Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Gifts \ Waiting It Out

Alan: Here’s what happens when you mash an old carol through the sieve of incident.
Christmas Gifts
The fleur-de-lis
tracks of the grouse
betray a certain nobility
and superciliousness that,
here in the USA,
we associate, I have to say,
with the French.
Yet this bird that the locals
call "partridge," or more accurately
"pah-tridge" (though it has never
to my knowledge appeared
in our pear tree but rather
frequents the ornamental crab
in the turn-around
(in the snow at the base of which
I notice its footprints
just before dusk
this short afternoon)
where, the time I flushed it,
not knowing it was there
(the time I told you about
when it shot off and
flew straight and at full
speed into our gazebo
screen, bulging it, tearing it
from the molding, and then,
like a wounded plane,
banked and came in
low and wobbling
on a last strafing run
right at me,
so I dropped
as if in sudden prayer
to my knees)
it scattered the calling birds),
looks nothing at all
like a French hen.
Nancy: The long isolation of storm.  Whatever you need, you must find here.
Waiting It Out
In the night, or just before dawn,
fog blew in, heavy.
Heavy hoarfrost on the trees.
At ten it began to snow.
Somewhere, the goshawk waits it out,
but the raven sings.
Garok!  Garok!  across the field
and into the spruce.
We wait.  Day.  Night.
Another day.
The tide may be in, or out,
under the ice, who can tell?
There may be a lane
        fence scratches the snow
        a barn roof.
It’s so easy, after a mile of this,
to be surprised by color,
by rose hips and a squirrel,
or three alder leaves.
After a mile, and no mail,
it’s already dusk.
The alder twig, in a brass pot,
looks Japanese,
and the leaves match the pot,
but your drawing is black and white.
You put away your pencil, and light the lamps.
Another night.
Snow, still.
Closing the cabin door,
I can hear the lighthouse out on the head:
just waiting it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice \ December Gifts

Alan:  Sometimes, in the season of shortest days, the weather can seem animate, refractory, even predatory.
The year backs up:
dog refuses
collar horse
resists halter –
welter of contrary
winds, weird
Geese explode
from the bay:
water kicks
like bullets.
In the alders,
a white rock
jumps: hare,
exposed by snow-melt,
caught naked.
Earth’s axis
The wind
makes a sound
like a beast
in a cave
moving closer,
Nancy: Long dark nights and gray days – we want the early dawns and long twilights of summer.
December Gifts
The tide in the high marsh,
the low sun, slow to stand over the ridge,
the sea smoke .  .  .
I went out wanting the year to turn,
and turned myself instead, turned back
to today, glad to have received
water, light, frost blooming on dry stems.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gray \ The Bay Between The Islands

Alan: Winter hones things to a sharp edge, or dulls them to a blur, sometimes both at once.  Adrift in a drifting landscape, we anchor ourselves with words.
Gray – the snow sees to that.
A bay and some woods linger darkly
in a space of sky, fields, blurred with snow
fallen and falling, falling and fallen.
Faint gray warmth under white, as of pale paper
or pale, thinned-out ink.
A figure stands somewhere in a space called “field,”
bootprints a doubled line of shadow filling with white.
Two shapes emerge from trees to one side.
They could be dogs running,
blurs of larger and smaller, darker and lighter gray.
Looking downslope toward water or gray mud:
bands or belts of trees leading the eye out
into indefinite gray space.
Beyond, hints of pale wooded horizons
stacked, one behind another, showing
gray filtered through gray filtered through white.
The figure stands in a space called “field”
while gray shapes detach themselves from gray woods
behind and to one side.
Someone perhaps is waiting for two dogs to join him,
or for the snow to lighten, to erase his tracks,
or is just waiting.
It is unclear when he will move.
He is gray, and small,
and he is standing very still
in a space called “now.”
Nancy: Brash ice rustles on the shores, a lace edging on a bay transformed knife sharp and steel hard.
The Bay Between The Islands
Not wine and not water,
not silver, not glass,
not a mirror of the sky,
no, this morning
the bay is shardy, slivery,
edgy, as sharp as aa,
Hawaiian lava, as disorderly
as earthquake rubble, cold fire
in the sun, splintered obsidian,
and it is processing with
cymbals and drums, brash.
Shhhhh, say the islands, old
grandmother islands,
shhhhh, say their shawls
and their dark skirts,
shu shu shhhhh.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To My Father's Ghost \ December Rain

Alan: My father’s poems sit in files, folders, binders, a few issues of small magazines, several self-published books.  But the source of his poems remained a mystery to him; I think he would have given up the poems to know their source.
To My Father’s Ghost
Where do the poems come from in the night?
Like tiny fish, nibbling our dreams with soft lips.
Like something found in the bottom of the basket
that we unfold, and are changed forever.
Like sudden anger at the madness of street signs
and dead birds.
Even in full light, they come cowled in a little midnight
of rain and buffeting wind.
As meaningless as the shape breath takes, 
this cold morning. As essential.
If I had known the answer sooner.
Even in the perfect faux daylight.
Nancy:  Rains like this are rare, and take us by surprise.  We may hear “heavy rain” or “coastal flooding” but until we see road washouts, flooded villages, the winter woodpiles and summer cabins floating down to the sea, they’re just words.
December Rain
One inch raises the smelt brook.
Two inches floods the meadow.
Four inches tears at the beaver dam.
Five and the stones shudder
at Bad Little Falls.
And yet it comes, six, seven,
down the Piscataquis, the Penobscot,
from Meddybemps to the Cathance.
Spruce tumbles, loosed from the forest,
over the falls; it rides the Machias.
Eight, nine.
What it wants it takes.
It makes us islands, makes us tiny,
our works fragile, our bays rough and roiling,
clear Cobscook, blue Passamaquoddy.
The falls make their own thunder today,
their own tower of cloud.
Beaver gnawed, a log, end over end
tossing in the wild Machias toward the sea.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

That Fierce Energy \ Woodpile, Thanksgiving Day

Nancy:  Trees fall, pastures fill in with young forest, but the landscape grows full and complex with stores, names, memories.
That Fierce Energy
The thickets were almost pasture
          when time ran out.
He spared nothing, tractor, tree,
          live rock; he fought alders, weather;
          he chainsawed his neighbors with a rough tongue;
          he bit off more than he could chew; he
          helped; bitched; preached.
Right from the beginning I believe he did see
          pasture, thick with sheep; smoke
          rising from stone chimneys;
          all his kingdom sound and green; painted;
          mended; whole and harmonious.
We saw more, and less:
The house unfinished; the jumble of bulldozed stumps
          and man-high weeds; the causes and crusades;
          a raw and chafed look on land and friend.
No one ever really goes, in a small town.
          Ten rough acres full of popple and spruce
          and rotting stumps will be “Buck’s sheep pasture”
          forever.  I watched him sweat wife and kids and stone
          all one summer: those chimneys are his.
Marriages dissolve, but the neighborhood is history,
          indissoluble.  We all own a piece, now, of
          that fierce energy.  No matter how the land goes,
          we’re the owners of record of Buck’s dream.
Alan: Our first winter here, we ordered our firewood late, in tree lengths.  The logger misunderstood our directions and dropped it off a half mile up the lane, where we sweated to get a cord or two chain-sawed and brought down to the house by the pickup load.  Before we could split it, an ice storm encased it all in a half inch of glass.  We spend winter days mopping up the meltwater from wood brought in green to thaw beside the stove for tomorrow, and mornings mopping up creosote that dripped out of the stovepipe through the cold night past.
Now we measure wealth in wood cut, split and piled a couple of years ahead, ready to go in the shed when seasoned.
Woodpile, Thanksgiving Day
piling the firewood.
the white-hearted maple pink-hearted birch.
throwing the cold junks higher than my reach:
             tumulus    cumulous
promising warmth.
not for this winter, no –    not for next winter, no –
               too pink too white too green!
two winters from now.
Will you still be here?     Will I still be here?
“yes” says the firewood whatever the future holds.
“Junk”: a piece of indeterminate size; also a verb, as in “Got your firewood junked up yet?”
“That Fierce Energy” first appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orange \ Deer Season

Nancy: It only took one woman, dead in her own backyard because her white mittens triggered carelessness, to make trips to the well or the woodpile feel less casual, more tense.
Not the maple, not the sumac,
not the old gold faded hackmatack,
no, orange men, at the field edge, the roadside,
drifting between the trees,
garishly, fluorescently, aggressively orange.
Taking the dog for a walk,
I put on my coat, my hat, reach for the orange –
flimsy plastic vest – think “no”,
think of the woman in the white mittens,
think “yes”.
The dog, so small, couldn’t look like a deer?
Couldn’t, but I take an orange bandana
and fasten it around his neck.
He doesn’t care, he goes out, happy,
white flag of a tail flying.
Not a deer, I think, not a deer,
again, over and over, not a deer.
Alan: The four-legged hunters are out there, watching the deer, watching the two-legged hunters too.
Deer Season
All night, the coyotes howl, shredding our sleep.
The dog barks back, ten pounds of courage
behind an eighth inch of glass.
We rise to hard white frost
and talk of strangers at the head of the driveway,
itchy for deer.
  I walk out
to truck tracks, the slots of a doe and lamb,
to scat with fur and bone in it,
the dog silent at the end of his lead, dancing
warily, warily.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

These Gifts Of Moose \ Monk In A Vat

Nancy: Alive they surprise us, arouse the dogs, astonish with their size and otherness.  Packaged they may mean winter meat, a badge of prowess, even a lucky roadkill – or generosity.  I understand and yet feel puzzled.
These Gifts Of Moose
The smell in the thicket
oddly domestic
Loose limbed
long strides
between the cabin and the grass
We measure with our hands
down to the edge of the tide;
across the bay
the alders shake and close
But this, too
a knock a gift a thankyou
a quick shy handshake
Moose? this, these packages?
Alan: And who would the monk be, if he could choose?  
Monk In A Vat
Mornings like this,
I would be a monk
abiding in an old whiskey vat
settled deep in the redwoods
of northern California,
spending days heavy with moisture
muffling all sound of people, machines
in samadhi, attending to mist
dripping from shingled eaves,
watching through the half-round doorway
the small local animals,
their careful routines.
(Warmed by a wrapped ember,
he sits in full lotus, or rises stiffly
to stroll among the immense furred boles,
face impassive as bark, robes mottled as lichens,
recollecting the day’s visitors, a writer and photographer
who will make of his life and his dwelling
something so wished-for, so acute
in the pages of some glossy
it will seem like the tree of heaven itself
to at least one being
gulping coffee, a bite before work
on a morning like this.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Village 04652 \ Buffleheads

Nancy:  Like so many other coastal villages it rises uphill above the bay.  Only the water sets it apart.  The Narrows, a race of tidal change, always in motion as Cobscook Bay fills and empties.
Village 04652
The tides surge through the narrows.
Hill shingled with buildings, canneries
smokehouse, shops
salt scoured, storm gapped
– steeple
Every six hours the tides turn.
Hill crowned with steeple
pickets and green
rising through, rising past
driftwood and fog
Seals follow the water, the fish.
Lunch on the landing
draggers swing on their moorings
fog shreds and re-forms
conquers shingle and steeple and gull
One seal pauses, stares at me, dives.
The tides surge through the narrows.
Alan:  Some days the northwest wind churns the bay and the ducks huddle along the lea shore or, on our side, in the calm backwaters at the saltmarsh edge.
Ducks lift
from gray water
by my approach
except one, near,
turned, facing the
oncoming chop.
Wounded?,  I think.
It is the season.
Swimming here,
blown almost on shore,
watching the flock
disappear against
the distant trees,
watching me.
I turn to go,
to add stress
to her stress,
then see
fluttering this way
the black and white
of the male
above the waves.
He drops beside her,
settles, turns
upwind: two now
moving as one,
a discrete distance
from each other,
from the shore,
from me.
or just tame
with the aplomb
of her kind?
And what brought him,
anyway?  Would we
call it, in ourselves,
"concern," even "worry,”
even "love"?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apple Tree \ The Demise Of The Halloween Pumpkins

Nancy:  Hard to say how old it was, its heart so hollowed out, but a cloud of pink/white in May.  One night a ground burst (mini-tornado) twisted and tore the heavy trunk.
Apple Tree
Trees fall.  Uncounted trees fall,
but they are like men not in my sight or lineage,
and this tree was my friend.  This tree was the link
that promised me continuity beyond fire and abandonment,
and domesticated my dooryard; a friend, this tree.
The wind has taken it.  This wind would remake
the wilderness; it seems to blow foe, foe, always foe,
never friend, testing me.  Now the wind says that my house
will not stand, forever, by this tree.
But the grouse have not heard the slow word of death.
They come at dusk, fill the branches, and I watch
a miracle; they are fed; apple blossoms become grouse
and fly into the night, transformed and transforming,
bearing away into the air, against the wind,
everywhere, this tree.
Alan:  This is the time of year when the coyotes howl closest and a mere porcupine grunting out of sight in the woods seems a portent.
The Demise Of The Halloween Pumpkins
After a decent interval of days
when we’re sure the ghouls have crawled back in their holes,
hauling their sacks of trouble out of the night,
we take the Halloween pumpkins
and cut off their faces.
(Disembodied, staring from the garbage,
these surrogate expressions of ourselves,
our little jokes about mystery and fear.)
We quarter and slice the skulls, pare the mold away
and whittle the rind down to the veined and glowing flesh.
Meaty chunks in the pan,
steamed up for soup or pie or bread,
pumpkins make sturdy meals to fend off the bully cold.
Good food, hearty, these autumn sacrifices,
heads that were trying to say something
we did not wish to hear.
“Apple Tree” first appeared in Cafe Review.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Bear Hunters \ Burning The Barren Ground

Alan: As a non-hunter, it took me awhile to notice that hunting, around here, is an essentially social act.
The Bear Hunters
The man in the bear suit
lies at full stretch beside the road
on his side, with his nose in weeds,
one hand twisted under,
his broad feet splayed
while the man in plaid flannel
bends and prepares to insert
and twist the tag
and start to cut open
the belly.
Other men, a handful, stand around
aimlessly, wanting to be part of
the scene, to not have business
an inconsequential back road
taking on, for a few minutes
through their attentiveness and witness
an air of drama or at the least
Pickup trucks, six or seven,
line the gravel, two with drivers still
at the wheels
as if watching
a drive-in movie.
There is something almost pinched
about their eagerness
as if they feel a gnawing
in the gut.
Only the man at work
and the bear, who has an expression
of something that has not yet got used
to being dead,
look unhungry.
There are traditions
in which it is said that hunters
return in their next lives
as what they have killed, when,
not remembering exactly,
but having a sort of fading image
of what they were before,
they are drawn, curious, or careless,
to the very places of danger
and the men who now hunt them,
and so are killed, in a sense,
at their own hands or, as good as,
hands like those they once had.
Whether or not this is true
there is, on the faces of the men at the roadside,
something enough like a bear’s insatiable hard stare
that it might be possible to think
they could almost be wondering
when the one who has now commenced skinning
will finish,
pull on the thick black pelt
and take off running
into the woods.
Nancy: Hundreds and hundreds of acres of rolling, stony uplands left by the glacier and now covered with Maine blueberries.  It all gets burned every other year.
Burning The Barren Ground
fire running everywhere
men whipping it on, their magic
out in the Phoenix gardens
fire all day
veins of fire running out in the dusk
dying between the stones
What if the women made magic?
Never told anyone?
Today, raining
the fields all sard and onyx after the burn
wet, shining
too early yet for a rising
just stony black fields
naked red stems
silver veins of rain
“Burning The Barren Ground” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.