STILL LIFE


Cardamom buns baked on parchment,
percolated coffee in thin-lipped cups,
a porcelain pitcher of cream and

reflecting a south Chicago sun,

a crystal pyramid of sugar cubes

beside silver-plated tongs.


On our way to the guests, my mother

always said, Var snäll och tar den.

Be nice and take that one, and I knew

the bun she meant: the least lovely one.

I loved her no less, her gold plaited hair 

and cerulean blue eyes, like a hand-painted

doll, made not for play but to please.


Here I am, 53, in an old-world konditori
and might as well be ten, aswirl

with cardamom and catching my breath

at a glinting plate of sugar cubes,

a hand-painted pitcher of cream.


“Hej!” greets a smiling man at the counter,

startling me out of my past. I smile back,

point to the loveliest bun I see, pour 

self-serve coffee into an Ikea cup,

sit at a table with a real cloth, pretend

that all the dolls grew up and left 

a still-beloved house, and I want


nothing but my mother, sitting with me.


                               ******


OUT AMONG THE GRASS AND THISTLES


cows graze between the rune stones, raised
to honor noble deeds, making milk.


Even the white chickens, upon whom so much
also depends, embody importance, 

dwarf my daily laying of vowels,


consonants, churnings of a scavenging

mind. As if feeding a hunger I cannot control,

I toil every waking hour and even half-asleep


to crack the mystery of gravel in a crop

grinding grain, grubs, insects, dust

into something noble and whole.

                               ******


MAIEUTIC


from the Greek, maieutikos: “to act as a midwife”
the name that Socrates gave his method for bringing

forth implicit understanding


Seated near the cafe window
a woman stares at the sea and sways.
She stays this way for two hours.
Illness? Prayer?
The quivering of her hijab
suggests: weeping.


Turning spent eyes on me, she asks,
how much costs it to leave the island?


I believe she’s mistaken me
for a local with a boat
or answers for everything,

until I see that she’s pregnant.

Instinct tells her I, too,

am an outsider, heavy with turmoil.


Is this what my grandmother meant 

whenever she muttered: it’s hard to be human?


Sooner or later, we're all 

buffeted to the margins—

pregnancy, marriage, war—

all the mergings and expulsions
that we are made in, die in, risk

unknown borders for.


I admit: I don’t know
what it costs to leave the island.


I lean toward her and ask

if she would like to walk with me

down to the budding harbor? 

We stand and sway

under quivering calyxes

of May, braving crisis.


                               ******


SABBATICAL IN A SWEDISH HANSEATIC CITY


Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment 

it is being created.
                                              —Toni Morrison


The open, deep-welled windows
of our rented 17th-century house

home, like ears, to hourly bells
of a medieval cathedral, 

while across the hand-hewn

cobbles, clapping luggage wheels

recall applause.


In the bed, the snores of my husband
sound like bombs being dropped.
The dreaded siren rises from 

passages inside his head and 

where once I ran for cover, now

I hold his hand, quiet the implosions.


If the siren starts again, I sit up.

This is when I lie awake all night

listen to the tolling hours 

and also, marvel over 

how far we’ve come, in spite or

because of imperfect unions.


Some nights, my husband purrs.
His gentle whir, called spinning here, 

secures my sleep and colors the insides

of my eyelids orange and pink like

petals of roses that weave among

the houses along our street. This is when


I wake with the sun and the cooing
of a dozen doves. Who was it who

said: whoever tells the best story wins?
At the window, I see their stained-glass

breasts, like jewels that some peaceful 

giant set into the World Heritage wall

that rings our middle-ages town.

       

                               ******

MAINTENANCE MAN


Computer maintenance was not among
my criteria for a husband, father of my child.


Back then, who could have imagined
the life-or-death, love-and-hate


necessity of a screen?
Even now, I don’t know what that


means: computer maintenance.
Then again, he doesn’t know


what it means to write poems.
So imagine how I swooned


when I googled a thing he does:
defragmenting


a process of locating small parts
and rearranging them into a whole. 


It made me go and fling my

arms around him, my maintenance


man, transforming file into life

my poet by another name!