A poem a week until the entire book is blogged. See also Collected Poems

Monday, May 29, 2017

Beech Lake

Spring, and spring of her life also. She walks
to water to stand behind sedges, thinking of snakes.
And snakes come. First one, lazily, tail

sculling, head high, counterclockwise along
shore, and then another. And then -- another.
All going, she notes, the same way round. Next day,

incorrigible child, she rigs a black fly rod
with stout green line tied, butt end and tip end:
a snare. Back to the sun-long lake. The snakes

continue their rounds. She casts loop, she waits.
One comes, riding high in clear water, black eye
bright. Caught, the looping, livid thing

bends the rod double almost. On close inspection
she speaks its given name: common water snake.
Proudly she touches the twisting ribbon of flesh,

but it turns to sink four quiet rows of teeth
deep in the base of her thumb. Shamefaced, she
lets the bright creature go; it swims sedately,

maddeningly counter-clockwise: nothing
has happened to change its agenda. Rod forgotten,
she sinks to her knees among sedges to watch

fishing men quietly fishing in beech-shade,
shading her eyes with her still throbbing hand.




Monday, May 22, 2017

The Wall

The wall her father built to muscle back
the brown flood waters of the creek still stands.
It leans away from the run and hugs the contour

of serpentine embankment, redeeming years of silt
by interlacing a thousand granite slabs
against the tide of spring and spill of storm.

He could not bear the thought of land he'd
paid for picking up to run away downstream,
ending in useless mingling with other men's dirt

deep at the foot of the continental shelf
ten miles beyond the Chattahoochee's mouth.
So he built. Each day, though tired from climbing

poles in Georgia sun for the Georgia Rail Road,
he slowly removed his cotton shirt and sank
to his knees in the creek, feeling for stones

with his bare toes, prying them out of their beds
with a five-foot iron bar. He heaved them up,
wet and substantial, on the opposite bank,

and judged them, then carried them, staggering
under the load, to their exact spot in the rising wall,
setting them down like Hammurabi's laws, never

to be revoked. The whole he stocked and faced
with wet cement his daughter carried to him,
breathless, in a pair of buckets slung

from a home-carved yoke. Wall done,
he capped it with a pointing trowel, and with
his finger wrote the child's name and the year

nineteen fifty-five, which you will find today
if you scrape back moss. The house has had
six owners since, and of these none has given thought

to who prevented their foundation washing out
with freely offered labor long ago: or perhaps
they have. There's something in a wall's

being there that speaks of someone's having lived
and looked upon the land, giving shape to time
and place. Then taking stone in hand ...




Monday, May 15, 2017

Silence

At this high bridge begins silence, even
as whitecapped water beneath
runs against rock and fills the hearing

with its white roar; this is not the sound
of human trivialities, of men disrespecting
women, women turning aside

with embarrassed smiles from men,
the sound of pulling of tabs,
ripping of aluminum, assorted

purrs and rumbles of fire along the pavement,
wrapped in steel. She gathers her oldest friends,
space blanket, matchsafe, whistle, map,

cheese, bread, water bottle, and poncho,
and stuffs them in her old firefighter's vest.
This is a new place, but deduction finds

the lightly traveled path, snaking across
a landscape steeped in stillness.
The vine maples have yet no leaves,

and the moss-lined nests in their jointures
contain no eggs. There are times
when tall firs on these ridges

creak and suffer, a forest of bent masts
in a wind-smashed harbor: this is no such time.
She has been used to walking alone in forests;

has walked among peaks dawn-rosy
at sunrise, or hunkered under the wuther
of rain-heavy winds, or under smother of clouds

among tree-trunks. Now, for a sudden,
she stops, puzzling her alienness. What
can be different? There are yellow violets,

trilliums, oxalis. She gathers moss and horse lettuce,
a couple of conks, and pebbles, yet connection
is missing. Her heart leaps cold in her chest,

and her pulse rattles. On an impulse she whirls
round on her track, examines
the trail behind her and a hillside of

silences. The silence is plural, but how
do you read absence? What does she not see?
Bear? Cougar? It is a feeling one has

when the sights of the rifle are trained
on the back of one's neck. Often in life
she has felt this, but only in cities

and the lifelines of cities, those rivers
of asphalt and their pageant of strangers.
She must establish herself here, she feels;

some introduction has been omitted. She searches
her vest and locates an old pipe,
a treasure remaining from another life;

it goes where she goes, though she thinks of it seldom.
There is little tobacco in the bowl, but enough,
and she chooses a bit of mountain,

a leaf of kinnikinnik, to add. Self-consciously
borrowing culture, she aims the pipe
at four points of the compass, the grey sky,

the soundless earth at her feet, then sits
fumbling with the lid of her matchsafe.
Fire lit, she sends smoke quietly aloft.

It rises uncertainly, then finds the drift
of cold air sliding downslope into evening.
Whatever seemed angry seems to her angry still,

but gives way before the smoke of offering,
and makes with her a capful of truce: she will not
be eaten today, it seems, tripped up, or smashed.

She will not name the place, "place where I broke
my leg" or "place where I lost my spirit."
In return, she must finish this hike now

and not soon return. Replacing the horse lettuce,
conks, moss, and stones, she wryly smiles
a little: if this is superstition, so let it be,

she says to herself. We do what we have to do.
The silence, which she'd thought a hieroglyph
of an unknown tongue, nods and agrees.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Hall Creek Canyon

When they returned from building the kay-dam
(of logs and drift pins, to make again
a place where salmon might yet spawn)

they divvied up: each hauled a pack frame
loaded with tools and sundries, twice down
the canyon to its end, then up the old fire trails

a mile and a half, ducking vine maples
all the way, to the parked trucks. A third trip
for each would end the business,

but night came on, as it generally does;
they might have come back another day, but
as the moon was full, down they went.

One folded and refolded the old tent
and packed it away, while the others sat,
taking down the old sheepherder stove,

dumping ashes, talking. She would walk ahead,
she said, and slumped off down the scoured
sandstone ledge of the dry wash, admiring,

even in near exhaustion, the old moon
drifting among the snags. She came upon
the canyon with its pools and riffles,

and, regarding the first fire trail
as too steep, trudged on to the second,
wading a beaver pond. Logs at the head,

old growth, lay jackstraw piled, and she footed
along them easily, as she had done
in dozens of such draws. A big cedar sighed,

turned lovingly in its sleep, and with
an almost inaudible click, closed over her shoe.
There was with her no axe, no lever of any kind.

She stood knee deep in black water, too far
from the landing to be heard, neatly caught.
What if her co-workers took that other trail?

She looked back as she let slip her heavy pack,
seeing no movement but the falling moon,
knowing that one alone in such a place

has, while there, no name at all.




Monday, May 1, 2017

Sometimes/Or, sometimes

S o m e t i m e s

                                   this is what you'll come to, picking about
in earth, pulling morning glory roots
like long white worms and heaping them

beside you of a morning: you will become
distant and glum, and as your wrists dry up,
caked in clay, you'll look around you, and

not your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your oak and ash,
your three brave maples rattling in the breeze,

your small house bracketed in lilacs, breathing smoke,
your woodshed stacked roof-high,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your geese, your ducks, your pear trees in bright bloom
will rid you of the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming the sun will come out, which now
it does, things won't seem quite that bad,
and yet you will walk stooped, with furrowed

brow, into the house for a late cold lunch
without words, for there are no words
to share what it was the cold ground

said to your hands just now.




O r,  s o m e t i m e s 

                                        you'll come to this, lovingly rooting
in earth, gently setting to one side
fat worms, watching them

sink from sight with shrugs of their nonexistent
shoulders. As your wrists dry up, caked
in clay, you'll look around you, and

your small red barn, your irises,
your bamboo patch, your ash and oak,
your three unfurling maples whispering in the breeze,

your white house bracketed in lilacs, breathing
smoke, your woodshed stacked with fir,
your mint and parsley putting on new life,

your pears and apples, your geese in their bright plumes
will bring to you the thought of what this is
that you are digging, bit by troweled bit.

Assuming that the clouds will come, which now
they do, you will take things as they are,
and so you simply walk, with even-tempered

gaze, toward the house for a late cold lunch:
one without words, for there are no words
to share what it was your hands

said to the green earth even now.





Today and Tomorrow

Polyhymnia walks between beds critical of eye, noting the way blades of corn have curled upon themselves, rattling in hardly any breeze...