Elizabeth Tibbetts Poetry — Introduced by Betsy Sholl

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.

Bird Woman

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.