The following three poems are by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from her new book,
Say What You Can, to be published by Deerbrook Editions, Spring 2019. Elizabeth grew up in Camden and has worked as a nurse for many years. Her poetry is rich, in observation, stunning sensual detail, and the connections she makes between detail and insight, as when she describes the swifts going down a chimney as if they had been inhaled by the past. Tibbetts’ poems are also rich in feeling, in both celebration and grief, and in her respect for the people she has worked with as a visiting nurse.
These poems are more finished than what we normally think of as a sketch, but when I read of those swifts as “dark and feather-light as soot in the blue evening sky,” or as circling in a whirlpool, then funneling down that chimney, I imagine her outside with a notebook, writing down what exactly she sees with her accurate and wonder-filled eyes.
Each morning, in all weather, they gather
in the high white pines along the back line
and watch the window. And when she flickers
in the reflected trees they call loudly
until the porch door scrapes open and she
appears bearing a pan of crusts, cores, scraps
of fat, all but potato peels, which they
won’t eat. She tosses the orts to the lawn,
inspects the day, then caws the waiting flock
down: six crows, black and lit as the jet beads
in the box on her bureau. Each morning
she counts what is left of her backyard birds
(one pair of cardinals, chickadees, a mix
of finches, robins, summer’s ruby-throat,
and winter’s rare sweep of hungry waxwings
filling bare trees) now that weather’s fickle,
old fields and forests gone, and time has thinned
thick flocks to a trickle of song. She’s not
heard the rustle and cheep of nesting swifts
inside the cold stovepipe since she was young.
Once, she saw, heard, a swirl (was it bats?)—no,
it was swifts, dark and feather-light as soot
in the blue evening sky—arrive, circle,
whirlpool, then funnel by the hundreds
into a tall thin brick chimney. She thought
she’d watched broad day be inhaled by the past.
Now, if someone else would feed these crows, there
are things, yes, and birds, she would go back for.
Ghazal for the Winter Solstice
We approach the solstice, and daylight narrows
into an alleyway between the fortress walls of dawn and dusk.
A skin of ice granulates across the broad lake
where we swam rock to rock in a lavish season.
Those days I was as full of myself as a pomegranate
extravagantly packed with sacs of seeds and juice.
Now I wait for the blank page of snow-covered field
and the story written by turkey and fox, rabbit and deer.
Even at midday, the sun hangs just above the tree-line
and washes the lawn with thin light. Shadows come into season.
When it seemed there was little left but ice and bones,
I dreamed a river, blue-black moving water, from some unbidden source.
Wind rises in a cold breath between the lines—listen
it hisses. And it whistles through the crack beneath the door.
It Is Time
I’m no more an angel of mercy than you
who dropped me here and flapped away.
(I still hear the wuh wuh of your wings
as you lift above the trees.) I’m more
of a flashlight than heavenly body,
shining my little beam room to room,
up and down these hallways of trouble:
stump where a foot once wagged, belly
zipped with an incision, face gripping
the news It is time. I proffer no magic
from my medicine bag of science, only
gauze, antibiotics, narcotics. But I try
to cross the divide between two lives.
Sometimes, when I sit with a man whose
cells are eating him alive, or when I wash
the face of a woman who’ll never lift
her arms again, and I find myself lost
inside my own body, I sense your descent,
that wing-flicker of wind on my neck,
just before you seize me and carry me
off again in your fierce version of salvation.