Yarrow House



I live in the borderlands. My life's
a crossroads there. People passing,
pausing, passing through.
The constant press for change,

the constant checking at the border.
They trace their paths—acquaintances
and lovers—through my life and away.
The strangers who become friends

while they're in town; the friends who
find mates. The closest connection
cannot hold. They're here for a while

and then gone on, while I,
I'm still as a roadside stone,
gravity-worn into a resting place.

2. Exchange

I watch my mother tend her mother
as tenderly as she would
a loved and respected four-year-old.
They’re navigating the passage of care

from parent to child, hand over hand
along the chain of blood. "She needs help
with dressing now, but she still picks out her clothes."
Their lives rotate around each other,

old favors now returning,
the child reaching out to shoulder
the waxing burden of responsibility.
I study how to accept it, watch how

it's given up graciously though with regret,
for a moment, and then with relief
as she settles back into her baby's arms.

3. The Mothers

The women trudge toward us in the photo,
shawls wrapped around their heads, hands
to their mouths, they trudge and stagger,
protected, or herded, by two men

with rifles held ready. They trudge
toward a border weeping.
Passage is not assured, across
the border nor through the borderland,

nor is safe haven. But they continue.
They are women who know how
to continue.

And while they continue, they mourn and wail,
and challenge the last remaining gods
to prove that reason for war exists.

4. Drawing Lines

We all live in the borderlands these days,
our eyes on a world of spreading battlefields,
borders drawn and redrawn, leaders shuffled
by attrition and vote, the struggle

for power spilling into our houses, our hearts.
Uneasy peace, covert wars. Lines drawn
in gods and skin color, or the shading of a name.
The battles echo and re-echo our daily struggle

to blend the sides into a whole—
mind over matter, man against nature—spirit
and body cohabiting uneasily and dodging mines

in the borderland between the self we want to be
and the self we perpetually are. The self we try to become
and the self we fall back into, time after time, fall away into.

5. Dying, as Process — for my grandmother

She lingers on the end of her life,
wades through the sodden flesh
toward dissolution, slowly and unwilling

to release the last sparks flying like stars,
fading like fireworks against a July sky.
Live long enough and you lose

everything, even children, even eyesight,
the touch in the fingertips, the sound of birds
defending their food, and after that nothing

but still the tenacious grip on
living, one more breath, one more beat
of the heart, one more thought, before
that brief crossing into invisibility.

6. All Walls Fall

Some days I sat at the table,
running my cup in circles drawing flowers
in the spilled coffee and watching
the gray day chill into night.

I counted my daily tasks like pills
to be taken regularly against despair.
I dreaded a grim future, walled
it off, my own great Chinese wall.

But all walls fall, and sooner than later
the barbarians break through. First thirty, then
forty, and suddenly I find myself on the far
side of the border I'd erected,

embracing the invaders in bittersweet surrender.
And surprised at the life they pour,
the joy and wildness, into my flagging spirits.

Also from borderlands

Sometimes Rain