Today

The cold air surprised me,

in addition to the fact 

that I couldn’t remember if the word surprise 

is written with an s or with a z.

I also forgot that last week 

that I ordered chocolate 

for my grocery pickup order today,

discovered it in the bottom of the bag.

I rip through the simple cardboard,

the delicate foil, place an inch and a half 

of deep brown cacao with salt flakes 

on my tongue, rest it at the top 

of the mouth to smell the flavor. 

Decadent, my friend says, irresistible, I say.

The noises of my tongue fully engaged.

My taste buds, wrapped around memory,

around the heart of all we forget.

This chocolate smells like Easter as a child,

a holiday whose scent, to me, is not of grass 

or white patent leather shoes restricting 

the feet with white tights, not of Jesus dying 

or gone missing and reappearing, or the scent 

of a holiday ham, but of sugar. 

Chocolate in the shape of a rabbit,

rainbow colored flavors of beans, colorful 

plastic eggs stuffed with candy, waiting in the yard. 

They are unlike the roses that collect 

dust, as if the only way to have peace is to grow old.

Candy that waits to belong 

to someone’s mouth’s desire, in spring. 

But now, the autumn of the heart 

has brilliant colors, ones that do not know 

suffering, protect the self 

from the wind and storm they did not birth.

The many things we can ask the heart 

may be a surprise. A surprise with an s 

may be softer than one with a z,

but a z always seems to be 

a letter that is more fun.

Great Divine Mother Isis

You have helped the dead enter the afterlife,

The dead, who have carried their 21 grams 

of soul, so much less than a pound, 

even less than a kilogram, the weight of our essence,

a summation of all we have been and seen,

the weight of us and the depth 

of how we have loved.

Royal Isis, with a throne upon your head,

I beg you now to turn people away

from the land of the dead,

to evaluate the recent population growth there,

keep the gates closed to new entries.

On earth, it is a new moon, 

the night sky is dark and we are overwhelmed 

with death, can’t suffer its antics, 

its bad jokes, its salty cold tea. 

The songs of the mountains reach to us,

but we cannot hear the lyrics or the melodies,

just a whine of the hollowing of trees. 

We try to hold the colors of the sky, 

but instead, end up balancing its weight 

on the edges of our 21 grams.

It’s the fear, Isis, 

that we are beginning to hold of each other.

It began with the fear of contagion,

turned to fear of breath, of touch,

of all that makes us dangerously, gloriously human.

When people come in their full party dresses,

their holey pajamas, their strained smiles,

their chests gasping for air, ask them 

to turn back. 

Then take a vacation for yourself.

Close the afterlife down for another time

when we’re more ready with carnations,

waiting to say a proper goodbye.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Image by Darla Hueske:: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierragoddess/

Abecedarian for Abrazos

Abrazo is the word for hug in Spanish.

Brazos is the word for arms.

Carrying arms, calm arms, crazy arms wrapping around you.

Daring to love you.

Even just for a moment’s greeting.

Fleeting and quick or perhaps, at times, longer.

Grab you out of your own space and world, no, that’s not the type of hug I’m talking about.

Hopeful, held, healing, those are the embraces I speak of.

I miss the casual abrazos from acquaintances.

Jolly.

Kindhearted.

Lovely, put you at ease, hugs.

Make you feel like you know each other, trust each other, at least a little.

Not awkward, but a simple greeting.

Or hugs of friends that might linger, like you’re holding onto something precious.

Perhaps love, a caring, an importance.

Quiet, unspoken, the work of brazos.

Reaching arms, reaching for you, for me, reaching love, reaching.

Sacrament, sacred.

Trust.

Under the sky we have all been hurt beneath, the same sun, the same moon.

Volumes of possibility.

Where we all feel closer, safer, stronger.

Xerox copies of hugs seem like all I have right now.

Yearning, I swear, I yearn for that closeness.

Zero hugs from friends, zero from acquaintances, zero is too few and yes, I miss them without having known I would have.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

When I was old

I thought about how when I was young

I thought I wouldn’t argue about politics 

or pay attention to people in power when I was old, 

that I would arrange Gerber daisies and lilies, 

watch crows through binoculars on Tuesdays, 

thought I would savor each morning I woke,

notice the scent of rain before water hit the ground,

When I was old, I kept busy rather than was busy

and there was a day I drove up to the top of a mountain,

pulled my chair out of my trunk, hung my sweater 

around my neck, a peach in my purse. I sat for hours 

eating that peach, watching the valley below 

as orange colored juice dripped

down my fingers, my wrists, my arms. 

The birds that flew by, were not with me in this world, 

but part of an unfolding landscape

I watched then from afar, 

when I was old.

–Liza Wolff-Francis

The Good Headlines

“A Tree Service Comes to the Rescue when a cat adopted during COVID gets stuck in a tree with a thunderstorm on the way”

I have been looking for a tree to climb, 

to see the storm, to be the first 

to feel the rain on my face. 

There is an instinct to ask the growth 

of earth to protect me from its rage.

.

“Surging Coronavirus Cases pushes Latin America to the Limit.”

We are so far away from each other,

–not far enough, even at 6 feet– 

too far to help. No one 

wants to see the tears of loved ones,

there are more coming. 

The words we spoke aloud 

about all that has been lost, 

about what we are unable to find, 

gone.

.

“A Newspaper Delivery Man has made 500 grocery runs for seniors during the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

I am alone in my house. 

Is there a guilt

for not doing more? 

Is there a guilt

for my own fear? 

Is there a guilt 

for the kindness of others? 

The spring has been especially windy here, 

the nights loud with sirens. 

Every shake of the trees in the open air 

closes my mouth, like maybe I should know 

what is happening, like maybe the leaves 

will say something, like, there is no emergency, 

that was a false siren, do not think the worst.

.

“A nine-year-old and her friends raised over $40,000 for black owned businesses by selling homemade bracelets.”

Small fingers weaving 

such a large sum of money

to help, understanding the weight 

of each thread. The creativity 

of a child, a simple bracelet, 

what we do with what we have, 

and all the time in the world

no time at all.

.

“The river running through Zion National Park will be protected forever thanks to the Nature Conservancy.”

At least there is water. 

At least we still have that. 

Something sacred. 

To quench our thirst. 

The earth 

alive, 

even apart from us.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

This August

Liza Wolff-Frances

the everyday things that once
excited me, Tres Leches cake,


salt on the edge of a margarita,
free pens from the credit union,


coconut paletas, no longer
hold interest.

I feel free of it all.
The sky is not falling,

there is nothing
I need right now,

but the demand
for me to pick a direction, settle


is like telling a story from
the shadow of a full plant,

working backward
beginning from a seed.

This August, there is a fragility

in the aftermath

of the seed’s planting,

that I do not care to see.

 

 

I have always loved the tree outside my window

Now more than ever, I watch it,

in its stillness, I watch as it moves 

in the breeze. I have been outside 

to wrap my arms around it, 

as far as they will reach, 

to lie in the grass beside it, stare up 

at its height. If I could explain 

wisdom, surely it would be 

the lines in this tree’s bark.

This tree is unafraid to take space, 

it welcomes the birds 

with deep voice wisdom

that comes from staying in one place

year after year, observing 

the movement around it. 

This tree listens to the whisper 

of sparrows, the plans of hawks 

and ladybugs, its dug-in roots, planted.

The other trees know this one,

respect this one, it has stood 

over time, through seasons, 
open armed, branches extend out 

reaching to the world, to the universe,

to me, to us, some of its buds 

wait to pop, some already 

in full green, telling the others 

that now is the time, 

to not be afraid.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Pantoum for our planet of crows

Crows gather in the Cottonwood tree,
blacker than night holds me.
Even the birds are our children here
if we see ourselves as becoming land and sky.

Blacker than night holds me,
shadows and dreams of sleep.
If we see ourselves as becoming land and sky,
we may never sleep again.

Shadows and dreams of sleep
that poke me awake with skeleton fingers.
We may never sleep again,
lost to the fascinatingly hateful chatter of crows

that poke me awake with skeleton fingers.
It’s not the death of our planet that scares me,
lost to the fascinatingly hateful chatter of crows,
it’s the death of us that rakes me awake.

It’s not the death of our planet that scares me,
night terrors of holding our children over the flames,
it’s the death of us that rakes me awake.
Crows invite death into today’s sun.

Even fighting, we may go down without sound.
Crows gather in the Cottonwood tree,
each day brings new air and chatter.
Even the birds are our children here.

Liza Wolff-Francis

A self portrait

Liza Wolff-Francis

We all have so many pictures
of ourselves these days, our own

photography of us, on our phones,
on our tablets, our own portraits

taken for granted and in them,
I am a woman changed from who I was.

My hair, a graying color of bark, of limb
of Cottonwood tree, each of my eyes,

a well closing slowly as if the years bring
a squint to the world that determines

the end of water. My neck still smooth
like satin, but with the slight stretch of elastic.

What of it tells a story? It is not as obvious
as that of a giraffe however, but holds

years of breath and swallow, talk and scream.
All this body does, my arms, my back,

my toes. These shoulders pinned forward
in a lazy Friday slump, waiting

to stretch into more formal moments.
There is no easy way to eloquently say

something so trite as: it is hard to grow old
and still we must travel onward.

In our quarantine

Liza Wolff-Francis

there is only my shadow
on an open empty road.
Central Avenue is deserted,
as if we built the world
for ourselves, then weren’t
able to live in it.
Our world, a dead tree cut
into circles, chopped like
pieces of hotdog or carrot rounds.
A roadrunner crosses
the rough cracked asphalt,
a silent yellow fire hydrant
in a green yard.
All that is left is a ghostbike
to memorialize us, all the beads,
all the trinkets that hang from it.
Even inside our house,
the meditation pillow
tries to be the rug. My child
disappears into a box,
his coat hanger book report
hangs alone, waits
to go back to school someday
in some uncertain future.