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.

The task of the creative

Liza Wolff-Francis

To those of us who write poems, create art,
our task is to lead the thirsty to the lagoon

where the water is just cool enough to test out.
First, with a dip of the toe, then cupping

our hands around it to make a small
puddle in our palms, bring puddle to lips,

between cheeks. We cannot help them
swallow, drink, or digest, but we can point out

the deepest parts and the shallow areas
where algae grows. We can show them

how to soak their bodies in an ecosystem
they didn’t know existed. We can wear a path

in the grasslands between their home and this oasis,
where a quench is mastered before it even registers

in the mind. Our task is to show them
when the hawks dive down, to alert them

to the preying wait of the crocodile. Our task
is to make them want more, so they depend on it

and are conscious of that at their very core,
beyond even understanding thirst.

I could have been born a cloud

Liza Wolff-Francis

maybe float away, not leaving
any trace of image against sky,
my shadow moving across earth
into all we see once and thousands

of times, recognizable only
by its species and shape rather than
our smile or the sound of laughter
come from deep belly and throat.

The cloud does not worry about
where the wind will take it,
does not plan its next trip or its tomorrow,
it gathers its tears from the beauty

it sees below, carries its vision like song.
It rises, ready to nourish the earth,
floats like laughter across the air,
welcomes the new year’s sound like light.

At the holy ground

Liza Wolff-Francis

we are people composting slowly,
decade after decade we watch
the young birth themselves
into this world we have given them.

At the holy ground, there is lush
green brush, there is warmth
of sun, the cool of water, rock
mountain temple before sky.

At the holy ground, my pleasures
are gathered and woven together
like chain link, but softer,
like silk. The most curious

birds with tufts on their heads,
peck at memories, rise together
like levitation in the quiet air,
as if they hadn’t always been there.

At the holy ground, it was like
we had barely wanted any atonement
or penance at any time in our lives,
but suddenly we hoped

for a blessing to appear out of nowhere,
like we needed it in order to go on
into the loneliness we knew
would soon be floodlit,

its every movement echoing
like a tree falling. Here,
the petals of flowers wait for me
to lie down and kiss the earth,

to lap at their spilled nectar.
We eat dandelions, imagine
ourselves as strong, as new
as the words sung to us

by the voices we love,
as if they were angels
or mermaids or goddesses.
I should just call them goddesses.

While he sleeps,

Liza Wolff-Francis

I sit in the dark of morning, inhale
the sacred silence that comes between

his breaths like a tiptoe. My body balances
on the edge of the bed as if it was to decide

which day to climb out of. His breath, even
and pacing, as if it were the day moving

through itself and an occasional animal sound,
a raccoon perhaps, a squirrel, a dog, a bear.

My bear behind me, vulnerable like all
that would kill us is far from here, far from us.

My prayers that it will stay that way hover
at the floorboard cracks, like a spell of salt

and peppermint oil to keep away dark shadows,
politicians in their masks, the America

I criticize and want to be different. Only all that I love
here in the dark right at my fingertips, holding up

the droop of my breasts, the bend of my toes,
the wild of my hair. While you sleep, the air

holds me in its dying night and I wait to remember
myself, all skin and bone, in the coming light.