DETOUR

DETOUR

 

Spattering of almost-snow on the windshield.

Derelict barns, old pastures gone to brush.

A few horsey places with megahouses,

a small organic farm. I’m a Vermonter. 

I know that all back roads sooner

or later lead to somewhere I recognize.

This one—a self-selected detour

around construction on the highway

between the hospital and home—winds through

vaguely familiar land. I know I’m heading west. 

It’s still the Valley, my valley.

And here around the bend a cluster

of houses, and beneath the clouds I see

the mountains and the long lake’s gleam.

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

FOUR POEMS FOR ELIZABETH

Feb. 1904–Sept. 1998

1.

You always made me tea.

The love and sorrow of your life

tangible in your kitchen

as sunlight through the windows:

your husband dead, your son, 

barn crumbled, pastures overgrown.

 

You carried the tray yourself. 

Slow, but I always get there.  

At the table you poured Earl Grey 

from the green pot into thin cups,

gave me homemade cake, a linen napkin.

 

Outside, daffodils and appletrees,

irises, roses, blew wild in tangled beds.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to me,

here, alone in this house?  I’ll die?

Your elegant French gesture of dismissal, 

the amusement in your eyes.

 

2.

One day I said had no time for tea

but you would not let me go:

 Nonsense!  No time! 

We stood by the sink, 

nibbled date cookies from a tin.

More;  they’re so good.  

I’ve been saving them for you.  

Have more.

 

The first stroke carried you back 

to the house by the lake

where you spent seventy summers.

You laughed from the hospital bed,

your eyes open to the sky. 

Waves shimmered through your ceiling.

Can you smell the water?

Can you hear the gulls?

 

When that last boat came to carry you away 

 you shrugged and smiled again.

Home or abroad, it doesn’t really matter.

There’s goodness everywhere I go.  

 

3.

The day you died, I was picking apples,  

snapping them easy off the trees.

Above the orchard, two ravens

and a red-tailed hawk spiraled

in a kettle of rising air 

and I heard your voice.  

Acceptance, you said, remember.

Remember, to every thing a season.  

 

When the harvest was over

I drove to your house alone.

Someone had raked the leaves from your garden, 

piled pumpkins on the wide stone step.

Under the rippled clouds

a ragged scatter of snow geese

so high I could barely hear their call.

 

4.

You’d had a sheepdog years ago

who woke you one November night.

Your husband got up to open the door,

saw the heavy falling snow.

That dog went up the hill to find the sheep.

We didn’t even know it was snowing.

She put them all in the barn, 

came in, lay down like nothing had happened

Why can’t people be like that?

Pay attention to things?

 

I don’t leave my friends,

I told you, but I did.

Somehow, with all the miles between,

I could not find a time.

 

We sat one afternoon 

in your cooky-scented kitchen,

looked out at the snow falling on your garden.

You began Frost’s poem about the crow

and the hemlock, and I joined in.

We laughted to know

we loved it best.

 

I would like one more cup of tea with you,

just one more.

 

 

(It’s been 20 years, and I still miss her.)

RALPH NADING HILL CONTEST WINNER, MARCH 31, 2004

OAK AND MAPLE and FOUR LITTLE POEMS

OAK

Drop your leaves for now.

Stand alone in the cold,

squirrels sheltering

in your hollows.

 

Under your feet,

forgotten acorns already

swell, each holding

your pattern encased.

 

Length of day, 

strength of sun, 

depth of rain, 

the air, 

 

the axe,

your future 

contingent 

on the world.

 

 

MAPLE

Sweet ladies in green, 

whispering secrets, 

flirting with birds, 

drawing sugar from the sky.

 

Bold ladies in scarlet, 

throwing their favors 

profligate to the winds, 

the soils, the streets.

 

Skeletons of ladies, 

cracking 

their knuckles 

in the night.

 

Generous ladies–

oh how generous!–

filling our mouths 

with blood made of light.

 

 

4 little poems

1.

You see what is there:

the dying trees.

What can the sun do?

The wind?

 

2.

Learn to worship dirt,

to worship water.

Under your feet is

every thing you need.

 

3.

Do not waste your mind

on the future.

All you have is seed

to plant today.

 

4.

At the end, abundance

of distinction. Like human

hands, no duplication.

Every loss a loss.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

NEWS FROM THE FRONT

Meanwhile, the wrens who nest

in the wooden pole that holds up

the clothesline are feeding their hatchlings.

 

All day long, they come and go,

poke bugs into the dark hole

where the babies eat, and grow.

 

The dog barks on the porch.

A great-crested flycatcher rests

for a minute on a blooming branch

 

of dogwood. I sit on an overturned

flowerpot in the garage, watching

through a dirty window.  A chipmunk

 

squeals and runs away. A breeze

flashes through the grass. A red-eyed

vireo sings on and on.

IT’S A WINDY DAY

IT’S A WINDY DAY

 

Mother Hölle’s coiling 

       up thin threads of whirling

             rain. Tick, I hear her reel 

click. Deer on tiptoe carve a twisty 

         path to the curving

               creek where swallows gyre

at hatching flies encircling

         boys who cast and spool

                 at trout turning

through water’s whorl.  

          In the spinning

               sky, silk  dragons entwine,

                                             their tails entangle

                                                      in the wind.

 

 

June 5, 2009

PROMISE

PROMISE

 

We keep showing you:

 

The little frogs, the birds.

Islands and mountains,

drowned rivers, 

fertile fields.

Brown leaves out of season.

 

Trees move so slowly.

 

Don’t let dread freeze you;

ice is deadly as heat.

Keep moving. 

Stay together.

Stamp your feet.

 

And promise us 

 

you’ll save something:

one sparrow, 

one sapling.

One patch 

of hallowed ground.

 

From 2015.

WALPURGIS NACHT

WALPURGIS NACHT

Last hold of winter, grip of dark and cold,

our times of gathering close by the fire.

Tomorrow the maiden will strew flowers,

tomorrow the furrow, the scattered seed.

But tonight, once more belongs to the old

who know to sit quiet and count the stars.

Blessed sameness in the passing of years—

mountain snows flowing from river to sea,

trout lily leaves poking out from the mould,

rhythm of courting and birthing and tears.

Shall we gather tonight on the mountain?

Shall we sing together the last winter hymn?

Already the children dance by the fountain.

In the light of the sun, our fire grows dim.