When you lose a city

it’s not just buildings and bars,

coffee shops and theaters,

it’s a realm of memories, 

of interactions and greetings,

a changing out of rivers 

and how they relate to the land 

and to the sky. The loss 

is of voice and gesture, who you are 

in a place, a hum of who you once 

were, of what you still cling to. 

It’s a walk down a street 

you once knew, but that doesn’t 

seem to remember you now, 

a new pizza parlor, a boarded-up 

building, that catch-up period 

between friends who haven’t 

seen each other in a long time 

that begins with a question 

about who you are now when 

you’re not exactly sure of the answer 

in this place anymore. It’s your heart 

in your feet, holding steady 

to two worlds, one you knew once 

before the losing, and one now.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

If I were, I am

If I were a forest, I would breathe 

right now, while there’s still time.

I would spread my leaves 

like a lusting after sky. I’d reach 

my shapes, my shades of green 

and gray to blue and cloud, 

to light, to illumination, 

to all we dream this life to be.

If I was a river, I would call 

to snow down the shaded land, 

welcome it to my body, 

to my frontier of wet and quench. 

I would sing a hopeful melody 

into tunnel of tongue and throat.

If I was the earth of Earth, the soil, 

dirt, sand, or loam, I would sift 

through the air, fly whirlwinded

to river, to lake, to ocean. 

I’d be unafraid to take space, 

to move with the breeze. 

I would remember I too am nature 

and nature is of me, my body 

of water, the dusty dirt shedding 

of my skin bark is part of the song.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Prayer

Trees and soil pray with wind

and if there’s no wind, they pray 

with stillness. If they are unmoved, 

they are closer to themselves. 

Wind prays in stillness to find its shape 

and prays in tree branches to hear 

the harp strings of winter, prays 

in ground leaves to shake the land, 

prays in green buds to awaken

the cardinal, for color to bloom 

a spirit of life out of Earth 

in places where my face is not known, 

where I tiptoe upon the rock 

of mountains who are in constant prayer 

to sky and sun. The sun prays to darkness, 

realizing it cannot see everything 

in the light. In the heaven of goodwill, 

of humility, and of compassion, 

our own begging becomes a rhythm 

of prayer, divine like a being who prays 

through their very existence, a prayer 

embodying form, movements, 

and one’s entire being, in the lungs 

and on the lips. No knuckles, 

no fingers, manicured or callused, 

can pry through this faith, these prayers, 

how they are lived, how they are voiced 

like the trees, soil, and wind.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Calculation of Water

The smell of rain on dry dirt 

is a measurement of drought. 

Away from the desert, we don’t 

talk about drought as much. We’re 

concerned about it, but at a distance. 

I make vanilla rooibos tea 

with kettle water on mornings

when the air isn’t pushed down 

by humidity. One common mistake 

is to believe there’s no problem here 

with water. Distance is fallacy 

when we talk about there being 

almost two-thousand miles between 

the open-mouthed cooler now full

of collected brown tea water 

that we left out on the deck this past week 

and fire smoke hovering over thirsty 

desert land, prayers in flames. 

Make a map for me where your tea water

sits on your stove all the way to my kettle, 

the land where you are and the land 

where I am. Fill up the kettle 

with rainwater. Fill up the kettle 

with water from river. I’m not even sure 

what the river would say to this.

The equation for rain is the absence 

of all the car exhaust. I read 

about fish being filled up 

with anti-depressants, heart meds, 

other pharmaceuticals. Fish water 

is the length of the water for my tea, 

the depth of yours. Every day the rain 

is ours, even if we go without.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Against the tides of war

Some of the best dancing 

happens at home in the kitchen, 

in the living room. I don’t often

dance, but sometimes a body 

needs to shake off shame

of the world. Right now, I dance 

as if there were a deep ocean 

at the meeting of my thighs, 

one there to keep invasion 

at bay, a noble prevention 

of blown-out buildings, 

of bowed heads. All 

of the horrors that go 

with war. We have been 

watching them unfold, 

shocked, even though 

we knew they would come, 

knew they would be there 

in this new war. 

*

Long ago, the goddess looked 

straight ahead like a deer watching,

like a wolf, like a lion, a bear. 

She cast spells of love and justice 

with each spoken word. 

The goddesses today 

have been made into statues 

with lowered gazes 

as if the air were already dust.

*

I dance in the kitchen 

with lights on, music eases 

out of speakers. I want to dance 

hard enough to sweat, for rain 

to fall, for peace to be 

a spell we can still cast.

—Liza Wolff-Francis

Waiting for Tragedy

(For the people of Ukraine)

Today, we stare at the architecture of war,
how core and studs crumble and quake
after an explosion. It seems we have lost,

the ways we look at our humanity,
forgotten how to connect with wildflowers
if we don’t own them. I peek, as I can,

from my screen into the blown-out
buildings to try to uncover something deeper
about this attack, to understand

the appeal of killing another human,
of taking of their cups and saucers,
their quilts, their children, their shoes,

their photos. We can chalk it all up
to power, but it seems like we’re making it
okay again to lose lives, to invade

a country, a people, to steal a place.
The humanness that spills
from the mounting bloody rubble

of war is stuck between tanks and guns.
The couches, baby toys, wooden tables
where families sat to share a meal,

a daily routine, toasts, and memories
left behind to the bombing of humanity,
the grotesque secret of us revealed.

The unsacred sacrilege of murder
that war calls for, sketch of bravado
or terror until collapse;

the tallest bombed buildings of homes
speak first with their height,
then with a stumble in the wind.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Dear loved one

who finds my writings after I die,

This is a confession. I want you to see me 

through my words. In life, 

I wanted someone to see me, 

perhaps we all do in some way 

or another. See how tortured I was 

about the future of our planet, 

of our children, about their promised 

adventures to famous rainforests 

and sunsets of gold that might hold them 

in a light that makes this life endurable, 

even incredible. I want you to see 

how I fell in love with art and writing,

with the way artists create 

with pieces of their soul they can’t part with, 

but in the end, let the pieces go, the way 

colors fade in and out of being each hour. 

Tibetan sand artists create the most 

intricate designs in chalk, leave them 

to rain, wind, time. I tried 

to create beauty like that. Nothing 

is permanent, I know, but I worried 

about why our world didn’t change 

for better. In the end, maybe 

it doesn’t matter. I hoped to form 

some truth between flight patterns 

of butterflies and buzzards. I imagined

something different, but in all of it,

I just lived day to day, being human.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

The trees spread out

At sundown, we said goodbye

to several species, knowing 

at dawn they would be murdered 

for their bodies. I wonder 

sometimes what my mother thinks 

about the trees being taken, 

about the planet having a fever, 

ground hardening, water coming 

with storms of rage. Here, 

there is frozen grass, crunching

under foot, a wildness sprung 

from weeds. The cool tint 

of winter light in branches, a quiet 

before a slaughter of aging trunks 

and the wisdom they grew with.

I wonder if my mother knows 

what projection is, if she would say 

I project my own humanity and fear 

onto the trees or if she knows 

I hug at least one of these mammoths 

every day, no matter the color of sky, 

no matter the temperature of earth.

.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Winter came again this year

brought snow that covered 

the dirt gravel yard 

of the house across the street,

dressed it up in a wedding gown

until neighbor kids walked circles all over it,

left trails of footprints, laid down 

and made snow angels. One of their coats, 

the bright red, painted mud when he stood, 

the ground, a stained hem,

breathed through the white.

.

Winter came again this year

with the promise of cold air, 

but hitched to wind, like a one-night stand

that went on over and over again every week 

until we called it a four-month affair,

then wind finally ran off with spring,

howling at winter to leave.

.

Winter brought cold and snow 

one last time, as if trying to show off, 

to show force, to tell us how much 

we need the quiet hibernation.

We tried to tell winter we were grateful 

for the dark, for cold fingers and toes, 

for the alone time, the inhale-like gasp

of cold air, but spring had already 

colored the parks, the trees, the forest.

And winter left again just as expected 

without holding on too hard.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

Twilight Apache Plume

My tendrils reach to sun
even in twilight, the voice 
of each one comes to life, 
like a collective hum, 
a soprano praise to sky 
and to light even on the shortest day,
when everywhere the darkness 
opens wide, like the mouth of a cave.
In my stillness, I wade in, 
slowly, hide the sound
darkness struggles to let out. 
Even as I find myself between 
the teeth, in the swallow-throat 
of cavern into belly, the fluidity 
of darkness hung around my neck 
like jewelry, but more necessary, 
more imminent, like this cycle 
we are a part of without ever 
having signed up for it.
As soon as I have come to terms 
with the bitter taste of this song 
of darkness in my mouth,
light begins to emerge. 
I see it in the colors I become, 
hear my song at a higher pitch 
as I see the lips of the cave, 
exit through them again.
Tomorrow, I will remember and forget 
this and the next day too, 
when the sun comes. 
I will stand tall before it, 
and I will reach for it, reach.

-Liza Wolff-Francis

This poem was for a prompt our group wrote to in honor of the late Julie Brokken and as an ekphrastic piece to one of her photos “Twilight Apache Blume.”

Julie Brokken’s website is beautiful with her art. You can see this photo: “Twilight Apache Plume” at this link at the bottom of the page. It is the next to last photo. Here is the link:

http://www.juliebrokken.com/botanical-beings.html