escaping spiders

one by one the moths
find their way into the building,
lose themselves in high corners
and dingy stairwells

cupping my hands I
usher what few I can off
the fire escape, blowing them
to whatever dusty fate is theirs

but more often find stilled
wings, unmoving corpses along
the baseboards beneath
the hallway lights

I think they know there’s
no moon here, but flock
to false incandescence for scant
safety in a poor substitute

but how else
does one escape the spiders?

© Sarah Whiteley


a different sort of genealogy

my father’s father kept the accounts
for a coal mine in eastern Pennsylvania
until one Valentine’s Day his heart quit
on him and birthed a widow in its stead

driving through the corrugated remains
of a Poconos coal town it’s unsettling
to think how the experiences of others
will invariably influence our own

and I wonder how that suddenly empty seat
might have turned the course of that
twelve-year old boy who would in forty years
be my father and was he as hollowed out

as the empty mines that gutted the hills,
or as that old miner’s shack crouched
at the base of the rocks weeping rust
and coal dust for thirty years and more

earlier that morning I’d been snailing along
in the car lost in the sudden morning fog
of November in the Alleghenies with every turn
and curve a ‘poke at fate’ in near-zero visibility

when God or Providence or what-have-you
sent succor in the hulking form of a Kenmore truck
whose keeper leaned his elbows on my window
and said it’s ok, just follow me

I was drawn in by the confidence of his long
experience and followed the red trail
of his hazards to the next town,
where I turned off with a double-honk of thanks

now trawling through the landscape of my father’s youth
I wonder how it was he found his way through the fog
with no light to follow but miners’ lamps disappearing
into dark shafts, and no one to say just follow me

© Sarah Whiteley

do not disregard the stars

in standing with our small funerals
the susurrus of our losses
soughing about our feet
do not disregard the stars
nor the soft shine of upturned leaf
they are as much an affirmation
of the loves that travel with us
as are the scars that are left
when we set them free
let there be some comfort
that the passing constellations
shine as brightly when they die
as they did when we only imagined
them to be alive

– for Ludwig, who left us to join his friend this morning –

© Sarah Whiteley

an array of days

we all of us
have a small array
of days
(how small, how)
some much more so
than others
and were we/I able
(un-blinded by-the-by)
to see them stretch
we would be numbed
(benumbed) to find
stretching for ever
(never, but nevermind)
once we awake
(we still sleepers)
from our sleeping days
we can but
intoxicate ourselves
with every blessed breath
(still breathing, still unstill)
each day, that small array,
a sharp stab
of/into joy
(a stark contrast)
to the blurred edges
of the days before
when we knew/know
nothing more
of forever than
the myth forever
(how small, how)
the array
of our/my days

© Sarah Whiteley

the flame tree

bide not, beloved,
tarry not long,
for the sweetgrass is calling
and the light is nigh gone

here in the hollow
where first you kissed me
I will wait, my beloved,
beside the flame tree

I will cut me a branch
as red as my heart
and whittle you home
where we’ll ne’er be apart

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the hills will not tell me
where my dearest did go

stay not, my lover,
away from my hand,
for the blackbirds are crying
low o’er the land

they winnow and plummet
away from their rest
their song e’er repeating
is the same in my breast

oh, bide not, beloved,
leave me not by,
alone in the hollow
to wait and to sigh

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the stars will not tell me
where my dearest did go

the wind’s in the rushes
the moon’s in the pine
the sweetgrass now whispers
you never were mine

consign me not, dearest,
behind the church gates,
but bury me gently
where for you I did wait

there in the hollow
where first you kissed me
I will wait, my beloved,
beside the flame tree

“oh!” cries the sparrow
“ah!” calls the crow
the flame tree will tell you
where your dearest did go

© Sarah Whiteley

after stillness

for a second,
and the stillness
of stars waiting
and after stillness,
what then beyond
this arrested breath?
what then after
the suspended beating
from quiet breast?
what remembrance moon?
or trees that grew
beyond these windows?
or flowers passed
on pebbled paths
through sweetly scented
after these walls,
but then
I recall the fall
of kisses
the fondness
of hands that hold
all the promises
and the premise
of tomorrows
so what then?
you lean down
and murmur,
soft-lipped and smiling
for a second,
and the stillness
of stars waiting
and after stillness?

© Sarah Whiteley

I cannot be silent

I cannot be silent
so many tongues
have foundering fled
before this human ruin
they can but moan
between tossed timbers
torn from throats
and mindless strewn
amidst the shoes
once worn
upon the sensible feet
of that kindly face
from down the street
where is sense now?
perhaps it twisted rests
within the wreck
as un-escaped as others

© Sarah Whiteley

I had the great privilege of seeing Dr. Maya Angelou speak on Monday night. It was truly, incredibly wonderful. She has such a presence – exuding peace and strength and acceptance and stern accountability all at once. It was a beautifully moving experience and one I will cherish always.

Something she said struck me as apropos to current events. She quoted Terence, a Roman slave who became very popular in his time for his plays in spite of his status. He said “I am human. I consider nothing human alien to me.”

I am human. Anything another human experiences – I have that same capacity within me. That same ability to soar, to rise, to live, to suffer. No matter how far removed we may be from one another – in background, race, religion, experience – if a fellow human being is experiencing something, I have the potential to experience that same thing, be it good or bad.

It has been very difficult for me to process the images and stories coming out of Japan recently. I have been able to digest information in a piecemeal manner – I have no hopes of comprehending the full scope of human devastation involved. But human devastation it is. And I am human.

Please do not be silent. Donate.