CAROL MIKODA teaches writing and new teachers in upstate New York. She lives in the country where she walks in the woods, studies the sky to photograph clouds, and grows vegetables and flowers. She also sings and plays piano, guitar, and bass. Although she enjoys travel, her cat, Zen Li Shou, would rather she stayed home.
I hold your curled hand
ice and thorns tense
bless a difficult world
where love put us next to each other
to all the other
I hold this burn to my core
try not to pay attention
to cross the fissure that separates us
at this, the end,
words and gestures to one side
in this toxic white room
to send a message
all about the love
and grow closer to our truths
send their heat
through the void you cross
all about the love
you and I we stretch this way
love reaches through us
into this world of stone and lightning
I listen to my heart
send you out again and again
from our spirit selves
as love answers my question:
how is this farewell?
Amid a Cloud
of Frying Onions
“But I …”
“No, of course not!
You are only
they tell her.
“I’m leaving here!
I’m never coming back!”
She slams every door
on her way
to stomp through snow
to gaze upon
the ruffled lake
that soothes her,
feeds her dreams.
She plots her path
to the city, to the stage,
to glories unknown,
at the verge of other
glories, other stages,
a winding way
that leads her back
to this window,
this familiar view
for many more years
Ode to the Nut-Brown Beverage
O warmth! O spark! O liquid love
I curl my hands about!
I barely rise at crack of dawn
before I seek you out.
Your energy, your taste bespoke
each morning when I rise;
no matter what the day demands,
you always energize.
Thoughts start flowing, pick up my pen,
fill up another three pages.
Check things off the TO-DO list,
the day in its early stages.
Special grinder, special beans,
always worth the trip.
Forget the sugar — add the cream
and savor that first sip.
When geese take over your lawn, welcome them.
Give away this stuff that interferes.
Let ants have dominion for as long as they need.
Give it away
to learn the lesson you need the most at just the right time.
Buy the food that ants don’t like; let them
empty your closets, your shelves, your house. You need
to chop and simmer your crystal broth for memories,
for dreams of your spirit past that drift on sleepy waters. Emerge.
This planet isn’t your real home, so,
as fast as you can (four miles an hour), dissolve.
Become the compost you don’t have to fork.
Solid beings shrink their footprint.
You are only a visitor, here with a jolt.
Live in your kitchen cupboards. Disappear.
Give to crows whatever is left.
Spirit beings enlarge their world.
Don’t intrude. Be only what
you must. Walk a mile or two.
Listen hard. Make yourself small and pale,
A New Relativity
looks at first
like chaos” an
urge to break
not sure what
here. just a
note well: they
in both ears
to slap that
nerve numb. fear
wins when we
bend down to
a sine curve
while we were
[Italicized lines from Adrienne Rich’s 2007 poem, “Power of Recuperation”]
on the grid
slabs. What trends
do they track?
wood duck’s wake
Any of these
means as much
as my brain
can tell me.
The heart, though –
now that is
I must ask
Love about it
Take them all here
they come no
stopping them (why would
we) out with
the bad air exhaust
from tired cells
that wonder why, question
existence god purpose
placement on earth faster
faster and those
molecules at the bottom
of the lungs
the ones there since
before Awareness of
the Constant Proximity of
Death you can
have them too officially
done with them
done with that past
done and out
Would you choose to ask or answer?
Are journeys more important than any goal?
Shouldn’t you be sure of your destination?
Is it warmer than it is here?
Have they measured the yearly rainfall there?
Does that cloud look like a duck?
Haven’t you ever studied shapes of clouds?
Have you been busy with risk-return charts?
Was being a good provider your aim?
Do children always want more from us?
Who loves you and with what expectations?
Must you buy them a blue car?
The same blue as a stormy ocean?
Would they delight in sparkling night stars?
Rejoice in sunlit ripples on wind-blown water?
Will this mild wind get stronger today?
Are you ever fully prepared for capsizing?
How long can you hold your breath?
Why name your tiny boat, “Question Mark?”
Sycamore rules the field,
guards the genesis of the path
(as familiar as the parting of my hair)
that leads to the hickory woods,
cradle of fear
(home to owl, weasel, mink, muskrat, bear).
Blackbird sings from topmost tip.
Blackbird believes himself to be king.
he installs a wife and a nest
on every possible cattail and swoops
from branch to ground, tree to tree.
No one has the heart to set him straight.
Not the tree itself; sycamore is not a talker
(unless by talk you mean
the susuration of large leaves
in dry breeze or wet wind).
It was growing before I was born,
while blackbird’s ancestor flitted
from branch to branch
proclaiming his sovereignty.
Desks, clothing or lack of clothing, plans, lacking plans or plans lack one important element. Students have not yet arrived. Building has no roof. Principal likes to walk the halls, stop in and visit but he has no head so he ends up feeling his way along the stretch of one hallway, arm over arm until he trips over discarded books stacked outside the teachers’ lounge on the wrong pick up day. Didn’t you read the email? Never read the emails. They pile up on your desk like unread essays on Sunday nights. Drive them home, then drive them back to school: Take An Essay for a Ride. Physical pain, untreatable diseases. Still no solution to the lack of clothing or plans or students or roof. Charge on anyway because after all you could do this in your sleep. And you do. Every August.
Vague Sense of Relief
The shadows harbor
several snakes who slip their tongues out
test the air
then slide from here to there
which isn’t far so how can I miss them? Every nerve
in my body ready for
when I feel I might
leave my skin
although I cannot say
I’m not distracted
by the tiny, suffocating cave
of this Otis Elevonic 401
hurtling to the depths of the Mariana Trench.
The scratching of the bear
who puts his paw through the ceiling
every once in a while
is not nearly as loud
as the pounding of the Nazis
at the door. Too bad for them:
the door is jammed so they will never get in.
Try to cast me out: Call on the names
of the dead. Sprinkle holy water. Pray
copiously. I am comfortable here and will resist.
Not much required of me: Waken this host sometimes
to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, binge
on potato chips, roll drooling on the floor. Make
this host search for love in dangerous places
[a sit-com premise I must pitch to someone at Netflix
as she sleeps: hilarious dialogue ‘twixt demons and hosts,
madcap chase scenes through downtown Williamsburg, skinny
black jeans drinking overpriced coffee, jumping into Ubers
to shop for upscale kitchen appliances or IKEA
accessories]. But I digress. I insist, rather,
that you update your notion of demons as you’ve recently done
with vampires (kudos, Anne Rice). We are NOT
interested in Latin or glossolalia. We ARE
interested in a good French press. Don’t listen to Lucifer;
a fallen angel really has no idea
of the inner life of a demon. We’re complex
leeches, developing our sensibilities over centuries,
as humans have. Ignore at your peril the fact
that I, for example, have strong opinions about how
to roast Ethiopian beans to prepare them for careful
grinding and steeping in said French press. Leave off
your provincial notions of possession. You can pluck diseased
worms from a man’s heart and flick them into a deep
bin of kerosene, but we’re nothing like that.
We are not cast out so easily.
Memo from the National Sleep Foundation
In these eight hours of fantasy
every night, go far
from this madding crowd,
these yawping maws
of celebrity and hype that sell
and buy and move and shake.
Retreat to rock sweetly
on the lethal waters of a nightly journey
to mostly a better place, even if
sometimes dreams confuse.
Be the star of every night’s
show; play every part,
if some dream readers speak true.
But it’s not about speaking at all.
No words. No words.
Listen only to deep breathing.
Let thoughts go where static stays
when the radio’s off.
Get to that deep hyacinth darkness:
no sloshing around in the dozing zone,
a mere nap in the afternoon.
Listen to the wind in the branches
of the tall Norway spruce; be the trees,
and then be the wind, then travel south
at great speed, looking
down at a magical marble.
Spin out into spandex space?
It’s a choice to make.
Let go. Let go.
Hawk, sweeping blue heights,
speaking secret tongues, I ask:
carry my heart, too.
My house, you are my home. You are my castle,
my sanctuary. Lovingly I consider your spaces,
large and small, your floors, your oddly turning
hall, the mysterious cellar warrens, the close
When I was just a girl
I wanted to be gone from here. I slammed doors
dramatically, with feeling. Sometimes I seemed to glide
in and out with no substance but only
emotion, only blossoming exploding emotion.
I spent hours at the piano, filling the house with sound
and fury of Beethoven or Bach, Mendelssohn or Mozart
o one home to hear it. I wallowed in the music,
wallowed in the emotion, counted down the days
until I could leave for college.
And returned, over
and over again. Somehow, miraculously, or seren-
dipitously or at the distinct will
of the universe, I returned. I emptied each room of pack rat
portions, piled high papers, aging antiques
of no value, magazines with no current
Now I bring and keep only
what I love. Warm wood floors stretch before me.
Colors and music surround me. Windows draw
the eye to consider wild vistas: feeding crows,
ever-taller tree tops, nesting geese,
swooping goldfinches, mating turtles, daffodils
emerging, deer crossing, mink frolicking.
This house is my base camp for the woods and hills which save me.
Second to Last
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, and everywhere …
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity …
W.B. Yeats, from The Second Coming
The garage door is stuck; the wi-fi is out cold.
The kitchen faucet drips, the cloth of middle class frays;
Ethics and democracy are shaky, too, these days.
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
Politics is pornography; materialism’s flag’s unfurled.
Sirens blare, eclipsing the music of the spheres
While childhood starves or suffocates or disappears.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Who will lead? Who will put themselves last, or first?
Circuses proliferate. Distraction abounds.
Attention spans dwindle. Evil makes its rounds.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
The worst, in the spotlight, unaware of their own density,
Hold forth, with one foot on the neck of art, grasping at fame
Followed by news cycles where pundits weep, exclaim,
And their apostles are full of passionate intensity.
The Hill and the Rock
In her dream
she holds the parasail’s lines tightly
struggling to make it rise and carry her
but her feet dip into the water
touching off concentric rings.
She call out for him,
happy knowing that he will be there soon
but when he doesn’t come
she remember that he is gone,
her heart jolted by pain,
that he can never be there ever again.
So she resumes her anxious wrestling
with the parasail lines.
Her toes slide into the water.
Her new desperation calls out to him.
Relief floods over her
until the memory burns in her again.
The pain shoots through her again,
this memory as heavy as Sisyphus’ rock.
White insists on coloring only with the black crayon
Lines stay outside no matter what
I burn to touch you but I am frozen in my loneliness
You look into my eyes — then turn away
I walk through crowds feeling lost and alone
Driving as fast as I can, I still evolve too slowly
Joy greets the dawn while sadness settles in at dusk
The clouds flop damply underfoot
Ring by the Side of the Road
You were walking when you found it along the road near the big pond
(Hunter, your eyes never missed much) and you gave it to me.
It couldn’t be real but still it glittered, substantial,
on my finger in a way I couldn’t ignore.
Did someone yank it
from her finger
and throw it out
of a car window? Was she
driving? Alone in the car?
Or passenger, in heated
The air in the car,
did it rush out
after the harsh words,
after the ring disappeared?
Did he stop the car,
make her get out? Did she
stop the car? Did anyone
look for it?
Or maybe it was far quieter, sadder, less dramatic: a loosened ring
slipping from a hand unnoticed as fingers played with the wind,
tapped the door’s metal, the loss undiscovered until
too many miles had passed.
Seated at the yellow table
I let silence
fold around me its
cloud. I gaze up
at my trees in their
grace and I am
In this blanketed
I reclaim my beset mind.
banishes all: gone
are the moneychangers,
the shrill sellers of
or ease, the gunshots of fear,
the bursts of worry, the
dull thud of sadness. Silence
if I start each
morning at the
table with the
On the horizon, notice
the purple cloud
with its vacant glare.
It’s a recent addition,
a spill from the vein
of the body politic.
Two more will make her
regain her slight edge,
but when asked
to share, she told us:
she did not want that.
Back to the Start
In a field
I gaze north, east, west,
searching for you.
I expect to find you.
It isn’t right,
No field, nothing,
here between us.
When I walk, I look
closely at each indent
to see whether I have
lost you in
one of them, but
wait for someone,
something. I wait
for you to find
With Banners Flying
Walk into my house:
taste and see
at every window, color:
rich, deep, inviting,
cashmere or silk,
cotton or rayon,
shawls vivid and touchable
with hanging fringe.
The line of eastern windows
in the dining room
floats delicately with
yellow, pale lime, orange, and rust.
In the living room
inexplicable pink, crimson,
a noisy red circus
arriving from the west.
Olive and spring green dialogue
in the north-facing den.
No metal machinery,
no stiff-lined jacquards
draw dustily across my views
but only color and festoon,
fabric that slides
to let in or keep out
sun-blazed snow shine
or agitation of full moon
or sadness of false dawn
after sleepless night.
A happy consequence
of this colorful collection:
I am free to wear this shawl or that,
to pull down a window covering
that matches the day’s smile.
Three O’Clock Sonnet
Hard to say what wakes me at three in the morning.
I may forget to draw that next breath, a dislo-
cation of the automatic. Paralysis of the center
in the brain that controls those needed actions just
below the level of conscious thought. Might be
a tapping on the window that branches, wind, weather,
can’t explain. My snoring, or attic squirrels.
Sudden nausea, shallow breaths, sweat
in response to the figure of Dread crouched in the corner
where moonlight never reaches. Empty stomach.
A to-do list scrolling through my dreams: none
legible but each item earth-shaking, unnameable,
I may miss you in my forgetful dreams.
Seeing a face
at the window
crows leave off
beneath bird feeder.
Variety in the field:
of spoiled tomatoes,
from the house.
the team of three
summons them to
on road surface.
hawks to chase,
blackbirds to worry
at their nests.
circling the roof
in every day’s
Hard to imagine
We cannot grasp ahead of time
The time our time will end.
And so it would behoove us all
To value the time we spend.
The end may come like a thief in the night
Or as a rainstorm, loudly.
We should live in color, the amp on eleven,
Dancing and singing proudly.
“How we spend our days, of course,
Is how we spend our life.”
So spend your days immersed in loving
Before you encounter time’s knife.