The Aged

Old people—

sitting idle

in rockers, humming

lullabies

whether or not it’s bedtime.

Those old songs they sing

would’ve been forgotten long ago

if they weren’t so set in their ways

and who needs to know anyway

the recipe for Aunt Lucy’s date pinwheels

or how to build

a trellis for cucumbers?

They do the craziest things—

sit at desks

with pens, writing letters,

check the paper

to see what’s on TV, deciding

if there’s anything worth watching.

They don’t understand

designer sheets

or refrigerators that talk.

They actually believe

that we too will persevere

as they did, even though

we have no idea how.

Grandma used to say

“you don’t want to live on a farm,

you have to work

too hard,” and I know now

she had the measure of us.

Old people—crinkled hands

atop the afghan,

rheumy eyes

that look beyond,

tired corpuscles creeping

through soft old veins,

what can they do for us?—

besides the example

of tenacity and patience

even now, as they sit waiting

for someone to bring supper.

Long Rides

Can we go home now?

we used to plead from the back seat

missing our beds,

wanting sandwiches, and games,

heckling our parents

who had their eyes on the road.

I wonder now

who’s driving.

Robed in black, the minister

stood before us every Sunday

before church let out

and I’d close my eyes,

bow my head

and try to think of something

that felt like God—

rain, maybe, or

grandparents.

I hear him now

his sober voice rising to the rafters,

as I’m trying to forget about

my bicycle and my homework,

Let us pray.

                                                Nancy Squires/April 2020

For All of Us

From here it feels far away,

people washed up

against the walls of hospitals

and makeshift tents,

gasping

like fish stranded on the shore.

I’m safe inside the living room

while the shift changes over.

Then the news comes on,

close-up: a guy with a beard, a nurse

says the only thing that worked

to calm an elderly man with dementia

was to stroke his head.

I start to cry,

knowing

what a muddle of memory

can be an old person’s mind,

the life they’ve lived

still there but in pieces

they can’t assemble.

They may not know you

even when you’re there

although my father always knew

I was someone close to him.

On the sofa, sobs rattling in my throat

I picture the old man quieting

under the nurse’s touch

not for needle or tubes or tape

but given

for its own sake.

That could have been my father.

What nurses do

for all of us.

Nancy Squires April 2020

Comfort Poem #2

When anxious I go walking

out among the trees.

They take no notice

of our pandemics—it’s I who know

they have scourges of their own.

Spring now, the new light shines

on their silver trunks,

and their branches throw shadows

that look like last year’s

and those I saw the year before. They go on

despite us, buds already forming,

incubating leaves.

My mother loved a hymn

that said, “I rest me in the thought,

of rocks and trees…”

And so do I, rest me

in the thought of trees, how

their patient ruminations

branch on and on through centuries

while they go about the business

of holding up the sky.

Nancy Squires March 2020

Comfort Poem

Yesterday I thought I had a cold,

but wondered

if it might be something else.

I remember colds,

staying in my nightgown

all day, lying in bed

with my hair pulled back

from my slick forehead, the portable TV,

black and white, flickering

while I dozed through old movies

and woke up to Rita Bell on her princess phone

tapping her pencil in time

to the mystery tune.

I remember a box of tissues beside me,

and on the floor a grocery bag

before they were plastic,

the top folded down

to keep it open, my mother asking me

if I needed anything.

Apple sauce, and Grandma’s pears

canned at home, sugary and almost melting

in my mouth and when the cold was bad,

the special reserve

of grape juice stewed in my other grandma’s kitchen

from fruit Grandpa grew in the yard.

Deep purple,

thick and syrup-sweet,

a bit of silt the cheesecloth couldn’t catch

at the bottom of the glass,

I remember that tonic

for the senses and the soul,

the work of strong hands

and sunlight,

steeped in purpose

and love.

Nancy Squires March 2020

Headline

Ultimately I come to the conclusion
there’s nothing funny about it
despite that line from Monty Python
about Granny taking up the cro-chet.
Nothing cute, either,
in the image of koalas wearing mittens,
and “global knitting frenzy”—not so tongue-in-cheek
when you consider the Furies
female and fearsome when it comes time
for retribution.
No chuckling
when there’s nowhere to run
for any living thing and one billion
have perished.
Even if the firefighters
can save the town
we’re all still faced with the women’s work
of mending.

Counting

“Two Penguin Chicks Survive in Colony of 40,000”
             Headline, Esquire.com June 17, 2019

Two penguin chicks survive,
also some orcas. We counted eight

but some could have been hiding.
We counted the icebergs

too, weren’t sure
how to tally the missing

now that they’re drops in the ocean.
The shadows overhead

we counted, hoping
they were birds,

and the clouds but they shifted,
we kept losing track

and starting over. Jerry radioed
from the jungle:

he thought he heard a frog.
We counted flies

on a dead albatross,
its stomach split and spilling

bottle caps. We counted
the caps, there were

twelve. We couldn’t sleep
so we tried counting stars.

We counted the days
until we could go home

but like the stars
and the bits of plastic

in the Pacific gyre
the number was immeasurable.

A live fish burst
from the water, arcing silver

and we all got on our knees
and tried to count our blessings.

We counted the seconds
between breaths, the cans

on the shelves. Our fingers
and toes, the lines

on our faces, but
they were blurry. I strung out

the beans on my plate, end
to end

and counted
before I ate them,

one by one.

Nancy Squires

 

Poem for the Lost

I saw a shoe today

by the side of the road.

Sometimes I see dropped gloves

that have been buried under snow

and ice, squeezed thin

like paper mash run through a press,

fingers pinched

one atop the other and the shape of the thing

now something else.

I heard a story once,

of a woman walking her dog

in the rain and the dark

when she saw what she thought

was a black sock, lying along the curb

but what had been discarded

was a kitten.

He lives now

with an animal rescuer I know. He’s skittish

and has a bad eye

but he eats three squares a day

and sleeps in comfort and safety. His name

is Devin. Lying in the gutter

he looked like a sock. What did they look like

to him, the woman, peering down,

and the panting dog

beside her? He was probably too far gone,

little Devin,

to be terrified and I like to think

he felt her warmth

when she picked him up

and held him close, wrapping him in the heat

of her animal body.

Nancy Squires

About Squirrels

Slender streaks of black with twitching tails, chasing each other, going

out on a limb—so like a squirrel, heedless of the drop below, confident in their clinging, tumblers

since ever they could walk. But squirrels don’t really walk, do they? They clutch and climb; they scurry; their stride is the hurrying motion

between stops. I’ve noticed their feet have long nails, delicate and pointed, that give them purchase

and thus they have acquired nonchalance.

Nancy Squires

Mourning

The people of my parents’ time are passing.
Like my parents, nearly all of them are gone.
I keep a funeral outfit ready
and as I dress for work, wonder why there’s so much black. And wish
for something yellow.

So here: the pictures I took of sunflowers
in a field, the frame packed full of huge, nodding heads
golden beneath a pure summer sky
the blue of someone’s eyes. In a few,
I fit the faded red barn in the distance, streaked with gray.
As I fixed it in the viewfinder I thought
of my dad, who took pictures of old barns
so I claimed it as I do everything,
through the experience of knowing these others
who have gone,
been lifted from me
like so many frail birds
rising into flight.

Yellow, not black, those heavy summer flowers
Standing among them, I knew they would not be long. It was August.
This too a funeral, of a kind, as I think could be anything:
walking in the woods, photographing flowers, a trip
down to the shore—all memorial
as well as celebration. It comes back to me:
Maude, in the movie, her yellow umbrella in a sea of black ones,
shielding mourners from the rain.

That bright umbrella—a good idea
but I might go farther. Rain is essential, should
touch our skin sometimes. My grandmother took us out
to walk barefoot in the puddles
after the storm. You see?
I can’t do it, can’t find a single thought, object, circumstance
that isn’t imbued with the touch
of a remembered one’s hands and spirit. Even Maude
was dead before the movie ended. But I
go on.

Nancy Squires
September 2019