Rain On Water
All afternoon rain streams down on the lake
until a break in the black clouds
draws me out of the house
into the rocking waves.
I dive through layers of darkness, layers of light,
and when I come up for air,
the sky echoes the underwater world,
speaking the unspoken,
not a warning, or god-like, “It shall be!”–
more a wind-driven, earth-embracing word—
and I swim to meet it,
from the lake into the sky.
Next to this the body is nothing,
and the mind less than the body,
and only the country of the heart
is equal to what I know.
from Swimming With a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle
Black shadows lie in long strips across
the empty hospital corridors at night,
and gray shadows move under the nurse’s feet, shaped
like the curve of her elongated body flowing down the hall.
There are shadows under the closed doors
and in the waiting cracks of open doors,
ghostly shadows in the rooms where no one sleeps,
and rippling shadows in the rooms where someone dreams.
Heavy, perfumed shadows rest on the beds where a young woman
and a baby boy will sleep forever, whether or not someone comes.
There are purple shadows under my brother’s eyes,
the stoic glass eye, and the tired, green, living eye –
and oval shadows between his dry lips, and on the pillow
beside his suffering face and his relaxed and smiling face.
The one shadow I can’t see lies on my chest, over my heart,
sometimes soft and pressing, sometimes cutting, like jagged glass.
And when I try to say what it is trying to say, I feel afraid of pain,
afraid of sickness and sorrow, afraid of exhaustion, afraid of fear.
I feel afraid of being there, and not being there.
Afraid of not knowing anything, or knowing too well.
This shadow lies with the weight of a mother’s hand
on the chest of a small child,
as if she had put her head down and fallen asleep on her watch
while she was simply trying to protect someone she loved.
Rage doesn’t work in a poem,
not that I haven’t tried.
I’m speaking of how-dare-you rage –
fire on the mountain rage –
billowing smoke rage –
winds of change rage –
claw in the eye rage,
wolf tooth rage –
the rage of my voice
on its highest pedestal
with the pedestal kicked away –
hang myself with my own words rage –
never cared for you in the first place rage –
learned to hate you over time rage –
skin flayed off my face rage –
bloody, fainting, overwhelmed heart rage –
step away from the pain rage –
so-called reality rage –
the rage that is really love –
with you or without you rage –
rotting the guts rage –
not that anyone can see it rage –
indifferent to injury rage –
don’t want to die rage –
dying sun, and sea water covering the earth rage.
The end of everything and beginning of everything rage.
Nothing like it rage.
As good as good as laughter rage.
All that I am rage.
I am. I am. I am.
Heart, church bell of the city,
little bald heart,
dear as a faithful husband,
fighting for space and breath,
mother to a tree;
heart in the middle of the ocean,
pumping the sea’s blue music,
earth mover and shaker,
conducting your orchestra of muscles,
heart full of seeds and thick with roots,
source of all my wanderlust,
and my only home
under the roofless sky.
from My Only Home
Freya Manfred is the author of six books of poetry and a literary memoir of her father, the novelist Frederick Manfred. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, screenwriter Thomas Pope. Her twin sons, Rowan and Bly Pope, are visual artists who have illustrated her last two books of poems, My Only Home and Swimming With a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, both published by Red Dragonfly Press, a not-for-profit literary organization and the press-in-residence at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota. An award-winning writer, a highly-admired leader of poetry workshops for adults and children, and the creator of The Madwoman and the Mask, a half-hour television program, Freya Manfred is also a great swimmer, at home in the water as well as the heart.