Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Two Chairs \ She And I

Alan:  Another road poem.  The chairs are gone now, and I couldn’t tell you when they vanished or even quite where they once were.
Two Chairs
            For Nancy, 8/28/96
The two chairs
at the edge of the field
which slants upward
from the highway’s rim to sky
are always there,
as the field is always there
between the dark belts of summer
a lusher green
in a world of green
beyond the blacktop
and the stripes
of the breakdown lane
and the two southbound lanes
and the median strip
which obscures the view
of the farther side.
The chairs
are glimpsed
out of the corner of the eye
while driving
or held for a few seconds
in a passenger’s swiveled
near each other
and slightly turned
as if in conversation
or holding a space
like a bookmark
between pages of a story
that is not yet finished
but has been set aside.
They always
appearing suddenly
in the endless line of trees,
in the rush of daytime traffic
or the solitary sleepy
late-night miles,
their very interruption
of the blurred vacancy of roadside
creating a presentment
that lasts long after
the woods snap closed.
Who might have put them there,
and why,
and do they come
from beyond the horizon,
when we do not see,
seating themselves,
some quiet discussion
or simply watching
for a time
the passing trucks and cars,
after a slow and
silent walk
through tall or new-mown grass?
Nancy:  A bear can certainly leave a substantial calling card after gorging on blueberries.  The dogs walked waaay around.
She And I
The bears I always name She.
She came in the night.
She came in the night, and she
tore the heavy fencing; she bent it
and ripped it from the posts.
Or she came in the day, saw me
and hustled her cub off the road.
We stared, mother and child and I
across the dogwood flowers.
And she comes in August.
She came today,
and when I went down the lane
I saw she had left me a message:
   I ate your berries
   and they were good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tearing Down My Cabin \ Field Work

Alan:  Growing up, “the summer place” was the one constant in a life of frequent dislocations.  All that’s gone now.
Tearing Down My Cabin
Under the trim-strip,
ruined hamlets of mud-dauber wasps –
fragile, remote as abandoned
and one small bat, irritably
shaken from sleep
to the humid August
who falls, opens
paper-bag wings
and zig-zags off
among the branches.
We tear it all down,
carry the debris
from lake-side to road,
dumped there
with forty summers’
memories, leaving only
a bird house,
knocked together
from scraps,
hung from a beech limb
long ago, in hopes
a wren might find it.
Nothing ever did.
It’s there still, suspended,
empty in shadow
at the edge of the
clearing’s emptiness.
Nancy:  Nothing there about the vest pockets full of gorp, small skulls, plant samples, nothing about the bear's footprints pressed into the mud on top of ours or the comfort of my tent at the end of the day.
Field Work
Ten meters to a side
one hundred square meters
and at each compass point
another plot
with each tree taped
and all the fragile herbs
sampled, pressed, keyed, annotated, filed.
Climb one hundred feet.  At each new elevation
do it all again.  Measure.  Count.
Multiply that by days.
That’s how we made this forest
of pages
and you can see that it’s true
the red oaks there in the thickets
and how the steep slope saved the beech
and where the farms receded
never mind that each failure
was someone’s misfortune
and the woods crept back
until they overcame their own pioneers
and how we may all be dead
before the orchids bloom again.
It’s true
the graphs don’t lie; the maples,
given time, will reclaim the hill.
This paper forest is about change.
But in the forest of my mind
it is July forever; sweat
runs down my back,
my pack straps chafe,
the forest smells of crushed fern
and when I turn the pages,
a bird sings.
“Field Work” first appeared in East of the Light (Stone Man Press and Slow Dancer Press, 1984)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Neighbors \ The Whale Came

Alan:  People who fall in love with a place can’t help resenting those who come after.  Each new wave sucks us further back toward where we came from.
New Neighbors
All over town, surveyors’ flags are sprouting.
Bulldozers are grinding their initials into the dust.
Saws bite, dump trucks snarl,
gravel goes down, concrete flows, contractors grin.
All over town, the maps thicken with lot lines:
old farms, cut and split like cordwood,
stacked, ready for sale,
shorefront peeled off like veneer.
All over town, people are moving in,
bringing new attitudes, new demands,
wanting new schools, new roads, new stores;
new neighbors looking a lot like the old
selves we fled from all those years ago.
Nancy:  It took time to learn how to see whales, using the sound of their breath, the escort of seabirds (that were watching for the fish driven to the surface).
The Whale Came
The whale came
and I thought it was a rock
and I said to my friends how low
the tide must be you see that rock
and they looked
and there was no rock
and they said there is no rock
not in that channel
the tide is never that low
The whale came and I thought it was spindrift
and I said have you seen
how the wind tears the waves
look high where the sky shimmers
and they said the air is still
the grasses are not moving
The whale came
and I thought it was a fisherman
and I said see how that boat rides
and they saw no boat
only a flock of gulls and they said
the sun is in your eyes and they turned
and they started to leave
But the whale CAME
and I held my friends there
and I said wait
and we waited
and when he came he was an island without end
a rock in the channel
a rainbow
and we all breathed at once, a sigh
Where there had never been a rock
we saw a rock
and in the still air we saw an exhalation
we stood a long time after he was gone
“The Whale Came” first appeared in Blackberries and Dust (Stone Man Press, 1984)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On The Lake \ Moonvines

Alan:  Augusts in childhood, there were “lake days” (hot, steamy) and “mountain days” (brisk, clear).  We didn’t dignify the rainy days.
On The Lake
Sometimes, on calm days,
we'd work the canoes fast
and straight
in tight parallels, then,
raising paddles together,
watch the curved hulls
close with a strange attraction
and meet:
a light, aluminum
kiss.  "Bernoulli!" we'd cry,
"Bernoulli!" – loving the name
and what it gave life to.
Now, sometimes, I feel
the invisible, disparate
parts of me align,
accelerate, and,
touch.  "Bernoulli?"
I think, "Bernoulli?"
wondering what it might take
to keep me, this time,
from slowing and drifting
back apart.
Nancy:  Downeast coastal Maine isn't much like Indiana, and my moonvines checked the "no thanks" box.
Under the moonvine shade, I sailed my summers.
My grandfather walked west, toward the wheat;
the freights slid through our small towns
and whistled my father away.
The women stayed.  I see them still,
aproned, sweaty, boilers of laundry,
soap, jelly, soup.  I hear them
saying, “where has she gone now?”
while I hid in the moonvines.
I went to sea fiercely in the green shade,
headed for some unknown landfall,
some future away from the dusty shores
of the Indiana afternoon.
Today I bought moonvine seeds,
to plant among the stones of this salt bay.
Goodbye, you women who taught me apple butter,
who taught me biscuits and mustard plasters,
and cried when I picked up my feet
like the men, and sailed away.  I loved you.
“Moonvines” first appeared in Blackberries and Dust (Stone Man Press, 1984)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Items At The Checkout \ Hoosier Autumn

Alan:  Since this poem was written, Maine’s motto has evolved from “Vacationland” to “The Way Life Should Be,” and now – by our new Governor’s unofficial decree – “Open For Business.”  Any way you put it, the implications are a bit surreal.
Items At The Checkout
Steak.  Wine.  Cantaloupe.  Brie.
Bremen wafers.  Artichoke hearts.
Catfood.  Paper towels.  Milk.  Eggs.
Corn flakes.  Ivory soap.
The catfood etc is yours.
The steak, wine and so forth
belong to the couple behind you.
When the cashier asks, “Are these all together?”
everyone smiles.  The answer is so obvious.
The store is full of pantsuits, casual jackets,
high heels, well-groomed hair.
You don’t see anyone you know,
anyone smelling of motor oil or
having garden dirt under their nails.
There should be a separate lane for people like you,
a separate store.  Your rusty pickup
shouldn’t wait in the same lot with these
throbbing Winnebagos.  This is summer, and perhaps
you don’t really belong here,
here in Vacationland, America,
Nancy:  The depression: A time of few luxuries, but what I remember is lots of love,  time with my mother and father and simple entertainments.
Hoosier Autumn
My daddy
until he had a son
made do with me  /  my
grandpa wordless but I remember
the sound of black walnuts
we went into the woods we three
the nomad ran in our veins;
except I was a girl
we might be walking still
in Patagonia
but we turned back
and came home
our arms full of pawpaws
“Items At The Checkout” and “Hoosier Autumn” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.