Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 40 years. She has taught literature and writing in venues ranging from elementary school to university. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she moved to Boston in 2006.
Will the peony bloom next year? Where shall I put
the mulch? How much seed are the flocking sparrows
eating? I try to take it all in: the sparrows the filtered
light the heavy thrum of air conditioners eruptions
of birdsound cherry tree hydrangeas greens browns
loam speckled, seeded. I set the chrysanthemums
too close together: bursts of white, scarlet, gold. Is
that pot of marguerites about to bloom? The old dog
across the street howls, keens, drags herself down
the porch stairs. My dreams are Balkan, murky, fed
by worry about my husband’s waking in pain each
morning, my sister’s visit, my son’s marriage. Wind
and a scurrying squirrel stir the branches, a small
squall. The breeze is wavering, hesitant, like the light.
Do I project myself into the landscape or find myself
there? There’s no difference. There’s all the difference
in the world. The indeterminate sensing I is bound
in a world it senses, I sense. A movement of my
head scatters forty sparrows, splays them into air.
The day is punctuated by the arrival of messages,
gnomic or clarion. I’m putting my granddaughter
to bed in my dream but drop a cup that wakes her.
Later I find dead mice in her cupboards I have to
scrape away. Morning brings emails: one tells of
a marriage, another hints at surprising revelation,
a third sends photographs of a friend’s new home.
The lovers are old, the woman with surprising news
is frail, ill. There is blight in the world, unexpected
blossomings. My response to all could be to tear
down an old edifice of the heart or to risk a new
connection, a feeler fragile as a spider’s thread.
Where are the markers I need to instruct me
in how to live? Which is the plant whose leafing
out teaches me to begin, what falling blossoms
counsel planting a new crop? Having begun to
love one grandchild, I’ll have to learn to love
a second as well, stretch a muscle I never used
as mother of an only child. Why is the Italian
word for meeting “reunione,” with its suggestion
of something that has happened once before?
Are all our encounters reenactments of what
has already occurred? The new, the fetus, child,
thought. The original recurring always: love.