of her fingernails and toenails,
the way one toe curved over another.
On her lap, my book of fairy tales.
Too young to read, I leafed through the pages,
recognizing stories by their illustrations—
Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty.
Though I didn’t know how to read,
it seemed we read the stories together
for I almost knew them by heart,
could guess when to turn the page,
and helped her when she stumbled on a word.
Her funny accent twisted the vowels.
Almost sixty years later I remember
how I laughed at her pronunciation
with fervent four-year-old wisdom,
“It’s not ‘goyl,’ Grandma, it’s girl!”
Now I’ve become the old lady, playing
with my great-niece on a Sunday afternoon,
in her room, away from all the grown-ups,
with her quicksilver thoughts, her gentle touch,
a bridge across the years to my lost self.
FROM ONE THING TO ANOTHER
I The Old Jetty
The old jetty was removed
because it was rickety.
That was its charm, the way
it was curved and warped and bent
so it seemed to stretch to infinity.
I loved following its meandering
in pink-and-blue dawns
when the sun rose slowly,
and the sky was a tapestry of clouds
under trumpet bursts of light.
Somewhere on my property
I buried time—
by which I mean I lost my watch.
It slipped off my wrist
into the snowdrifts.
I was all over,
scrambling up the hill,
picking my way
between barberry and privet,
as a swirling snowfall
camouflaged my landmarks.
In the quiet aftermath,
I watched purple and blue clouds
roll over the landscape,
and the sun appear between
the barred shadows of bare trees,
casting a honey glow over the snow.
III Olive Trees
Ancient olives, carefully cultivated
in terraces and groves, gnarled gray trunks
split by age and twisted by heat,
their fruit yielding oil, not juice,
delicate leaves pale green and silvery.
No two are alike in a grove of thousand.
Their indwelling spirits
outlive human generations.
IV A Clasp Across the Generations
How I love to hear
in one poet that I love
the echo of another long ago,
the perpetual flow of music
through the souls of great artists,
their deep insights into the past.
I didn’t see it coming
when I walked slam bang
into an immense web
anchored to trees
along the path.
I narrowly avoided
the black, hairy spider.
A posse of red-nosed flies
with black-and white-striped wings–
how did they get into the house?
An exhibition is not
the conclusion to a project,
but the opening to a conversation.
It is the context that matters
as much as the objects themselves,
connections made for the first time
or revived from the well of forgetfulness.
How to design a curve
using only straight lines
so even a novice can build it.
Once a Cooper’s Hawk settled
outside the first-floor window
at the back of our Manhattan apartment,
perched on the wrought-iron bars
of an empty air conditioner cage.
In the cold, high realms of the air
it had traveled a great distance
and from afar with piercing vision
had spied our cage and courtyard,
one protected space within another.
It felt safe enough to rest surrounded
by high walls, like being
at the bottom of a well of air.
The hawk was so tired it didn’t care
that we were inches away,
separated only by a pane of glass.
Its head swiveled all around,
facing backwards on its neck,
and with its beak it ruffled
its neck feathers and tucked its head
under its wing and was fast asleep
while fierce-looking talons
gripped the bars of the cage.
It was a Friday evening, and the peace
of Shabbat was falling like a veil,
shadowing the world as the hawk slept.
Not wanting to disturb its rest,
I left the room dark as I set the table
next to the window and lit the candles,
softly singing the blessing,
shielding my eyes in prayer.
My husband and daughter and I
blessed the wine and the bread
and quietly ate our dinner by candlelight.
Twice the hawk woke and stared at us.
Its black pupils rimmed in gold
pierced me with inexpressible wildness,
as fierce and strange as God’s angel.
Like a sheet of mica clouding its gaze,
the hawk’s inner eyelid slid from front to back,
and again its head rotated, and it bent
its beak under its wing and slept and woke
and slept again. I woke in the night
and it was still there, a dark form
immobile against the darkness.
In the morning it was gone.
Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower (Dos Madres Press, 2016), as well as a novel, Fall Love. Recent honors include 2016 Songs of Eretz Poetry Prize, 2016 Common Good Books’ Poems of Gratitude Contest, 2016 RhymeOn! Poetry Prize, and 2015 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award.