Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Before Journeys \ Scythe Dance

Alan:  Here’s an old one.  The end of July, the first cool, dry air – summer starts to turn and a restlessness sets in.  Time, maybe, to think about moving on...

Before Journeys

Autumn seems here
and it’s not high summer.
They’ve slashed the cuttings,
bindweed dries in the wind.
What about the butterflies?
the garden we made for them?
Where are our friends
waiting for our return?

I take the train,
the kestrels are hungry.
Soon we will be gone.
They hunt the sidings.
The clouds play our shadows
the grasses hide nothing
the sun flaps away
on matters of his own.

Nancy: Finding a scythe in the old barn, I learned to cut the tall midsummer grass.  It felt like dancing, or ice skating.  Watching Alan swing his scythe – a newer, more elegant one – makes me sway; perhaps scything is like bike riding – you remember, your body remembers.

Scythe Dance                           
      for Alan

Step and swing
step and swing
cool morning air
the dew is on the grass
grass falling
meadow birds watching from fence posts
step and swing
stop and stone
edge the blade
turn and turn
catch the morning
the birds are calling
step and turn step and swing
the sun climbs
stop and hone
lean and breathe
birds in the drying grass
the July

                                July 1955,  July 2011

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Et In Arcadia Ego \ One First Morning

Alan: I wrote this in memory of my uncle, Bud Butterworth, and of the many summers spent at our families’ New Hampshire lakeside camp.

Et In Arcadia Ego

After Uncle died
I felt sure I’d see him
back at the summer place
sawing up stovewood.
He always eluded me.
Still, years on,
I expect him around a corner
humming his curious baggy tunes,
a free spirit in the pine-woods.

When, nearing the end of life,
he hobbled one last time up the hill
to his old abandoned haunts –
the hut in ruins, the clearing overgrown –
did Ryokan find Ryokan
puttering among the weeds?

Nancy: I’d name the bird “knee deep” except one of the frogs already has that name!

One First Morning

If this were the first morning
if I were the first woman
if the birds had just been made
I would name them all
I would give them their proper songs
I would set one on the birch
and one under the rose bush
and the hares would come up to me
and I would name grass, and clover
and then as the sun rose
I would call the water
the schools of fish, the copepods
the seals, and birds with long legs
to walk out into the rising water
toward the fish.

Before the dew burns off in the sun
I will have it all in place,
although I have not found a song
for the long-legged fishing birds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Great Beasts \ So Few Pages In The Book Of You

Alan: “Satao, a bull elephant who lived in the arid plains northwest of Mombasa, had tusks so long that when he walked they nearly scraped the ground... he was one of the largest elephants in Africa. ... In February, Satao was wounded by poisoned arrows. ... Satao recovered, only to be hit again, in May.  This time the arrow pierced his left flank, and he died.  Poachers cut off his tusks, leaving his face so mutilated that it took Kenyan authorities ten days to confirm his identity.” (Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2014, p.31)

The Great Beasts

The last of the great beasts was an elephant.
The last of the great beasts was a whale.
The last great beast was a polar bear.
It was a brown bear.
The last of the great beasts was a rhino.
It was a shark.
An orangutan.
A gorilla.

The last of the great beasts was a timber wolf.
The last was a crocodile.
It was a giraffe.
A hippo.
It was a bison.
A tiger.
A condor.
A leopard.
A sturgeon.

The last of the great beasts was a dolphin.
The last great beast was a lion.
The last of the great beasts was a hyena.
It was a musk ox.
The last great beast was an eagle.

The last great beast was an emperor penguin.
The last great beast was a leopard seal.
An elephant seal.
It was a sea lion.
The last of the great beasts was a chimpanzee.

The last great beast was an oryx.
The last great beast was a Bactrian camel.
It was a Komodo dragon.
The last great beast was a dugong.
A manatee.
The last of the great beasts was an albatross.
It was a jaguar.
The last was a great auk.
The last great beast was a moa.
The last was a Tasmanian devil.
A passenger pigeon named Martha.
It was an Arctic curlew.

The last great beast was a dire wolf.
The last of the great beasts was an Irish elk.
The last was a mastodon.
A wooly mammoth.
It was a giant sloth.
A saber-tooth tiger.
The last great beast was a cave bear.

The last of the great beasts was a man,
standing there alone.

The last of the great beasts was greed.
It was fear.
The last great beast was delusion.

The last of the great beasts
was the first great beast.
The first great beast was Death.

Nancy: There are baby books – you know the kind, pink and blue ribbons, vital statistics – and then sometimes there are empty pages.

So Few Pages In The Book Of You

A night at the ballet.   Sunday afternoon
at the park, a sprig of lilac
and a Dayboat to Provincetown.
Seashell, small bottle of sand.

Packed bag.
We climbed on the train.
Changed in Chicago.

We didn't see the Mississippi.
Crossed in the night.  After that
the land wavered in the heat.
I was afraid of the cattle stops
and the water tanks, and I'm afraid
that I moaned to you.

Stopped eating.  Moaned.
Forgot that it was my job
to give you memories.

Empty pages.

Look, I whispered, look.
Mountains.  Clouds and somewhere
rain falling.

Outside the window the rain
left pale fading marks on the dry soil.
I wrote lightning.
The last word in the book of you.

Lightning in the mountains.

“The Great Beasts” is from Annals Of The Nearer Soon, a work in progress.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just Between Me And You \ Nobody Said

Alan: Today, the “oddly private public place” would be somewhere on the internet, but in the 1970s it was physical photos in a physical landscape.

Just Between Me And You

Among bushes at the edge of town –
winking up from lank grass –
a scattering of Polaroids, flashers
in this oddly private public place –
someone’s dirty afternoon,
curtains drawn, before the mirror.
In each, the same hefty dick:
front view, side view, solo
or with supporting cast,
before, during, after, even limp
on a plate (Still Life: Banana with Plums);
blurred belly-skin, bunched hair.
I gather them up for my friend Ryokan
for a laugh.
Feeding them to his fire –
each penis blackening, curling
into acrid stench – he said,
“You know, don’t you:
these photos are of me.
These photos are of you.”

Nancy: How often I read in the newspaper, “but he’s so good with the children,” “our best volunteer,” “always there when we need him” – when, finally, somebody says.

Nobody Said

Dirty, dirty old man.
Nobody ever said.

Nobody ever said don’t go flying
that kite down by Mr. Harold’s
house.  Afterward, I never said.
Nobody said never
stop to pick lemon lilies
and then my arms full
of lilies, big man hands
under my summer shirt.

Broken.  Broken, broken, all my
flowers in the grass, broken,
my heels, my elbows, scuffed
gritty trashy old grass and
in my hand, suddenly,
an axe handle.

My Mama put down the washcloth.
Don’t talk stitches to me,
my Mama said to Mr. Harold’s
wife.  Just shut that screen door,
please, and think how lucky he is,
think how lucky he is
there wasn’t a head on that axe.

Nobody ever said otherwise.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Mowing \ The Speckled Meadow

Alan:  Having to live elsewhere now, we know that while the old homestead waits patiently, summer doesn’t.

July Mowing

Jerry Crowther cut off his toes, mowing.
Just on one foot, and only four –
and not the big one, so that’s alright.

And Bruce Jones is riding his mower down the County Road
toward Route 1 and the school.
He’s wearing shorts and no shirt,
looking a little pink
and not so fit as when he was in the Guard.

And Neil’s mowing around the house.
Around and around.  Such a clatter and rattle!
Should I close the windows, despite the heat?
Would that even dull the noise?

No one’s mowing at home.  No one’s there.
The grass grows tall, tall, tall.
The wind lays it; it is laid where something has trampled through.
It’s headed up and wet and full of slugs and snails.

If I were there, I could scythe it.
If I were there all day every day
I could work up a sweat scything in the early morning
and stop when the sun gets high and the stems toughen.

I could sit in the shade of the crab apple
with a cold drink, with iced coffee.
I’d get you one too and we could sit there together
listening to the vireos,
watching the hummingbirds,
if you were there.

Nancy: Purple-y blue, pinky red, orange, yellow – eighty years ago that’s what I had in my crayon box.

The Speckled Meadow

July woke up with a yellow crayon
in each hand, and a big green grin.
Nothing subtle: blue sky,
blue bay, green scribbled in between,
day’s eye, hawkweed, buttercup,
and a yellow bird in the speckled meadow.