Long White Cloud

How did the bare-bummed child crawling 
on the beach in a pink sun-bonnet 
learn how to walk by watching seagulls? 
How did my mother decide to marry 
my father by buffing her nails 
then staring at her hands? 
How did so many unpronounceable words 
come into being? And how many more words 
whose meanings are unclear or obscure? 
Why do seagulls cry 
while landbirds sing? 
How did the Agitator of the Soul 
become himself so violently agitated? 
How could someone crying out 
a cloud, a white cloud, a long white cloud 
be naming a country? 
A country is not a cloud 
A cloud is not a country 
Only the Agitator of the Soul 
would have you believe it 
Seabirds cry to be heard over the waves 
Landbirds sing to let everyone know who’s king 
A silky cornel of red osier 
makes good kinnikinnick 
My mother gave simple advice to all: 
Do not grow up to become a baby 
And the baby stood 
And the baby took a step 
And then another 
And the seagulls scattered 
into a cloud, a white cloud, 
a long white cloud 
And the baby cried 
Welcome to the land of the living 

The Good Fortune of Material Existence

Without bringing any more people 
into the planning loop, I have decided 
to have breakfast. I have made cautious 
inquiries, and finally learned it is 
Thursday. My attention sets out 
in a cheerful mood on a memorable 
expedition to the sink. 
Oh blank and hopeless days! 
Oh long sleepless nights! 
They are forgotten now 
as I turn on the cold clear 
water of the stream. 
All the rivers of the world 
convene in me. They rush 
over my hands, they enter 
my mouth, they cover my face. 
I am compelled to drink my own 
tears, as you too will be 
when you wake. 

Think Snow

I believe milk is melted snow. 
I believe I went sledding once, 
hit a tree and shattered my glasses. 
Worse things have happened, 
to older people. 
Birds don’t know where to go in a snow 
and so go very deep inside of themselves. 
Newly fallen snow, the world’s 
worst jigsaw puzzle. 
Dirty snow welcomes everyone, 
like the poverty train. 
A woman in furs is a statue of snow. 
After a conversation that was useful 
in the beginning, snow becomes useless 
and, finally, worthy of blame. 
We were now hoist by our own snow. 
There is no harder work 
than not snowing. 
Snow has time on its hands, 
never afraid of dying 
but always in a hurry to. 
Snow, the first séance. 
We thought about it for a while 
and then looked up. 
knew there would be a picture 
of a samovar in the dictionary, 
and there was. 


The day my mother almost died 
I hid in the basement 
because our dog had run away 
and no one cared, at that moment, 
to go after her. 
It was harder than I had ever or even 
thought, not that I thought. 
I wailed like a living corpse, 
I wailed like a banshee 
down there near the washing machine 
and the indoor clothesline 
and the extra yellow refrigerator 
(my mother came back, 
the dog came back). 
Down there on my hands and knees 
near death. 
Are we not right now 
outside on the tundra 
harnessing the sled dogs, 
three of whom have already died? 
Banshee was the dog’s name, 
she was named after a plane, 
a plane named after 
a terrible Irish female fairy 
who forbodes by wailing 
a death in the family, 
for naming is a terrible thing 
such as naming one thing 
when you mean another. 
Now Mary Lorraine they said 
you are crying for your mother 
not for the dog can’t you see that? 
I could see I never really liked that dog 
but I never really liked my mother either. 
Daddy said when he was coming in low 
he could see the faces of the enemy 
wailing as they ran for the tram. 
What a good dog he was. 
I could see why he ran away. 
I wished I were an igloo. 
I ate a turkey leg. 
I lay on my waterbed 
and ground my teeth, 
counting my fingers 
instead of the days. 
Are we not right now outside on the tundra 
harnessing the sled dogs, 
throwing the meat of the dead to the dogs, 
I mean feeding the ones 
who are left? 


Mary Ruefle is an American poet whose latest book is Trances Of The Blast (Wave Books, 2013).