Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Straight Bay, After Bruegel \ Mackerel Fishermen

Alan:  “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” revisited.
Straight Bay, After Bruegel
In the foreground, a man bent, hoeing.
His neighbor has come to mow,
the tractor leaving a green wake as it dwindles into the cove in the woods,
rounds it and approaches, churring.
They want to make the old land pay,
not money, but a living.
The man dreams of corn among the rose shoots, hawkweed.
His neighbor watches for boulders in the young growth
of alder, spruce, hackmatack, hardhack.
They are intent on their work,
do not see, in the noon of half-tide,
the bare leg splash, the feathers
scatter on the bay.
Nancy: We don’t scorn the passive fish, we catch them and eat them.  But the mackerel, preceded by the leaping rush of their terrified prey, alway meant something more than a meal.
Mackerel Fishermen
When the fish are, they are.
Beating on the empty sea, we wait.
Their lives touch ours just here,
when they come scything death against our wait.
The fish are hunters.
They cut an arc of fear across the bay.
We wait the time when, taut, we share one life,
one hunt for life.
When the fish are, they are.
Til then, we wait.
“Mackerel Fishermen” first appeared in East of the Light (Stone Man Press and Slow Dancer Press, 1984)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking Up At Night \ A Dream The Shape Of Water

Alan:  On calm nights in late June, the air above the fields is one big firefly dance.  Why seek further?
Looking Up At Night
The jet, its wing-lights flashing steadily,
passes southwest to northeast —
the slow grumbling roar trailing after.
A firefly, blinking its more interesting language,
passes east southeast to west to north to north northwest,
rising, saying so much in silence
against the trees and sky.
Nancy: I learned about fish holes, how to build with old salt-hardened wood, how to use the tides to mend a hull, and so much more, truths and tales from a generous and improbable teacher.
A Dream The Shape Of Water
                                                       for KM
Last night he came into a dream and said remember
he was full of stories do you remember that day
at Head Harbour oh of course I remember and in the dream
we had both forgotten that now he remembers nothing
and so we laughed about the summer we built the smokehouse
about the first haddock I caught how stubborn I was
how the line cut my palm about waiting for the new moon
and hauling the boat off the shore on a high tide
with the dinghy about my big dog swimming behind
the boat in the cold water until we gave up and
hauled her aboard.  In the dream he was a man strong
in his back strong in his mind not the man
in the bed who has lost yesterday and forgotten
today so it was too soon to say in the dream, yes,
Ken, I will always remember you handing me
the oar, saying, “Pull!” you will always be there
in that now when the tide takes the weight
and we lean together, braced, and pull.
“A Dream the Shape of Water” first appeared in Urthona magazine.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Commute \ Some Other Lies They Told Me

 Alan:  Sometimes another dimension – of memory? longing? – cuts in and scatters us like figures in a cubist painting.
The Commute
Without warning, his heart broke
open, spilling the contents of an entire
perfect summer day: the emollient air;
the paint-by-numbers dawn; the hammock
gazing odalisque-like from the shade;
the light within the shade spackling the underside of boughs
as if reflected from a pool or pond;
the cries of children playing, delightfully faint and far;
attar of roses and of new-mown lawn;
the hum of pollinators at their worthy task;
the wind-up bobolink’s robotic song;
subliminal recessional of thunder in late, cooling afternoon;
promise of fireflies jigging and winking at treetops
under a coquetish moon;
a sip of Chardonnay, a canapé, a Thou...
all this and more poured forth,
cooled, clotted, darkened, dried.
Meanwhile, eyes fixed, his mind continued on its course
from inconsequential A to insignificant B
along the straight line, l, of routine,
and as it did so, something in him
he had never thought to notice, spoke.
Nancy: Still, if you’re lost on a mountain, following the water downhill is probably a good idea.
Some Other Lies They Told Me
1. The sea is blue because the sky is blue.
except that this sky is nearly white
hardly blue but Bluets are white like this sky
is blue and steel is sometimes blue like this sea deep
polished gray not blue I see this with my own eyes
2. No two snowflakes are alike.
except when they come in flocks like sheep
and jump my fences if not alike they are certainly
of one mind and more alike than any sheep I ever saw
not one I could call by name or single out with my crook
3. Water always runs downhill.
unless you live by the sea unless you live
by the bay where water willfully runs up the little rivers
or sometimes runs from the wind where it will
carrying mummichogs and bladder wrack into the pasture
I have seen this with my own eyes.
“Some Other Lies They Told Me” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Heavily Flapping Are The Bustards' Plumes" \ Humming To Myself

Alan:  I now know that our fish and game department has a project to establish wild turkeys, here where they never occurred naturally.  The title  comes from an ancient Chinese poem of frustration and complaint.
"Heavily Flapping Are The Bustards’ Plumes"
"Heavily flapping are the bustards’ plumes."
The turkey, new unwanted neighbor,
skulks at the top of the lane.
Back!  O destroyer of gardens!
Heavily, booted and wet-kneed,
I tramp the lane, checking for washouts,
every culvert choked and gurgling.
The dog – old at last – coaxed from sleep…
for this?  Still, his nose, better
than all our eyes, seeks news.
At the mailbox, we turn
the half mile back
into the rain's slant,
the turkey – I am sure of it –
leering from the alders, watching
our diminishing, soaked backsides,
sensing, in our movement
and direction, garden.
“Heavily Flapping Are The Bustards’ Plumes,” from Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, eds. (Indiana University Press, 1975)
Nancy: Such vivid memories.  We were our own instant image makers and they remain unfaded, wrapped in sound and odor and the textures of bark and wool.
Humming To Myself
Awoke to summer.
Drank cold sweet water.  Ate fish from a slow river.
Was lost in cornfields.  Walked through trees
growing thick over limestone beds.
Whispered to old grampa, who had marched for the South.
Carried peonies to the graves, my father’s mother,
my mother’s father, my grandmother’s grandpa,
who took up his gun for the North.  Sat on a blanket
in the graveyard.  Listened to the stories.
Learned the seeds of the corn and the squash.
Learned the paw paw, the black walnut, the sycamore,
the sassafras.  Drank the tea of the sassafras.
Dug dandelion greens.  Ate dandelion greens wilted
in hot vinegar.  Saw black tongues of cloud.
Watched my father break slabs of coal.  Touched
the fern in the heart of the coal.  Learned to sing
Shall We Gather At The River.
Coughed all night.  Coughed all winter.
Made the wool patches of my winter quilt into hills
and valleys.  Made cabins in my hills and rivers
in my valleys.  Breathed steam, spicebush filling
my lungs, said it was the mist rising from my rivers.
Ate soup made from an old hen.  Ate my corncakes
with molasses.
Made a shrill noise with a willow whistle.
Watched the peonies open.  Helped spread the blankets
in the graveyard.  Helped unpack the food.
Walked on the road with the tall popple.  Watched
my cork bob on the water.  Made a small hot fire.
Cooked fish rolled in cornmeal.  Cooked them in bacon
grease.  Helped Mama shave soap.  Dipped water from
the rain barrel.  Folded sheets.
Went to my grandmother, maker of salves and plasters,
with cuts and splinters and cinders in my knees.
Was tutored in stoicism.  Was given a handful of
mignonette.  Learned to can tomatoes.  Climbed
the cherry tree with a lard pail.  Had a swing
hung in the rose arbor.  Had another swing hung
from a high high limb.  Came down from the sky and
learned to make pies.
Fell asleep waiting for the stars to fall.
Fell asleep on a blanket on the grass, with my father’s
strong voice behind me singing.  Yes,
we’ll gather at the river.  The beautiful,
the beautiful river.  The beautiful, the shining,
the silver river.
“Humming To Myself” first appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Indelible \ Three Ways Of Seeing The Raven

Alan: An ordinary occasion that only found its meaning years later.
As a kindness, we invited
the new widower to dinner, and,
in the darkening well
of silence after the meal,
asked him to demonstrate
his hobby, calligraphy.
So this slight man, who seemed less
racked by sorrow than compressed,
uncapped his pen and wrote,
passing the evening until
he could extract himself
from our solicitude.
I sometimes imagine him
still, alone in the afternoon,
practicing his uncials, italics,
majuscules and minuscules,
left to right, sheaf after sheaf,
a minor art, but sufficient,
showing that grief
is something one swims through,
stroke by elegant stroke,
the indelible blue-black
looping and curling behind:
a medium in which one can drown
and at the same time flourish.
Nancy: Ravens are complex birds, and to be chosen as a neighbor by a raven is to be surprised and amused and – given their shy nature – honored.
Three Ways Of Seeing The Raven
1. See page 22, Crow Planet, where
        the raven’s voice is a “low, toadish croak.”
2. Before snowdrops
  ice still abandoned in the marsh
two ravens
above, in the spruce
how soft
touch on the neck
        later, at the nest
        careful silence
3. In May
the gardeners discuss with one another
the corn here
the beans there
above, in the spruce
the raven says yes
most conversational of neighbors
a low flow of commentary
yes to beans, yes to corn, yes to squash
good morning yes
good weather
I wait for the ripple of sound
that brief flash
when other dissolves in polyphony