New Year’s Day, 2018
Horizontal pock-marked rocks lie
in the shallow swamp like tombstones
to fallen alligators—as if to say Cassius
lived here, Orion slept there, and Sirius
ate turtles just beyond this path. We set
rocks to mark the long list of our dead.
Baby cocoplum leaves glow like strings
of holiday lights, each bush a lamp
in the growing darkness. As we bike
the 15-mile loop, headwinds push
the sun down the horizon, and the wind
whistles like an undaunted referee.
Last year, my brother-in-law did not die
of his cancer, and I did not die of mine.
The unrelenting wind presses against
our chests as if to warn us of the year ahead,
of what struggle, what pain, what loss
we will find buried in its days. For us,
the ones who have tasted the surgeons’ knives,
there is no fear. We know how to leave
our bodies and how to return. Our bike
lights blink on and off, silent sirens
announcing our presence. No-see-ums
and mosquitos swarm. The wind slows
us, but we race forward as alligators slide
into the swamp and the last of the great egrets
flies to her dinner—her beak poised like a dagger,
every feather on her elegant body set to hunt.
We walk along the Circus Maximus,
the remains of a chariot racetrack.
The stands once marble, now grass,
held hundreds. Today, our children run
up the blank hills and around the track.
We move as one unit each in our own body.
My husband harnessed to his thoughts,
our daughter leaping into air, one son kicking
rocks from foot to foot, the other listening
to scratchy music from thumb-sized earbuds.
It is easy for us to leave each other. We practice
daily. Our procession across ancient stones
is un-sanctified. Palms wave overhead, pine trees
stand stoic. Generals, priests, decorated men
walked these roads a millennia before us,
their achievements etched in time-worn stones.
As usual, the women are missing, their stories
un-inscribed, so I try to infer how they lived
from the everyday gods they worshiped,
gods summoned like spices to a feast:
a goddesses of childbirth, a god who looked after the grain,
a goddess who watched children, one who helped
bread rise, one who accompanied children
out of the house and oversaw their safe return.
When my children leave home, I know I’ll call
upon the goddess of crossroads and magic,
maybe the god of luck, and certainly the goddess
who will accompany them on their travels.
The descending sun paints the sky to a fresco.
Our children chase and tag each other,
a game that must predate this racetrack
of marble-turned-ruins. Meeting at the oval’s apogee,
breathless, they ask us what’s for dinner.