782 ellicott street, buffalo 2, n.y.

25/12/2011
trees gave way to the sky©papa osmubal

trees gave way to the sky©papa osmubal

782 ellicott street
buffalo 2, n.y.
barbara rendall

Slowly, over the years,
From Labor Day to Christmas,
Easter to Memorial Day,
The trees gave way to the sky–

We barely noticed
Above so many comings and goings,
The gradual thinning out,
The gentle dying down,

How less and less limbed shelter
Bent above our gatherings,
How the familiar shadows
The seasons cast across the lawn
Were growing thin and separate–

Now, returning, I’m completely lost
When I see sunlight falling unprevented
Flooding the street for the first time in a hundred years,
The asphalt slope as clear today

As it would have been that first bare year
When my great-grandfather, leaving behind
The rooms above the store on Genesee Street,
Seized the immigrant dream
And bought a house bigger than he needed.

Under the turn-of-the-century August sky,
He climbed the modest rise of his ambition,
Stocky, confident, and overdressed.
The trees were only hopeful saplings then
And the houses rows of bright new carpentry and brickwork
Going upwards in a litany of meaty German names:
Schultzes, Goetzes, Grabaus, Schunks.

He’d built a solid business out of trunks and coffins,
Earned a seat on the Mission Board,
Then a house with seven bedrooms,
A grand staircase, and double entrance doors
With oval windows that gathered green/plum/ruby light
In the profiles of Mozart and Longfellow,
Twin heros of the old world and the new,
Regarding each other through the years
In mild puzzlement.

“I am more in love with our new house every day,”
Wrote Theophile to his eldest daughter
That first summer, sounding like a girl himself,
Not the small, stern, watch-chained man
Held down by four black corners to the album page.

How he would nod in measured satisfaction now,
If he knew his house, alone
Of all the houses on the street, was spared,
Embraced by time instead of felled by it,
A Victorian Gem gone out to service in her old age,
A place of solace, good works, reproduction wallpaper,
And fundraiser teas in striped tents on the lawn.

It’s been pulled straight, braced up,
Repainted in four authentic colors,
Declared officially charming by the Evening News,
Yet it’s no longer the house that I remember
From a childhood on hands and knees–
Huge, shadowy, and faintly gritty,
Long, cold hallways mined with carpet tacks,
A Turkish cozy-corner tucked beneath the stairs,
High pantry cupboards fragrant with cookie tins.
(Though even after everyone was gone,
The smell of my grandmother’s German baking
Lingered in the woodwork twenty years.)

And there’s an unaccustomed gap beside the porch
Where the magnolia tree, dependably in glorious bloom,
Verified Easter Sunday morning
In generations of family photographs.
Such small essentials fell away somehow
As time drove up and down the hill
In every kind of car,
And then the entire neighborhood,
Leaving the house finally alone
With only memory lapping softly
At the small surviving lawn
As it grew reacquainted with the sky.

There’s so much light on the street, now,
And so much empty air–
Yet the past is never truly over
Nor emptiness the only thing that’s there.

There’s something left of all our arrivals
In the gentle lift in the rise of the hill.
Memories linger and are what we bear
In the rhythm of homecoming
Worn like a path through time and thin air;

Template on template,
Everything happening over again
And all of us unaware–
Someone will plant the magnolia again,
In the same patch of light of another spring,
Because it’s what flourishes there.

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duncan’s place

25/11/2011
stillness©papa osmubal

stillness©papa osmubal

duncan’s place
barbara rendall

Dear Duncan,
We’ve never met, of course–
You died so strangely years ago–
But living on this hill, once yours,
Hearing bits of stories,
Our lives still touch in certain ways and places.

I know you in the calmness of the view down to the lake,
In the long, reclining hills across the water
That stretch to east and west,
And, especially at this time of year,
In the waves of wildflowers
That gather, crowding every shade of purple into pink,
So high their beauty reaches nearly to my lips.
Time doesn’t change such things,
And I wonder if they touched you, too.

Your little makeshift house is gone,
The one the neighbors built for you
When the old one you inherited burned down,
And I feel a little guilty.
It was the people before us–I’ll blame them–
Who cleared it off so they could build,
Hauled it deep into the weeds and used it for a shed;

When we moved here, we wondered why a shed
Would have a mirror on the wall,
And half the inside pink, the other bitter green.
Then gradually, mixed up with our hoses and tomato cages,
We found homely things: a stovepipe,
A rusty drop-side toaster, clothes hooks on the wall,
And the giveaway, above the windows,
Whole sets of curtain rings.
It dawned on us, this was someone’s home,
Someone led a life in here,
And we are trespassers on our own land.

Nevertheless, it was a creaking hazard
In the autumn winds, so we were the ones
Who tore it down last spring, most disrespectfully,
With a pickup truck, a rope, and the anchor from our sailboat.
We hooked it, pulled it, cracked it with an axe,
Using all the physics we could improvise
Until it gave, and folded slowly in upon itself,
And went to rest beneath the goldenrod and wild daisies.

A tidy job, and yet I felt the sin it was
Against that private space you lived in,
Where you grew odd, they say,
After the girl you were to marry failed to show,
Even though you’d started building a new home for her next door;

You turned the big, sad, half-built place
Into a barn instead and filled it,
So our woodman told us,
With forty, maybe fifty cats
And six raccoons, and all of them running to you,
Out from the barn, some dropping from the trees,
When you came to the door of the little house and called, “Puss-puss!”

The buried ruins of that barn are under our side lawn
Where no tree we plant will grow–
The ground’s too thick with rock and board and other things
Beneath its thin, deceptive layer of earth.

More of your story lies beyond that lawn,
On the green breast of the slope above the brook
Where we’ve found the glitter of your solace underneath some trees,
Years’ worth of broken bottles heaped
Where, our neighbor says, you and his grandpa
Could be found of an evening
With your pints or jars or jugs of brew.

You might be pleased to see I’ve salvaged
The few bottles that stayed whole, some pretty ones,
And put them in our big south-facing window
Where they fill with light and sky and lake,
The view you knew.

Your oddness was your space, your space your oddness,
Painted with ends of other people’s paint,
Though there were little comforts: the cats,
The drinking buddy, and kind neighbors
Who sent their children down the frozen road in winter,
Pulling your groceries on their sleds,
Or across the brook and up the field in summer
With fresh baking, a local lady told me,

To your little refuge at the midpoint of the hill
That looked steadily down to the lake, year after year,
From in between the drifts of snow, the drifts of flowers.

I hope the flowers helped.  They might have,
Because I found a struggling little garden in the brambles,
Like a lost bouquet, peonies a violent purple-red,
Ringed by a lush thatch of lily of the valley,
Passionate and delicate all at once.  I like to think
You planted it for her before she came, a welcome,
Before you knew she wasn’t coming–
Or maybe it was later.

Imagining either makes you seem less odd,
And your strange death, brought on by a bad scratch
From one of the teeming crowd of cats
(I can almost hear your neighbors sigh, “Well, what
would you expect, the place was overrun…”)
Less pointless and inevitable.

Whatever rules these matters,
It’s fallen to me to tend your view a while,
A flower-while,
A shifting space in time, brief and true
As a gathering of blue reflected in a bottle in a window,
And it makes me wonder if I have it in me
To grow odd myself, in spite
Of a life of sturdy reality, of intricate love
I take for granted like good weather.

It could happen to any one of us, it seems to me,
Were we enough alone,
And if we let the flowers woo us,
And the ghosts brush near enough
As they drop from the trees,
Quietly, one by one,
Green-eyed, graceful,
The only creatures truly
At home upon the land.


welcoming the snake

25/11/2011
chinese lunar new year©papa osmubal

chinese lunar new year©papa osmubal

welcoming the snake
barbara rendall

lunar new year, 2001

In the driveway of the New Century Hotel
All traffic halts
As three small men, one with a ladder,
One with a graceful bamboo pole,
And one with a fourteen-foot string of explosives
Arrange a garland for the festival.

They loop and drape and balance each element
As other artists of joy might build a tower of cake,
Or dress a bride-to-be–just so. Then, out of a huddle,
They conjure a flame that flares, catches,
And leaps the red spine, exploding, exploding, exploding,
Tearing the air to violent rags of noise.

Smoke boils upward, heaves skyward,
Then remembers and bends, downward, slowly,
Filling the road, driving a thousand terrified ghosts before it.
The appalling racket echoes in the gut
Of everything alive for blocks around,
And the world is as clear of evil as it will ever be.

Then a wide silence descends like an unexpected gift,
And people get on with their holiday,
Their visits and feasts, and the just-in-case
Honey smeared on the lips of the household god.
Relatives cram the sidewalks six abreast,
Innocent in bright new shoes and clothes the color of luck,

Happy to share the streets with anything auspicious–
Detonations and drums, lions and dragons,
Even a snake, beautiful this one year out of twelve,
Its favor worth currying.
Today it sets itself up in the public squares,
A sinuous creature fashioned of silk,

Luminous, redeemed,
Traveling upright on the back of a tortoise,
Amazed to find itself welcomed with eager arms,
Respectable now, after so long a wait,
Its sly eyes cunningly wired for light,
Gleaming, ready–lucky, lucky at last.


magic catholicism

25/11/2011
statue of a portuguese general©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese general©papa osmubal

 

magic catholicism
barbara rendall

                 Macau

They hauled it all in ships, around the Horn,
Those bearded Portuguese, all the terrors
And wonders of my childhood; it’s all here,
Every bit of it, the same high banks
Of feverish candles, the hot-wax smell
Hanging like a heavy velvet curtain I lift again
On all those sacred things that brim with mystery–

Slivers of wood and bone and scraps of cloth
Sealed under glass before they burst
With the density of their meaning;
The rituals, rules, the lessons in stone
So burning and sure and delectably flawed;
The romance of stricture and terror and guilt.

Yet how lucky, really,
What a marvelous, difficult blessing–
To have known and mastered all this,
Like learning a complex tongue at an early age–
To be a medieval survivor,
Muck and magic clinging to my cloak,
A drinker of blood and eater of flesh, schooled in miracles,
Eager and able to admit the possibility
Of nearly anything wonderful or terrible enough,

Having had as an intimate mentor so long ago
The secret source, this force of metaphor,
Behind the deep-carved stone, the fretted woodwork,
Like a hidden spring.


anti-tropical

25/10/2011
boy taking soup©papa osmubal

boy taking soup©papa osmubal

anti-tropical
barbara rendall

The same thick, humid soup spooned up
From the bottomless pot of paradise, day after day,
Still leaves me hungry,
Longing for contrast and change,

For that nourishing spread of seasons
Laid on by the temperate zones,
A menu that rotates:
Huge feasts of late light in July,

And deep five-o’clock dark in December,
Fields heat-soaked in August,
Then frozen to bleakness in winter;
And those charmed reversals–

Warm, running thaws in mid-March
Just as I’d given up hope;
Nights suddenly cooling in fall, like a switch turning off;
The keen edge of it whetting the appetite over again
Just as the plate grows dull,

Making me greedy each day for the next,
For whatever might come on the turn of the wind.


custom and ceremony

25/09/2011
worshippers©papa osmubal

worshippers©papa osmubal

custom and ceremony
barbara rendall

                                 July 10, 1999

Outside,
The summer sky, steady and grand
As a high blue sail,
Bears this day forward,
All happiness held in its curve–

Inside, tall candles
Balance the equation of light
And among the assembled guests
Memories are lifted gently
From soft places of repose
Along with heirloom jewelry and boutonnieres,

And all through the afternoon
The daisies, the lilies, the wild roses
Banked at the altar, gracing beribboned pew-ends,
Resting on bridesmaids’ arms,
Open to their fullest
One after another,
A small miracle recorded in photo after photo;

Everything moves toward fulfillment
As custom and ceremony join hands
To do the honors,
Bidding in love and wildflowers
From the woods and the fields
For this short time in a quiet, thoughtful place.

After the rites and rituals–
World-changing, strangely brief–
They step out, solemnized, into the rest of their lives,
Onto grass dense to its tips with greenness,
Into an ancient shower of petals and seeds,
Spoken and unspoken wishes raining down;

Higher,
The air is filled with the ringing of bells
In accompaniment to their full inheritance,
The depths of joy
Stashed in the oldest details of our days.


bougainvillea

25/09/2011
bougainvillea©papa osmubal

bougainvillea©papa osmubal

bougainvillea
barbara rendall

Woody and knowing,
The old vines wind up, out from dry crevices
That have never known how sweet earth can be,

Cling wherever,
Vault over walls, leap like fire across rooftops,
Hurling color,
Waves of essential purple, pink, and rose
That burn the heavy air.

The yearning of beauty over walls,
Spilling itself into a canopy, a tree,
Or the whole complicated roofline of a village

Is the story of aspiration at these latitudes,
A tale of the eternal calculation
Of the distance to the light,
A glimpse of the constant departure
Of perfection from the earth.