Wednesday, November 28, 2012

And The Season Passes / Still Life With Raven

Nancy:   It can happen slowly, greens flowing to scarlet, to saltmarsh gold, to the brass and bronze of the last days of fall.  Ice forms at the edges of the bay.  The migrating birds finally fall silent, and every year the restlessness seizes me.  

And The Season Passes

Courting forgotten
the birds at the feeder
jostle and thrust.

Every late storm/early storm
their weavings come undone
nest bits litter the branches.

The slow, the weak
fed the sharp-shinned hawk.
The almost-sleek preen, and preen.

Bits of down lift and disperse.

This is our season of watching.
The saltmarsh flares and fades,
shorebirds shifting restlessly.

Line storms batter the marsh, the meadow
and the birds, all equals now,
judge their time.

Then they turn to the sky
summer strength lifting them
they turn to the star maps.

Quiet days, sharp nights.

Undecipherable maps
scratches on the moon
life pared to its bony core.

Alan: Fall – when whatever innocence that remains to us crumbles.  Raven, as usual, can’t resist a comment.

Still Life with Raven

The goldenrod is old and bleached.
Her bees have gone to ground or died.
This is the sight cruel Hopkins preached
to the child Margaret, who cried.

The fall of leaf and Man coeval –
bitter tonic for one so young!
Within the germ, the gnawing weevil;
malignance in the growing bone.

Beyond the goldenrod, the marsh.
Beyond the marsh, a tongue of sea
whispers a lesson just as harsh:
“I sunder all.  I sunder thee.”

Over rough fields, a raven, drifting,
calls out in laughter or disdain:
“The world like the wind is ever-shifting.
Weep if you will: you weep in vain.”

Not quite of earth, nor yet of heaven –
wise or just canny, who can say? –
the last word still belongs to Raven,
riding the wind on Judgment Day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dug In: The View From The Third Generation \ A Long Drive For Dinner

Nancy:  Maybe it’s good to learn that stress and ambiguities exist and that there are times to relax and times to step lightly, to learn it as a child.

Dug In: The View From The Third Generation

Winter was war.  When the poplar flung
its tiny white trembling flags of truce into April,
I sighed.  Truce was as good as peace.

I came out from under the table, uncovered my ears.
Yes, April meant the laying up of swords; I heard
the sliss, sliss, of steel in earth.
it soothed me.

Granny said, watch the trees,
watch the leaves,
wait until the leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear.
With seed in our hands,
we watched the fragile green-furred leaves;
when they had grown sharp, and round, and of a size
like a mouse’s ear, we bent, we planted.

Papa said, the ground must be neither too wet
nor too dry.  He took it in his hand, testing, and at last
a day came when it crumbled and fell away, a signal,
and he hoed a trench.
I followed him, dropping seed;
we covered it together.  With our brown fists,
we pounded, together, we pounded the soil.

Our gardens grew spears, flags, bright mouths.
I could listen; there were old songs, I learned how
the grandmothers had lived, I learned to whistle on grass,
on willow stems, to make dolls and arrows and slings.
I whittled sharp knives of wood, and hid them under the ferns
and in the rhubarb leaves.

Our gardens grew.  And when they were most beautiful, I overheard
Granny say, you never did . . .
Papa say, you never could . . .
Both say, you never will . . .
Sliss.  Sliss. The sound of the knives of war.
I hid in the tomatoes.

Alan:  If, like me, you grew up when cars didn’t have radios – at least not the cars my family could afford – you learned to while away the long miles by singing, a habit that persists with me even now.  This poem, like the journey it describes, starts slowly but picks up speed as it goes.

A Long Drive For Dinner
                    Thanksgiving, 1996

Over the river
and through the woods
and through the woods
and through the woods
and through the woods
and over another river
and through more woods
and through more woods
and through more woods
and over some other rivers
with Indian names
like Narraguagus
or prosaic whitebread names
like Pleasant, Union, Fore and Back,
and through the farm fields, bare and brown,
and dead-grass hayfields
and little villages
a bunch of towns
a few small cities
(Ellsworth Portland Worcester)
and on into other woods
between the cities-towns-villages-fields
driving all the short day
into dark and still driving
and over the last great river,
the Connecticut,
to grandmother’s house – no –
not grandmother’s, my aunt’s,
my aunt’s house, grandmother’s long sold
and grandmother’s creamed onions
that we ate beyond satiety
and still she demanded we have more
until sometimes we got sick
just a recollection in the tastebuds, fat
in the arteries
and grandmother too just a memory
of fat little soaps
scented and
shaped like seashells
and grandfather: his memory is
musty cellar stairs, oil-stained concrete
in a garage too neat, too tidy,
a disappointed man:
gone now both
over the river
the beautiful beautiful river
which I do not want to cross
today and not – dear god please not –
go over any rivers through white and drifting
snow blinding the traffic
filling the woods
silencing the slick white roads,
not drifting or wet-heavy-packed
snow not like sometimes,
especially I remember once
with my girlfriend (wife) (ex-wife)
and the Greyhound breaking down
30 miles out from Hartford
and we hitchhiking,
the snow stopping, temperature falling,
to arrive in the same wood-paneled
warmth the same house my aunt’s house
that I always arrive in
in my dreams
arriving back in a time
when my uncle too can turn to greet us,
little hand-lettered markers
marking our places
and the joy
of being there together, like the joy,
as a child, of finding my place
moved from the children’s table
to the grownup’s and my marker
marking this joy and also the
pain of not being ready, not being ready
to grow up, to look
back at childhood, at the small table
of children at the end of the big
table of grownups, to get old, to go
over that river
we all are thrust into
ready or not
the river of disappointments
river of Lethe of Styx
or even the beautiful
river of Jordan
and it hardly matters
with so many of us here,
together, swimming or splashing
or floating or maybe even
over the river,
over the river

“Dug In: The View From The Third Generation” first appeared in Poet Lore.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Frozen In Frames Of Light \ Late Weeding

Nancy:  Villages rise one after another out of the forest and pass away again to forest or shore.  Graveyards on the hillsides – history and memory caught in black and white light.

Frozen In Frames Of Light

Late afternoon.  Freeze.
A slant of light.  Freeze.
Hills, fixed in an angle of repose.  Replicate.

Mile one hundred nine.
Flick, flick, flick.  Three stones, white,
a family in their own fields.  Another.

And a town.  Long light flat, flash,
men, women, children, granite, some
pride in death.  Some stone from away.

Road.  Bridge.  Island.  Bridge.
Which town had the iron fence, the old stones
falling down, the light caught
in the robes Grief wore, a few new leaves
on the ivy?

On this road this is no one hill,
only hill beyond hill beyond hill, and
the dead, gathered together beyond time, and
their stones, under trees, by the bays,
frozen in frames of light.

Alan: There’s a point each year when gardening comes down to simple orneriness and habit.

Late Weeding

In the low corner of the garden,
the poorest drained, weediest place,
I put my back to the wind,
hunker down, start pulling.

Witch grass – mullein – dandelion – clover –
I scratch at the crust, tug,
thinking how hens must feel in the fall
and why they stop laying.

For this is the end of November,
the sun is caged in the empty trees
and only the lack of rain
keeps the ground from clapping tight.

Which is why I cannot resist
bending to scratch the surface of next spring’s chores,
stealing the green before winter does,
knowing how greedy I’ll be for the sign of even a weed, come March.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

At Dawn \ Young America, Election Day

Nancy:  At times we may hear the groaner buoy in Grand Manan channel, a bell buoy off Liberty Point, the foghorn at Quoddy Head – perhaps the roar of the tides at Reversing Falls, even disembodied voices of men in the bay, clamming on a low tide:  the sounds of our environment, dependent on wind direction, temperature differences.

At Dawn         

Without boundaries,
fog of the Labrador
is filling the bay.

Fog of the headlands
threads the islands,
deep fog of the Gulf.

Untamed, undeterred,
fog of the buoys,
fog of the shipwreck shore.

At dawn, this is what I see:
that the tide of the sea is high,
that fog of the Labrador laps the shore.

My father sang of ships and men,
of bells, of voices singing
in the fog.  He sang of the deep.

Today, at dawn, the horn is blowing
at Quoddy Head  ___  ___        ___  ___
Our cabin floats on the sea of fog.
In the fog, my father is singing.

Alan:  I wrote this poem in 1988, the era of Reagan’s “Morning in America,” before cyber-commerce, when a letter cost 25¢ to mail, Kodak dominated photography, and Japan, not China, seemed like the coming thing.  Ah well – it wouldn’t take much to bring it up to date.

Young America, Election Day

I’ve never been to Young America –
Young America, MN –
which is where the rebate offers live,
the Kodak battery rebates, the Black and Decker rebates, the Bondo rebates,
the thousands of rebates that return to us
a dollar, minus postage,
on our purchase.

Young America!  I imagine a city of warehouses,
single-story metal-walled light-industrial hangers
with no people.
Young America hums with computers, with cash
and no people.

This is the town of the mail-order catalogue, the mail-in rebate,
the town that feels like morning, morning in America,
expansive, muscle-flexing, optimistic, Republican America
that lures us with offers, that jingles us alert
with capitalism’s wake-up call.

I hear America singing and it is a young, sturdy, vibrant voice.  Meanwhile,

the batteries in my flashlight
are whispering in Japanese.