My Late Husband Speaks to Me in Flute by Faith Shearin

My Late Husband Speaks to Me in Flute

He hated the flute when he was alive, hid
in the bathroom during our wedding reception
when a group of flautists appeared
around our three tiered wedding cake,

but now, ghostly, he speaks through this
reedless wind instrument, which was
preferred by paleolithic musicians, who left
several behind in caves, fashioned

from the wings of vultures or the femurs
of juvenile bears; he might have spoken to me
in cello: his native instrument, the one
he played in life, sending messages

in fifths, through Sonatas,
but those low register notes must be
unappealing to the dead whose communications
are ethereal. The first time was after

I opened a letter from the IRS when the radio
began playing an unexpected hour
of Indian classical bamboo flute
and it continued through

all the months of plague and isolation, once
drifting through the speakers of my next door
neighbor’s yard when he found me weeping,
music chortling in imitation

of a blackbird; he sent me
Mozart’s Flute Concerto #2 in D Major,
his Concerto #1 in G. My late husband grew
up at a music school, competing for

first chair, dragging his cello
over snow drifts to orchestra pits
where he turned his face
towards the conductor with the raised

baton and I know he is elsewhere
but thinking of me which is like time
moving in harmonic vibrations, like breath
pressed against a hollow tube.

*

Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Moving the Piano (SFA University Press), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press), and Lost Language (Press 53). She has received awards from Yaddo, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Recent work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry.

Three Poems by Faith Shearin

Messages from my Mother
Cousin Violet is recovering from a gallbladder operation. I can give
you her address if you would like to send flowers.
Aunt Fern has a blockage in the main artery of her neck
and is scheduled for surgery. Uncle Gus has a spot in his eye.
There was a flood at the summer cottage. I went out to start the car and opened
the door to a cloud of mold and mildew. In our absence, all that flies
and crawls has invaded our kitchen. Sadie’s friend’s mother
passed away and Mildred is driving to Boone
for the funeral tomorrow. 95 is flooded but she is hoping to take a detour.
Uncle Uther has a newborn baby girl. She has Uther’s chin.
The oven is broken. I stayed on hold all morning trying
to schedule a repair person. Our friend Hoyt may need a cortisone shot in his hip.
According to Selma, Miss Jane is growing feeble.
Your father has a new toothbrush that he says is better than going to the dentist.
It’s okay if you hate the window seat and matching pillows;
it would just be nice to hear your voice.
*
My Mother, Killing Mice
My mother was assigned mice
by her college Biology professor,
asked to perform
experiments involving mazes
and rewards, but she forgot
to feed them when she left
for Christmas holiday
in a rush of train tickets
and trunks, her best dress
and silk scarf wrapped
in tissue paper, my father waiting
for her in a top coat
on a platform made vague
by arrival. So her mice grew weak
in the glass world of her
forgetfulness: fur the color of winter,
cold whiskers, bowls of hunger.
*
My Mother, Getting Lost
She did not mind a foreign landscape or an absence
of cardinal directions. When I rode with her —
windows open, farmhouses made of moonlight —
she did not plan a route but let everything
become unfamiliar, her steering wheel
unaware of a prime meridian or compass rose.
It was as if she had been born
with the earliest star-shaped
Babylonian Map inside her: all highways surrounded
by a bitter river, land beginning in mountains
but ending in marsh, each destination a triangular wedge
where a bull dwells or the sun is not visible,
beyond the flight of birds.
*
Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Moving the Piano (SFA University Press), Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), Orpheus, Turning (Dogfish Head Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter (SFA University Press), and Lost Language (Press 53). She has received awards from Yaddo, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Recent work has been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry.

Four poems by Faith Shearin

Navigation

That night in your uncle’s house all hallways
were plunged into darkness and a fog

hung over his mountain, the moon too new
to be any use; I felt my way through the foreign

landscape of his living room: the piano closer
than it had been on my mind’s map, the cat

a low softness against my ankle, each table
rising suddenly, each doorknob a strange planet

in my hand. Returning from the bathroom
I mistook the library for our bedroom,

the couch for our bed. It was like this for ancient explorers
who were often wrong about where they landed:

Columbus who returned from Cuba convinced
he had visited the coast of China, John Cabot

who thought Nova Scotia was Asia; it was like this
for widows who lived alone in married rooms:

arms outstretched, hands searching.

 

Bridges

I grew up on an island so you will say
it makes no sense to fear bridges

when my life has been surrounded
by water; you will point out the gorgeous

engineering of arches and beams,
cables and cantilevers, suspensions

and trestles, and you may name
the great ones: the Golden Gate glowing

red over the strait between San Francisco
and Maris County, the Rialto that spans

the Grand Canal of Venice,
the Wind and Rain bridges of China.

You will remind me of the Bering Strait:
mythic land bridge across which

humans must have migrated
from Asia to North America; I can only

say you have not swayed in a cottage
during hurricanes, or read about

tourists, asleep at the wheel, who
drive over low railings and cannot open

their sinking windows or doors; you
have not considered John Berryman’s

leap between Minneapolis
and St. Paul. Bridges are liminal spaces,

passages between one land mass
and another. Think of the failures: the collapse

of the Angers brought about by synchronized
soldiers, the Silver Bridge drifting

into the Ohio River, The Tacoma Narrows
giving way.

 

Watching Zombie Movies With Our Daughter

Mavis and I watched Zombie movies that first June
after you died; maybe you saw
us walking through rain

without umbrellas, along the avenues of Amherst
where peonies grew so fat they fainted
and children caught fireflies in their cupped hands,

opening their fingers to flickering light; we favored
a cinema with a triple feature, bought
popcorn and candy, sat at the back

where the seats were broken, behind rows
of strangers in hats, and considered
the undead: reaching through the silence

of cemeteries, digging their way
back to this world; we watched
zombies return to the neighborhoods

where they once rode bikes and climbed trees
and kissed and dreamed: skin chalky,
arms extended, slack-jawed, stumbling.

 

How You Loved Me 

Every February you left
a single carnation in my mailbox and,

the year I turned fifteen, you stopped sometimes
in front of my window,

walking home with a friend whose name
I’ve forgotten, the two of you out later

than everyone else because your families lived
across the road in the long, low houses of faculty row;

you threw snowballs to get my attention
and, even now, I put down my books and part the curtains,

your face on the other side of dark glass; I am told you
pulled a car over to the side of the road in Midland, Michigan,

1987, to tell a friend’s mother you meant to marry me
while I fed horses on a farm in Vermont,

utterly ignorant of my own importance,
and, in college, when the George Michael song Faith 

was released, you played it while driving, your windows
rolled down, belief mixing with desire; you sent love letters

to me in New York City where I unfolded them
on trains, the world blurring; I didn’t deserve to be loved

like that and I still think the person you longed for
lived in the acres of your own imagination

where the flesh of cherries reddened
in the orchards off Old Mission Peninsula,

their blossoms refusing to fall.

 

Faith Shearin’s books of poetry include: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees, Orpheus,Turning (Dogfish Poetry Prize), Darwin’s Daughter, and Lost Language (forthcoming Press 53). She has received awards from Yaddo, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have been read aloud on The Writer’s Almanac and included in American Life in Poetry. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.