Sample Poems

From Beside the Well

First Rain
Beside the Well

Hurtling north, sudden rain pelts my car windows,
a cascade of pearls. 
I leave the wipers off, my breath deepens, my speed slows. 

When I can’t see the road any more, I pull to the side,
next to the field above Novato in Godmother’s Pumpkin Patch

I take off layers of clothes to feel the rain. Slip out of the car,  
watch it land on dry shoulders, creped arms. Ten minutes like this.
Cool rills bathe me, new smells of fresher air, sage, 
dripping water I can feel after four years of drought.

Wet soaking deep into thirsty skin, water puddling
above my collarbone,
sheets of water gathering, until rivulets form, 
running down thighs to my feet.

The surprise of  this rain makes its own music on hard surfaces
around me: rocks, posts: snare drums played with brushes, 
on the bending grasses, the upper strings of a harp.

Ravel crosses his left hand over his right before the glissando
in Jeu d’eau. Glittering rain.

Dust rising from the cracked ground. 
The dirt almost smelling like earth again.

I feel lighter than before, silvery, salvaged, surfeited,
sitting down against the fence post, shaking water from my hair,
touching drops in my ears, eyes, 
dry mouth open to rainwater’s christening.

On December 14 and 15, 2019, Composer Sakari Vanderveer launched her new chamber music “Fire Season,” in Pasadena and Santa Monica, begun with spoken poem segments. “First Rain” accompanied the fifth movement. Click this link to hear the recording.

Beside the Well

After we fenced Jenny’s pasture
Grandpa called me under
the Northern Spy apple tree.
You’re ten years old. It’s time you learn about wells.

He rolled a big stone off a broad plank of wood.
As he lifted that cover I looked down
a brown  barrel  that had no bottom.
Water filled half of it, a long rope and pail
sat next to it, attached to a tree root.

This is Jenny’s water.
You’ll feed her here.
Use this bucket to pull up her drink.
He held his arm across my body:
Don’t lean over too far or you’ll fall in.

I felt important, let in on a secret.
A mystery in the middle of the ground.
I knelt, to get closer.

I only knew water from faucets,
watched Grandpa hurl the pail 
down the cavernous opening.

As he pulled it back up, he warned:
Be sure the water isn’t roily. He took a big gulp.
You have to take out any debris or dead animals
that sometimes get in over the winter.

This sounded like more than I could manage.
I swallowed solemnly, sat back on my haunches
as Grandpa held the dipper to my lips.

Clean, clear water, colder than I expected.
How can no taste, taste this good?
We sat still beside the well.

Over to Bird-In-Hand

Let’s meet in Lancaster, 
rent an Amish
horse and buggy, ride over
to Bird-In-Hand.

We can take the back roads
where the great expanse of corn
and wheat lie side by side,
undulate under a blue sky brim-full
of cumulus clouds. The sky taller there. 

Amish women in navy blue jumpers 
and lace caps will hang out their wash
on clotheslines with wooden clothespins,
each one carved from a single piece of wood.

Men in blue shirts and straw hats will walk
behind the horse-drawn plough or sit
on a wooden hay wagon, their blue-shirted
children rolling down the hay bales.

We will pull over to look, to remember.
It was simple and known
early, what the heart can see.

You will take my hand, lay the reins over it,
touch the leather and the top of my hand together,
a warm breeze riffling the horse’s mane and tail, 
our hair and clothes.

From The London Magazine, April, 2017

For Mary, Sotto Voce

Mary Cassatt painted mothers
as monuments,
well nourished, flourishing
entwined with their babies, themselves,
at the bath, in the nursery, kitchen,
at the opera, on the lawns.

They wore white, carried fans
or parasols, the more white the better,
white touched with blue paint
to make the white whiter.

Mary lets us come close
to her world of women.
We want to touch arms, red-blond hair,
take the baby onto our laps, take tea.
We want to watch the opera next to her
then say thank you, Mary, you know
and show the world full women.

You said you wanted
to be someone, not something.
Even more than yourself, you gave us
back to ourselves as well.

From Following Hay


I came across a Rhapsody last night.
Sight reading, my slow fingers
remembered— these keys were first yours.
Dad presented this piano one Mother’s
Day—you swept onto the bench
and played Deep Purple—knew it by heart.
I heard so much about what he didn’t give you.
This little spinet became my practice piano,
one we moved across several states with
Dad’s rising ambition, raises in pay.
When you died, it took one last  trip, longer
than the rest, from Kentucky to California.
The mover said it slid a bit  going over Sierra snow.
But the blond Baldwin needed merely a tuning.
Its white keys don’t sit quite straight, some
slightly raised, and four are chipped, where
Juliet banged before she  started lessons.
Honest, I didn’t see her do this—you’d have
spanked her—some say these flaws lend
character to the ivory. The granddaughter you
never knew plays the Rhapsodies today,
much the way you played, breathing in
the crescendos, tenderness tucked
into those unexpected open intervals
of the right hand. 
Late Harvest
Though never did I seek it in my time—  
I found the stable full of rhymes and boys,
limed, serifed, written bold upon— who embroidered
moonfall, fell upon me at dawn. Called forward
by the many miracles of mouth and sibilant song,
delivered to new ports opened on the Black Sea:
Odessa, Kiev, traveling as Empress Catherine,
whose favorite sang late. Crests of iolite wave lapping
minaret and snow-white shore. That voyage south
did end, Catherine fluttered down, as did the brown
barn, fallen upon its hemlock knees. Late April snow
heaved it down. Boys fell out of lofts, sky, or dead
from too much earth, some choked in vines.
A buried harvest sizzles, shushing, hushed—still mine. 

From Wild Mercy 

Five Holstein heifers clomp to the top
of the far hill. They climb in a straight
line. Where spring grass meets sky.

Then down the other side, one follows
another, carefully lifting their ankles,
so not to heave forward.

The sky against the hill, they make their
way, delicate silhouettes, like rivers that
demarcate the edges of states,

like Grandmother Florence and her sisters,
Bertha at the end of the line, walking
into church. Heavy bodies, thin ankles, damp

from the walk downtown, solid shapes against
stained glass windows. They mark where
everything important meets. Then we sing..

From Body Rhymes

The Train to Bath

In praise of the boy who
rode the train to Bath
and gazed at me ‘til Wollingsford.
He sat tall and straight, his shaggy head
across from mine, higher than mine.

He was England, youth of promises, decrees,
beveled cheekbones of the Royals,
hollows where I could lay my temple.

Arching to see him go, I watched his long back.
Silence. I slumped in my seat.
Then the train whistle, the lurch,
and to my surprise, his return
with an armful of yellow roses.

He will take them to his love.
We looked. Or his mother. We smiled
at the same time, knees almost touching,
jostling along without words.

We stopped at Bath.
We glanced, our eyes close, as I stood up.
He stood up too. As I turned to go

he touched my shoulder,
handed me the yellow flowers.
His smile stretched around me
for the rest of my life.

From This Water

Turning Seven

Just last year you said, "We hug
and say hmmnn, then lean
back our heads and look at each other
for a long time. Isn't that fun, Mama?"

Now you throw yourself into me less,
You sit in chairs, read chapter books,
sometimes tell me to go away.

We used to read stories every day
in the sun on the yellow couch.
You write your own stories now.
Your made-up spelling you call "kiddish,"
preferred to my "grownish."
Sometimes you tell me not to interrupt.

You were puzzled, months ago
why the girls chase the boys at school.
Today you tell me not to look
at your new book about Joel
behind your bed.

So I must confess, when you hurled
your long arms and legs, nearly topping me
last night, flung your head into my chest,
long walnut hair splayed over my neck,
paused there full of saturated smiles
and soft eyes like our cats in the sun,
I held on a little, to my big girl.