One of My Deaths
Driving on the coast late at night,
unable to sleep for dreaming,
headlights opening the road far ahead,
farther it seemed than I had ever seen
past my imagination and the promise of good,
I remembered his voice
rumbling softly in his body next to me,
when suddenly on my left
across the center line, where I
might have easily strayed,
a car without headlights glided by,
silent, fast, glowing darkly
under the quarter moon like a shark,
paint peeling menacingly
white and gray—like a shark,
like death in dark sea waters.
The ancient ones gasped, nodded to each other,
“This time it came from the left.”
They know how close death comes
as we are living our lives,
how easily we stray over the line.
They wanted me to know,
they wanted me to remember,
they want me to forget.
For Her, Ohlone Woman
I like to think, my friend,
you sat here on this very hill
three hundred years ago
and almost knew
as the wind came to you
like a coat slung over the arm
of the ocean about ready to depart,
that we are not alone,
women with the black moon
inside, calling for
the lightning bolt to strike.
Drowning in the Air
At sixteen I dreamed my father was a fish
planted tail-down in a flowerpot.
He was drowning in the air.
His eyes would not stop looking into me
as I poured pitcher after pitcher
of water over the whitening gills.
The morning after, I walked to school
slowly in sunlight. I remember
at what corner, at which acacia blooming
I saw the dream again and felt
the old purpose of my life, the crucial/
futile effort to keep him alive for me,
as if he were half myself caught here
for only a while, wanting to stay longer
than some elemental law allowed.
I think of my hand around the thick handle
and my hand on the clay pot,
the water flowing between,
and my father dying before my heart.
I did not want to walk away,
even to fill the pitcher.
Mary Dederer was born in St. Louis and at thirteen moved to Stockton, California, where she went to high school. After getting scholarships to Stanford and graduating from there with her B.A. and M.A., she never left the Bay Area, teaching at the old Mountain View High School, at Los Altos High School, and at the new Mountain View High School. In 1986, she began teaching writing at San Jose State and also worked with Poets in the Schools, having the pleasure of teaching young writers from the second to twelfth grades. In 2003, she retired from teaching and worked part-time as a rater of online essay tests. Around 2004, she was invited to be part of a poetry group and has been enjoying their company and their poetry ever since. They have encouraged her and her writing, and through them and other poets and friends, she has “grown steadier and more open, learning the richness of E. M. Forster’s words, ‘Only connect.’”