Elisavietta Ritchie

Let smoky Oolong tea and raisins soaked in rum
remind us both of ancient loves and current pains
We're trapped inside one huge aquarium!
Rain is cascading down these walls of glass, rain
and more rain.
The radio reports flood warnings out.
Look, tide fills up the cove, then does not drain.
Just the usual wet spring.
Can half a moon, unseen beyond
the storm, grab hold the helm
of tides and pull them back?
Come on, let's splash through puddles, ponds,
to gauge if surf might overwhelm
the bulkhead, drown the yard again.
Should we not dump the tea and save
books, photos, manuscripts, the cat?
She scratches at the door and cries.
We'd best grab everything, pack up and run.
And leave half-written joys and troubles lovers gave
in those forgotten months of drought?
The whole wall's cracked!
Why be wise?
Let's boil more tea, and take another chance,
gamble on the drying power of the sun.
You think wrecked hearts can heal enough to fancy
one more fling . . . .


On living or dying.
This time, 1973, the mushrooms,
alabaster parasols of death in sour cream
after a September afternoon of poems and guitar,
motorcycles revving behind the stage, and later
forbidden tasting beyond the floating dock,
then feet mud-caked dashing from car to woods
the whole trip to vomit beyond the dark road
The start of pain, the ritual sense of doom,
the midnight agony of cramps through legs
and pelvis, then chest squeezed by a closing vise,
while in the Sibley E.R., interns not yet
trained for fungal toxins, ask and ask,
Can you name the current president?
I recount the blunders of his reign.
At 2 a.m., wheeled to bed, sixth floor,
the night nurse asks in her Georgia voice
sultry with cinders and dark velvet gladiolas,
Honey, is there anythin' I kin git you?
Who'd dare say tea at this hour,
ward kitchen sprayed and locked?
She brings one Styrofoam cup,
an ambered string to a Lipton bag
more sacred than all the Oolong tins
clipper-shipped from India. Then
she fills a white enamel bowl
and washes and washes my feet.
Below Johns Hopkins Hospital, 2004, the street is gone:
trees, dead leaves, leaf-blowers, their noise,  black bags,
ash cans, loose dogs, ants on October grass.
More questions, decisions: easy as switching the power off?
Would have been, then. Plate shards, stored pills,
penknives, forgotten scissors, smashed glass?
Yet that life force . . . Or dumb habit, sloth, lack of bravado,
all those unfinished tasksand silly to skip out now
when so many are shipping out daily, unwilled.
Till the last tattle and rattle the crone, blind to her liver marks,
the old man despite aches and clocks, unsolved regrets,
cling or are clung to quotidian routines.
And one can't disappoint those who wrote notes, brought sweets,
sent bouquets, tried to phone. So, one does not.
For how will the book turn out?

Elisavietta Ritchie's books include: Awaiting Permission to Land, (Anamnesis Award); The Spirit of the Walrus;  The Arc of the Storm; Elegy for the Other Woman; Tightening The Circle Over Eel Country (Great Lakes Colleges Association's "New Writer's Award"); Raking The Snow; chapbooks Timbot; Wild Garlic: The Journal of Maria X.  Fiction collections: In Haste I Write You This Note; Flying Time (four PEN Syndicated Fiction winners); Edited The Dolphin's Arc: Endangered Creatures of the Sea and others. She teaches creative writing to adults and students. Current president, Fiction division, Washington Writers' Publishing House. Several awards and Pushcart Prize nominations.




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