| (Writers Ink Press 1999)
An Old Fishing Village At Dawn
There is a time of day
in the earth's remembered stillness
when the sun breaks hazy over the left shoulder
of the oversized remains of an industrial building
and geese hold steady to their pre-flight positions,
forming up in memory of previous migrations
out across the flat gray harbor.
A time of day when fish by the dozens,
you can hardly believe it, come flipping
out of the meager, almost expressionless,
face of what many in these parts
consider to be dead water. Guess again!
Between the semi-yachts and the last true
fishing boats, before the swirl of oil
and suburban commotion can spoil
the morning, a whole school of fishes,
predators themselves at the moment,
and some of them quite full-bodied
for harbor dwellers, break water
and in such numbers that a seagull,
which had been floating peacefully
somewhere mid-harbor, is suddenly
compelled to take shelter on a pylon
close to shore. It is at times like these
that I walk home with the Sunday paper
and warm rolls tucked under one arm,
encouraged by the continued presence
of two pigeons pecking their way
down Main Street, and this unexpected
communication of life from the harbor
And am content, by God, to ignore
the sun's weak performance in the October sky.
The smell of wood smoke at dusk,
the feel, through laced boots,
of blue snow crust
breaking with my every step. Above all
the coming of night and you.
And the earth's letting fall,
through a century-old wooded path
down to a seawall by this harbor,
the moonlight. Now add to that
the salt smell of winter.
There is nothing cruel in weather like this
despite our shared reflection
on the effect of ice, which creates
plated mounds where beach grass grew
with profusion in summer. There is nothing
cruel in the complacency of snowy hillsides,
deflecting heat from the sun all day,
though it may contribute to the cold.
For us, this winter night, what is true
and valuable is how we humans collect,
beneath a watchful moon, each to each;
how you gather yourself to my side.
Or how we walk together
in watchful silence along a frozen harbor.
Here, for example, where I take the imprint
of your body on mine. Here, where we measure
the pulse of a star's persistent warning. Here.
A Dogwood Sapling Made Clear
of the twisted battle for sunlight
on the edge of the thicket
will right itself in as little as one season.
Not at first, mind you -
but before your average gardener
has time to start cursing,
the green tips of new leaf will pop out,
promising riches in a direction
formerly occupied by honeysuckle vine,
silverlace, and the like. Imagine for yourself
a new window opened to the sun! Wouldn't you
tend towards it? In a few months, tendency
has grown into intention; your young,
tenderleafed stems are climbing skyward
against a grain that now exists
only in sapling memory.
As it happens, I know all this to be true -
because on this land, I have been the one
to set a dogwood sapling free. Skinny, perhaps,
but no longer overcome. And by this I have learned
that nature, in the form of a dogwood tree at least,
in adversity may seek only survival -
but given its freedom it will strive for something
higher: balance. Which is to say that philosophy,
it now appears to me, sometimes requires
the intercession of an outside hand. Especially
in modest grounds such as these,
so badly in need of clearing.
Black Eyed Susans
I see the bright face of this our still young and hopeful nation
more in a parking lot weed than in the display
of its proud public gardens, untamed as the original
North American wild, outwitting us to the last
& filled with the breath, a continent wide,
of unplanned vitality.
In the lowest dandelion, in the fairy clover,
in the dusty sway of goldenrod where two highways merge,
the ragged memory of prairie grasslands calls out to me
& praises still sung to the sun-rippled expanse
of northern forest.
I leave to Europe the curve and grace
of horticultural refinement, manicured intention,
& tired topiary imagination & rather, stoop to worship
even at this crumbling bit of earth,
your voice, America - stubborn, plain, strangely
triumphant. So long as a single unplanned flower
raises up its head to greet the expectant sun,
I too shall greet, in celebration, the promise
of your ragged, wonderful world, which is the reason
why we came here in the first place
& yes, pretty as a patch of Black Eyed Susans.