GIRL RIDING BAREBACK
These late summer afternoons are so like childhood's
they take my breath and breathe it with me,
take it and breathe it without me.
Curved hot muscle of the neck, the chestnut shoulders
flowing through the uncut hay --
old August daydream come to visit
a place that looks familiar,
a field like the field it remembers --
arrows of sun falling harmless on a girl
and the big imaginary animal of herself.
LITTLE YELLOW FLOWERS
I don't know what they are,
fragile-looking but springy underfoot
so that I leave no tracks in them.
How did I overlook them?
I find them in Audubon: birdsfoot,
common. And yet I never saw them,
never touched their microscopic velvet
or shook a little of their pollen
onto the back of my hand to see the color.
On the high ledges above the house
the grasses grow up out of rock
into the scythe of the wind.
I want to wrap myself in that cloth --
air and the afterlife of plants.
then the wind will be like a blind person,
unable to tell me from the grass,
me from the flowers
named for their seed pods,
which resemble the feet of birds.
Nothing to watch but the snow,
the muted road slowly unbending.
I've always been alone, and that knowledge
has been like a sheet of cold glass
between me and the world,
thought it meant I could
lose myself in lonely beauties,
for example the tiny
darting fish in the headlights,
their almost wordlike scribbling.
Now that's all changed.
I am myself nothing but a quick
flake of frozen cloud,
a minnow of light that can swim
silver-bodied into the questions,
the shadowy currents
of all I long to know.
That darkness without shores.
That's what I want to be. One fish
in the numberless fish of the snow.
I had only one prayer, but it spead
like lilies, a single flower duplicating
itself over and over until it was rampant,
uncountable. At ten I lay dreaming
in its crushed green blades.
How did I come by it, strange notion
that the hard stems of rage could be broken,
that the lilies were made of words,
my words? Each one I picked
laid a wish to rest. I mean killed it.
The difference between prayer
and a wish is that a wish knows it will be
a failure even as it sets out,
whereas a prayer is still innocent.
Wishing wants prayer to find that out.
I'm the first tall animal
to walk the trail today.
Apologies to the spiders.
The sapling maple I cut
last year for a walking stick
forgives me this morning.
Galaxies of lichens
on the stones -- what's
my life to them?
What do the deer
make of my trail? Sometimes
they use it, sometimes they don't.
The wind is a poor net.
swims right through it.
It's a green river stone,
except for a single
twig of pine
in an empty pool.
I like to scramble up the hill
in the summer dusk,
sit on a long stone left by the ice,
and watch the sky go dark
in a puddle of yesterday's rain.
I used to look into the green-brown
pools of the Ausable, the places
where the pouring cold slowed,
and see a mystery there.
I called it God for the way
it made my heart feel crushed
with love for the world outside myself,
each stone distinct and magnified,
trembling in the current's thick lens.
Now when I can't sleep
I say as a prayer
the names of all the little brooks.
Slide and Gill and Shadow,
and the names of the river pools
I fished at dusk,
working my way upstream through
slow sliding eddies and buckets of froth,
the flume, the bend, Hull's Falls, the potholes.
It's like saying the names
of the dead and the missing --
the Ausable, the Boquet, the Opalescent --
though their waters still
rush down over the gray ledges
toward Lake Champlain.
The flume was always
full of bark-colored shadows,
shafts of green light fallen
from the pines, and the silver swirls
of rising trout where now
the gray-fleshed hatchery fish
feed on the damaged magic.
Sleepless, I call to mind
the high granite walls
scored in the thaws,
the banks of black-stemmed ferns.
I lie again on a warm rock
and feel the hand of God on my back,
and feel it withdraw
in the exact instant the sun
withdraws its treasure from the water --
a tiny dissonance,
like bad news forgotten for a moment
but the shadow of its anxiety holding on,
making a little cloud of its own.
It was the thing outside the human
that I loved, and the way
I could enter it,
the muscle-ache of diving
down into the cold, green-brown spangles,
myself a part of the glimmering blur,
the falling coins of light.
Scraps of that beauty survive
in the world here and there --
sparks of rain in the pine candles,
a leaf turning in underwater currents,
then lost in the smoke of faster water.
Sometimes I glimpse the future
in the evenings. It appears
like a doe on silencing moss,
foraging among pocked leaves,
drinking the last light in the pools.
It doesn't even raise its head
to look at me. I'm not a danger to it,
trapped as I am in the purely human.
Consciousness ends, says the snow,
and in the meantime it's a window
left open in winter --
the cold is the same inside and out.
The great tracts of dreamland
stretch away under the vanishing balsams.
It's that point in the afternoon
when the sparks in the fresh contours
begin to go out, and shadow flakes
darken the falling air.
I'm an animal
shivering in the Godlike glitter,
the burial of earth by light
and then by light's extinction.
I want to eat, like the cold shadow,
and to be eaten, like the cold brightness.
They are my parents.
Already my tracks fill with a numb blue,
the little steps I've taken across the blur,
the white concealment,
my lies to myself.
THE IMMORTAL PILOTS
The noise throws down
twin shadows, hunting shadows
on a black joy ride.
They roar up the silver vein of the river
and out over the stony peaks,
which have been shrunken to a luminous
green musculature on the screens.
Who are the pilots, too high to see
the splayed hearts of deer tracks
under the apple trees, or smell
the cider in the fallen fruit?
Who are the vandals that ransack
the wilderness of clouds?
Below them, a thin froth of waterfall
spills from a rock face.
They see its sudden wreckage,
its yielding gouts,
and the wind tear into the papery
leaves of the poplars roughing them up
so the undersides show --
a glimpse of paleness
like a glimpse of underwear.
The pilots are young men,
and still immortal.
Already in the cold
quadrants of their hearts
they imagine the whole world
flowering beneath them. It feels
like love, like being with a woman
who flowers beneath them,
so that they wonder
how it would feel to go on
riding the young green world that way,
to a climax of spectral light.
What's left of the day
leaks from an orange fissure overhead,
not the scorched hole
that scientists say is there
above the sunset, but a gash
in the carbon dreamscape of sky.
The other hole I imagine
to be white-rimmed,
crusted with chemical ice
the color of fat or cancer cells,
or the froth at the mouth of a fox.
The sunset is only
tonight's unfinished watercolor
hiding the wound.
I see the gleam of weaponry in it,
far-off traffic and trash.
It's beautiful anyway,
the lacerated wilderness,
its faintening mauve above the uncut field
where the common flowers bloom as always,
live coals of hawkweed,
the vetches purple, near-invisible,
having soaked up some of the dusk.
And the white ones,
big multiplying clusters of them --
yarrow's coarse lace
and the sharp-edged daisies
growing even out of the stones in the wall.
Their white is a white that will survive us.
The road crew worked all afternoon
cutting the dead birches.
Run-off from the road salt killed them,
trapped as they were on the narrow strip
left between the asphalt and the lake,
and rain-weakened. The acid
starts the yellow inflammation early,
the leaves in June already
arthritic in the cells.
We used to call them snow ghosts:
one white hidden in another.
Now they're stacked in six-foot sections,
their branches trimmed away,
and in the lake
the new emptiness heals over.
Then comes the plow of winter
straight down the valley,
pushing its wedge-shaped shadow.
All the lesser shadows move aside
as if still talking to one another,
flexible in wind, assessing their losses,
the future already upon them,
its sky-blue speckled crystals burning
down through the packed snow into the earth.
Maybe a man on the crew
with a truck of his own
will come on Saturday
to haul the white logs away, cut and split
and stack them, and he'll find them
crumbled to embers in his stove
when he comes home late and cold
from plowing after a heavy snow,
their shadows having already slipped
up the chimney to join all the other
shades of the world, the young ones
gone back to lie beside their stumps,
the old ones free to travel anywhere.
Nothing stays attached to what I saw,
what I glimpsed from a train.
It has no magnet for meaning.
Four men sat on a wall shooting up,
companionable. One waved at me.
Waved the needle. Ten feet away,
a man was fucking a woman from behind,
controlling her with her heavy necklace,
a bicycle chain. The budding sapling
shook as she clung to it,
her orange dress hitched up in the back.
People there throw garbage out the windows.
Who cares? Four arms, four rolled-up sleeves.
The silver slur of light along the tracks.
Four arms, four rolled-up sleeves.
The orange dress hitched up in back.