Old Woman by Sandra Kohler ’61


Sandra Kohler’s poetry has been appearing in print for at least 35 years, in publications such as The New Republic, Prairie Schooner, The Gettysburg Review and The Colorado Review. Her most recent book, Improbable Music, was published by Word Tech Communications in 2011. A previous book, The Ceremonies of Longing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003) won the AWP Award Series in Poetry. In 1985 and 1990, she was the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry awarded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In between writing poetry and raising her son, she taught literature and writing everywhere from elementary school to college.

i.

Waking, I hear a bird beating at the window
under the mulberry: black bird, black window,
black tree. It’s grey and thick and breathless,
but dry. I’ll walk, my husband will play tennis.
We will do what we do, enact the day our
calendar disposes. A flash of wings: a blue jay
in the mulberry. These days wings moving
through the garden’s green are usually gold –
gold finch, orioles? My husband walks down
to the garage, carrying the chair he rests in
between sets. We rub and fray a little, we rub
and caress. A dove is cooing somewhere close.
The garden waits. Is it dry enough to weed
the cutting bed? It feels as if summer is over.
It feels as if I am testing a new way of being,
some weight I’m learning to carry, restraints
I am learning to wear. The garments of old
women, the thickness around the waist,
deepening folds of the face, loosening skin.
A different grip on the real, the world, new
expectations. Do I believe a word of this?
A cardinal flies out of the mulberry, across
the roof next door. I imagine and don’t
see his red reflection in the roof pond.

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The Music of What Happens


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music (Word Press) was published in 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals over the past 35 years. Born in New York City in 1940, Kohler attended public schools there, Mount Holyoke College (A.B., 1961) and Bryn Mawr College, 1966 and Ph.D., 1971). She’s taught literature and writing in venues ranging from elementary school to university. She lives in Massachusetts.

The long spell of freezing’s turned
the blanket of snow to smothering ice.
Earth’s bandaged, damaged. Cows huddle
on the mucky hillock, hunched, black
and dun, winter-stained, geese overhead,
their bellies soot-blackened like the ruins
of dry snowbanks all along the berms.

What will become of me in this season
if I go naked? One swallow doesn’t make
a summer, one robin a spring. The line
of hills on the horizon is so clear I see
the delicate fringe of trees along its crest,
see through their branches. Three birds
land in the mulberry top, small black
flourishes on a black and white sketch.

Properly understood the weather’s music.
In the night I wake thinking of our lives
unspooling, running out, being used up.
My son, my daughter-in-law, are silent
somewhere in the distance of their lives.
My sister’s a stranger, my friends are my
sisters, I am trying to make friends with
my husband’s sisters. This too is music.

I am lifted, saddened, elated, pulled
earthward. The worlds we invent to
realize ourselves are prisons formed by
our limits. The sun’s refracted, a fan of
pale gold flooding the gray east, silvering
the snow on the deck. If it touches me
will I turn younger or older? A shift in
the music’s key is sudden as weather.

Copyright Sandra Kohler 2012