How’s the World Treating You?

January, twenty years in California

I

Back east, when a river steamed in March
or early April, it was a clear unwinding trick. Iced veils and vows
swirled up—
all the stiff stuff the living wear

suffering long winter
met the canceling kick of the molecular coming down. Or kiss? Reciprocity, finally,
for sins paid and accounts cleared?

Heat, it seemed. Luck, it seemed. Vapor.

II

“Offer it up,” my mother used to say
of any suffering, short, long.
Crossing herself twice,
she raised good eyes for all the good it did her heavenward.
January the thing had gone to her brain;
by June she left me

holding the invisible ladder
our fond dead were always, evidently,
scaling out of purgatory.

I don’t mind saying it was heavy as hell.

Only the prayers and the bitter pain of the living hastened them, hitched them up their
singed wing collars

and bought us spring as well, though God himself
went undisturbed in the exchange.

He was a tenured full professor
doing unfathomable mathematics in the clouds.

He was the Lily-Counter, The Cup Shuffler, The Great Soul-Disposer wearing his fatal
green eyeshade
and moving consequences on a board
too quickly for any
truly reliable reporting. Choices, choices.

Snake-dangerous. A terrible baby when awakened
from His many daily beauty naps.

III

Or what?

I’m fifty; I’m tired of tiptoeing around God.
Stepping on the scale each morning
to weigh my case for salvation bartered and lost by night.

It’s almost always spring here.

January, which has no business being charming, makes a big production
out of camellia, bougainvillea, euphorbia, blown bouquets and kisses thrown in the
original Latin and Greek.
Even the plainest white rose in my backyard
is over-everbearing: January

steps lightly from the chaparral
wearing summer’s pretty prom gown off the shoulder, rubbed to a torn glow, and no
underwear.

IV

I never said I didn’t believe in the ladder.

Or in the way my body has begun to break down, building up, out of itself,
death and questions for wherever it is I’m going next

now that I will probably die in mild California.

If heaven calls for debt consolidation, I’m motherless;
I have only myself to trade for.

V

Helpmate, hindrance,
long and short con,
wet nurse for wind that is everywhere heard, like prayer’s late sighs undoing us
in the cool evenings, elbow, knee, wrist and pelvis—
the body’s best hinge—

unearned pleasure asks us only to bow down
a little lower each year
in praise of it.

That’s all.
In another twenty years
I’ll be the arthritic plum tree
topped by heavy bearing. I’ll bend, knuckles
tracing odd angles against the green door of the yard.

And fulsome, dark-juiced
in the meanest cells and partitioned chambers of my own permission,

I’ll fall that easily
back into the ground.