Sunday, December 19, 2010
All night its ululations rave
through its hollows. I fear
it will uproot and stalk the last
mile to my house and press
its grimace to my bedroom window
and demand I awaken and ease,
somehow, its stale desperation.
I don’t know what killed it or why
it has assumed this countenance,
but its oval gaping troubles me
the way the wind troubles whatever
remains of its pith. Last spring
a few buds exuded, a few leaves
trembled on the tips of branches,
but they fell early, leaving the tree
agape with that terrible grimace.
Now its warped geometry howls
with a grief I haven’t felt since
my oldest friend died of whiskey.
Awoken from a dream of unloved
and unfathered children, I loom
at the window and dare that tree
to present itself. The cry
of winter fills black and white spaces
etched by the glow of a planet
sinking in the west. The moon set
hours ago, and cold dawn plots
to cancel whatever the night owes
people like me. Back to bed
to cuddle with a purring cat,
the shriek of the ghost tree fading
as the wind shrugs out to sea.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Still on the trees, apples tough
as knuckles absorb the gloom.
The light over Fall Mountain
looks like the marbled endpapers
of a nineteenth-century book..
Biting into a wormy apple
called Thomas Jefferson after
its original grower, I taste
something cosmic, a distance
both sweet and bitter and only
faintly sour, a place far away
yet too familiar to fear. People
chat among the trees, swapping
hybrid apple stories, tasting
various non-forbidden fruits.
Pears and peaches, one plum tree
share the orchard plot. Chewing
Jefferson’s hybrid by myself
in the lukewarm atmosphere,
I lean against my shadow and trust
the shaggy grass to cushion me
if the light shifts and I fall.
The voices approach. Two friends
round the path and approach me.
I look as blasé as possible
and toss the core in a weed-pile
to compost for the future.
The orchard-keeper asks if I like
his favorite old variety. Yes,
yes, I like the way it complements
the sullen mountains, the sickly
but apologetic sky, the smell
of approaching rain; and the way
it nourishes a sense of loss
ornate as the laden trees.
The apples came from Morningstar Farm in Rockingham, Vermont. The photo overlooks Morningstar's pastures toward Fall Mountain in the distance.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
A heavy but graceful steel frame
supported by four tiny casters.
A single big clockwork gear
and something like a ship’s wheel
of equal size. I dare you
to turn that wheel and engage
this rusty but potent machine.
What does it do? You don’t know?
Turn the wheel and the planet
shifts on its axis, tilts more
to the right. You’ll hardly notice,
but the winters will get longer
and the summers will shrivel one
or two degrees. New Zealand,
however, will warm a little,
and the Antarctic icecap shrink
by several million cubic yards.
You think this antique device
doesn’t work anymore? Try it—
go ahead, risk our grandchildren’s
future by changing the climate
with a single turn of that wheel.
You claim it won’t budge because
the rust has lingered for decades?
I’ve a quart of oil in the trunk
of the car. Let’s douse this thing
and get it working fluently;
and maybe by turning the wheel
the other way with heroic
grunts and groans we’ll reverse
the industrial revolution
and undo some terrible curse
we hadn’t known applied to us.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
As we pass the Jaffrey graveyard
beneath a thunder-knuckled sky
you note the lime-white statue
of Jesus lurching across the lawn,
marauding. He must be looking
for a fresh grave, you insist,
one with the brain still edible.
You think Jesus is a ghoul?
No, a zombie, and besides,
that statue isn’t really Jesus
but a zombie neatly dusted
with cake flower so he can hide
in sight until conditions ripen.
Lightning impales a hillside
a mile away. Thunder rocks
our little car. A sheet of rain
drags across the view and occludes
the clumsy figure prowling
among the overpriced monuments
grim towns like Jaffrey prefer.
At the stop sign I check the mirror.
Jesus stands in the road staring
with blank white eyes. Can he see us?
I turn north and drive as fast
as the baptized highway allows,
past D.D. Bean and the bridge
over the Contoocook. Jesus
won’t follow us. If a zombie,
he’s too sluggish and awkward,
and if a ghoul he’s a necrovore,
and won’t come after the living—
even those tenderized by sin.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
At this junction, railroads crossed
before the ’34 freshet
collapsed a couple of bridges.
One remains, unused but intact,
curving toward the Bennington
paper mill. The other’s a path
by a marsh of beaver lodges.
We note one large pine felled
by excessive overbites, many
saplings trimmed to handy size.
In a daze of vicious deerflies
we turn back along the abandoned
roadbed to find the car we parked
half a mile away. Nothing to say
about the horrors of the world
today: the threat of nuclear war
in Korea, oil spill in the Gulf,
the shooting of relief workers
off the Gaza coast. We slog along
with silence masking our faces,
plowing the plush air ahead of us.
When both railroads still functioned,
trains ran from Keene to Nashua,
looping around the Dublin ridge
and crawling through these marshlands
to pause at a station here, then pass
a ball signal and trundle east
toward Greenfield. You don’t care
about the geography but focus
inward, on grief you won’t share
because no man understands.
The roadbed we’re walking ran south
to Peterborough. You don’t care
if it ran to Moscow and Kiev,
the spangles of deerflies jewelling
your regal but gray-streaked hair.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
At the Bellows Falls crossing
a leased Santa Fe locomotive,
blue and yellow, backs a string
of cement cars across the river
toward the North Walpole yard.
You would enjoy seeing this stray
machinery from the Far West
groaning across the rusty bridge.
It invokes your California years,
the dust of the Central Valley
inflamed by the Santa Ana winds,
the Mexican pickers sweating
in fields that stretch from one slab
of mountains a hundred miles
to the other. Did you feel the land
tremble where one railroad crossed
another, subtler than earthquakes?
Did you admire the gray and red
Southern Pacific diesels cruising
from Oakland to Sacramento?
Maybe you don’t find railroads
as interesting as Thoreau did—
the hoot and stammer inscribing
the spirit of commerce on the green
silence of Walden. Sometimes
he hated its vibrancy and greed;
and sometimes I think the etching
of railroad on landscape ended
Jefferson’s agrarian dream for good.
But today in cloudy Vermont light
this alien diesel engine smiles
with effort and I smile back
at it; and maybe you also,
as you crouch over powerful texts,
are smiling with intuitive glee,
amused by what’s so childish in me.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
That shabby old house by the lake:
green flaking paint, trees tucked
so close the trunks shoulder up,
the roof encrusted with many
seasons of leaf-fall. A nice lot—
two hundred feet of lakefront
behind that fringe of brier and shrub.
Of course it’s haunted. Why else
trespass in those dank gray rooms?
Look at how the sofa slouches
below that amateur painting
of sheep mowing a bristly meadow.
Sniff the thick air and appreciate
the mold and mildew that smother
the reek of excrement. You shudder
because in your native land one
expects to find a corpse or two
brewing behind the furniture.
Here the dead keep their distance
and only their stories remain
to bore us. Yes, that’s a face
peering from the dark at the top
of the stairs. We won’t go up there.
That face has retained that fixed gaze
for many years. Maybe a ghost,
maybe a living person annoyed
by our presence. Let’s go outside
and consolidate our psyches.
The stink of this interior
both depresses and exhilarates.
Look back at the upstairs window.
Note how dark and smoky it looks.
Good thing the trees fence this house
so closely. We wouldn’t want it
to drift even a few yards further
for fear it would poison the lake.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Slow Depth Plotting
On my birthday snow has buried
my favorite junk car in the woods.
Naked seat-springs glower with rust.
The steering wheel, black cracked Bakelite,
looks futile. The overall slouch
of the ruined vehicle suggests
that “rendezvous with destiny”
New Wave filmmakers adored,
although they never convinced me.
Meanwhile I’ve missed my rendezvous
with you, a glancing blonde presence
in the corner of my eye. Even
in the woods beside the river
I catch a flash of pale blue dress,
too flimsy for upcountry winter.
Your love of mime exposes you
one sly gesture at a time,
each imperceptible, ill-defined.
The river looks solid enough
to support an armored division.
Its snow-smoothed trough bears prints
of a dozen modest animals
busy with animal business.
No black hint of current betrays
the slow depth plotting. The dam
five miles upstream at Bennington
stalls ambitions rivers sometimes
allow to overwhelm themselves.
The junk car has rested here forty
or fifty years. It came to rest
with sculptural integrity intact.
The car in which you died, however,
crushed itself so humbly nothing
of its original form survived.
Do you remember the slam and smash
that collapsed your skull? You dodge
and feint in the corner of my eye
and your presence on my birthday
explains our divergent lives.