Sunday, May 25, 2008

Poem of the Week #21

Cloud Reader

Remember when you were small—
before you read words—
you taught yourself to read clouds?

You’d lie on your back
for hours and never tire
of the stories the clouds told.

There was the one about
the dragon who became
a three-legged elephant

and another about
a thin, bearded man
who chased a fat lady

so far across the sky
that they became
a herd of buffalo

and then a fish
who leapt to his last breath
from a pinky purple sea.

You thought you’d grow up
to make a living at it—
reading clouds—not knowing

that cloud reading
is a thankless task
left only to children

and dreamers. Good days
those were, when reading clouds
was your bread and butter.

Lisa Vihos

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Poem of the Week #20

Machine Dream

I ride the train past fields and fallen houses
that sit together like watchdogs in the snow.
Barns lay their backs against the hills to sleep
and silos stand saluting the machine.
The train takes no heed of what they know;
runs past them like a hand

passing over weeds. I trace the lines of my hand,
familiar lines, like wood grain in an old house.
Train of people, bound by paper bags. I know
our eggshells cover the floor like snow.
We chew our yokes as one, our teeth a machine
that turns and grinds even as we sleep.

I cover my face with sleep
and let the train carry me in sure hands.
I am no match for the laws of machines
or the pipes and wires of my house.
No match for ocean, stars, or snow,
why we breathe or how we know

our purpose. Though we ought to know
the reason that we dream. Is sleep
an empty field that waits to fill with snow?
What happens if I take you by the hand
and lead you through the rooms of my house?
This journey we call love, a strange machine.

You see, the heart is also a machine:
its auto-pump always going. It knows
the soft chambers of its fleshy house.
Faithful to this sturdy muscle, I dare to sleep,
buzz like a willful beetle in a closed hand,
grope my way, a traveler blinded by snow.

We can build mountains, cover them with snow
but no one has yet invented a machine
that can duplicate the lines of my hand.
Familiar lines, laid for a train that knows
the dream, when night falls and we go to sleep
safe under blankets in houses.

Sometimes, when it snows, I gaze exhausted, and think I know
how to muscle the machine. I awake refreshed from sleep;
cup all this goodness in my hand: trains, fields, hearts, houses.

Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #19

Picture of Mother

She smiles out
past cut paper snow flakes
taped to the window;
snowflakes we made together
one Christmas long ago.
She saved them
for years in a shirt box
always careful
not to break
the peaks and prongs.

I took the photo
when I was grown
and she remarried
living in a different house
than the house
where we cut paper.
Her face is obscured
by reflections
on the window;
the light conditions
were all wrong.
But, her smile is bright,
like a snowflake
on your mitten
before it melts.

Lisa Vihos

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poem of the Week #18

Spring Questions
(after a Zen saying)

Spring has come
and a thousand flowers
are in bloom.
For what?
For whom?

What purpose
to this riot
of color,
this onslaught
of aroma,
these buds
of sweet, new

The flowers
give their scent
to all who pass by.
Can we be
as indiscriminate
as the flowers,
each in our own
brief season?

Lisa Vihos

Monday, May 5, 2008

Poem of the Week #17
April 27, 2008

1. Elizabeth

Her arms were thick, her bosom a pillow.
On aching bunions, she stood in the kitchen
tending a pot flavored with oregano;
born a New Yorker of Florentine origin.
She came to Chicago, still a young girl
but clung to some of her New York ways.
She’d say poice and poiple for purse and purple
and sometimes yous guys and oy vey.
In the photo by the Rambler with grandpa
she flashes her smile, shows off her legs.
She was a bit of a ham my Nana
but read her Bible to finish each day.
She sang Ave Maria and Jesus Loves Me
to herself as she made ravioli.

2. Richard

Grandpa saw her on the street car, followed
her home to ask her father for her hand.
She called him a wet back, her answer no
but a father decides these things, the man
is always in charge. She learned to love him.
Five grandkids later—out back in his t-shirt
with his tomatoes—her at the oven
stirring. He’d come in. How they’d fight, then flirt.
Notions of shacking up before marriage
angered her; you don’t try on love, she said.
Life’s not a ride in a fancy carriage.
You cook, clean, pack his lunch, share his bed.
Every morning he warmed prune juice for her;
a sign that his love was regular and sure.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #16
April 20, 2008

One Man’s Tragedy (for J.G.)

In the first weeks after you and I split
I was full of energy, you, depressed.
My prospects rising, yours a deepening pit
of missed assignments, tears, and cigarettes.
One day we met to ride our bikes again
to try at friendship in a new disguise.
Me, oddly oblivious to your pain
you, unable to blame me or despise,
or let me go. I dropped my extra shoes
from the back of the bike and you retraced
our every turn, so kind, you still could choose
to help, idiot that I was. I’d misplaced
more than my shoes, which you returned to me:
my tragedy—averted narrowly.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #15
April 13, 2008

How, Cowardly, I Left You (for J.G.)

You went away one week in May and I
took up house with the boy across the street.
I saw it as my only way to fly,
to free myself for some unknown great feat
whose depth and breadth had not yet been revealed
(but I knew I must go on without you).
Coming home to my news, your fate was sealed
by my small and hollow words, “you’ll get through.”
You had a full class load, the graveyard shift
at Q-mart, an hour drive to save on rent,
then, your cat run over. No store of thrift,
no rebate, could replenish all you’d spent.
You loved me as sweet as a young man would
but I could not keep loving you from should.

© Lisa Vihos

Friday, May 2, 2008

Poem of the Week #14
April 6, 2008

Five Haiku


The house is quiet.
Even the dog is too cold
to leave the warm couch.


Each morning, the same
five cows standing by a barn
nod as I drive by.


The way your breath caught
(the first time you saw me) made
my heart somersault.


Light plays on water.
The child’s sure grip steadies me
as we walk the beach.


A hush sweeps the crowd.
The child plays, solemn, straight-backed.
The mother exhales.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #13
March 30, 2008

A Summary of Those Things Which Are to Be Believed

Aquamarine lakes at sunrise
Belly buttons at midnight
Cakes baked from scratch in Myanmar
Disciples afoot, doors ajar
Elephant dung
Fairies, seen and unseen
Gospel singers and songs sung
Hearts carved into tree trunks
Icarus and iridescence
Jasmine, the smell of
Kissing in public
Language and longing and love
Mariachi, macaroni, macadamia nuts
New notebooks
Olives and olive oil
Popsicles, eaten in sun or shade
Quiet afternoons
Rain on a tin roof
Square dance callers
Tongues and tight rope walkers
Umbilical cords, umbrellas, uvulas
Violins and vertebrae
Water, in all its dispensations
X, (because it marks the spot)
Yellow, everything that comes in it
Zephyr, a wind that carries you

© Lisa Vihos

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poem of the Week #12
March 23, 2008

What I Learned from the Trees

I began as a clump of cells deep
in the deep darkness of sweet nothingness.
A snug, tiny room that I had all to myself
for nine months. I slept, romped, grew;
I learned my mother’s songs and the touch
of my father’s hand on my head.

One day, an immense squeezing began
an indescribable gushing. I felt myself—
a small wet rag—being wrung by
giant hands. I saw myself
standing on a bridge over a river,
sucked down into the moving stream below
I did not really want to go, and yet
it did look tempting.

So I accepted my fate; allowed the hands
to push me out of my safe cocoon
into the wide, roaring river of life
in whose cold waters I learned first
about flowing and being carried,
later about eddies and bumping against rocks.

One day, I looked up out of the water
pleasantly choking me and saw
massive, sturdy oaks on the river banks
reaching in two directions—
roots grasping the earth, leaves caressing the sky,
stalwart, yet able to flex in the breeze.

They jogged my memory
of another place; a thought grew in me—
I was in the river, but not of the river.
I determined then to be like the trees
who do not call the birds to come sit in them;
do not cry when the birds fly away.

One day, when I pass by my bridge again
I’ll be ready, old and feeble as I am,
worn and polished as a smooth stone.
On that day, should you be strolling
by the river, you will see a stone leap.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #11
March 16, 2008

From the One Who Didn’t Stay

I heard you calling my name
and I started to come by you.
The fact that I had to leave
does not mean that I
did not love you
or find you

I left
to remind you
of the preciousness
of life; and your fullness
in the one you already have.

He came late in your life, the first time
you tried. He’d been waiting
a long time at your door
for you to slow down
and make space
for him.

He came,
a wise old man
an innocent child,
to teach you what’s what.
As for me, I left to teach you
something else—how to fill holes.

© Lisa Vihos

Poem of the Week #10
March 9, 2008

It Happened In Silence

The bleeding started
after the evening lecture
at the meditation retreat.
We were in a time of silence
but surely, a crisis of this proportion
required words, sobs, attention.
So as not to disturb my roommate,
I used my cell in the hotel stairwell—
hanging on to Mike’s voice.
Find a phone book, call a hospital.

Turns out, my roommate
was a nurse. She made me lie down.
Held my hand, called the authorities.
How much blood? Is it bright red?
Lie still, wait, see.

For hours, I fought sleep in the strange bed,
held vigil with God, hoping to retain
my innards, push back the fear;
my clump of cells nothing
I could call a person,
but already so familiar, so dear.
In the dimness of dawn, I came to,
checked the sheets, breathed relief.
No maroon pool, no gelatinous clots.

Monday morning,
with the X-ray technician—
she examined the screen, hunting
for that little universe of joyful specks,
spinning toward personhood, entranced Sufis; an image
I had seen years earlier of Owen before he was Owen.
She kept turning the picture to look from every angle,
every angle, the same. In my motherly blind bliss
I was still ridiculously pregnant with hope
too positive to put two and two together
until she called for the head of radiology
and he told me in plain words
what had happened.

© Lisa Vihos