Suite in Mudtime
—for Stephen Arkin
Deerhair, rough ring on rock. Winterkill.
Not unlike the hair on my own skull,
as my wag of a daughter might say. She's lovely, eleven.
Nothing else—not even hide nor cloven
hoof nor so much as the least small bone.
Coyote economy: everything gone
in a matter of hours. Only a matter of hours.
"Little we see in Nature that is ours."
Good God, it's cold, though here we are in April.
Snowtufts, too, in the woods. Off east over Haverhill,
Black Mountain fronts me. There'd more than likely be better
than two feet up there if I climbed it. Now the great carriers
and warships will sail for home, we're told.
A gruesome tyrant's no more, we're told. So cold,
hard weather holding out, I stoop, unlimber,
finger the remnant hollow-core winterkill fibers.
I hear some thrash and squabble down the hill:
ducks in battle, no doubt, for a vernal pool,
or a spot within it, because the ice claims most.
I stand in a meagerness near what was feast
while wind, straight off the icecap, blows away
one tuft, another, another. By end of day,
this scene will be bald, right down to its very granite.
To linger a while. In peace. That's all I've wanted.
16 April, 2003
ii. A Hundred Himalayas
I stop for breath at height of land—not much
at that, a loaflike clump, the likes of which
I'd have sneered at, younger. Forgive the body's failures,
I think, you've climbed a hundred Himalayas,
hill by hill in 60 years. My dog
must think it queer, that I should stop so long...
No, that's the sentimentalist, allusion-
monger. No thought in a dog, hence no confusion.
He does what he does, or rather, what I do.
Beast's obedience. And what have I to show
that's so much different? Which is not to say
I have peculiar reason to complain.
I don't. I'm standing here. Meanwhile one of my brothers
lies long since buried, and in this single winter
the Crab has clawed too many else to count.
"From the rising up of the sun to the going down,"
I've read, "The mighty God has called the world."
Indeed. Not mighty myself, I choose to hail
the things that are, like time, and death, and love.
Above all love. In a nearby stump, a groove
holds something shining: a perfect jewel of quartz—
purple, enduring, shaped somewhat like a heart.
The day's sufficient to the day. A simple stone...
I conquer my small Everests one by one.
23 April, 2003
iii. Young Beech: How I See By Now
The facts of the place. By now they've become my vision.
The actual, the real: my every notion
of these, not necessarily beautiful,
though it can be that, is where I live, and all
other place and vision are something other.
This north is certain. Now an April shower
—cold and late—transforms the world to slate,
and so in this moment the darkness of slate is sight.
I've been here before, and know I mustn't travel
too far this way, lest dark become my habit,
and the doleful texts. The doleful texts persist,
from a life, from elsewhere. I can think of this,
for instance: I am "Free among the dead,
like them that are wounded and lie in the grave." Instead,
I'll wait for something else to wash my eyes,
I'll will my openness to quiet surprise,
though it won't be that, not properly so called.
I turn downhill, toward the Landing Road,
along which Ron and Horton dragged out their timber
when last they logged—a decade ago September.
In the gaps among the older standing trees,
the juvenile beech still cling to the past year's leaves,
whose sailcloth hue insists on its own aptness.
What I see I will see through that minor sea of brightness.
30 April, 2003
iv. Winter Holding Onto Winter
No matter how I bushwhack on my rambles
so that from aerial view each might resemble
a rabbit's beat, a maze, an ampersand
(I turn myself, I turn my thoughts around),
on tending home I come upon a plate
of ice, drum ice above this brook in spate.
Some minor force impels me here, it seems.
Some chime, perhaps, with something from a poem
by some loved master: "Nature ne'er deserts
the wise and pure." What have these sorry spurts
of bookish memory to do with fact?
They're thick as bees, they're cloying, they distract.
Here purity, at least, counts not at all.
I step and crush inchoate hellebore
which brags how it will soon be taking over.
False hellebore at that. And I have never
played at wisdom. All I do is cling
to what I've seen and clung to. This green spring
roars more with threat than promise, then. The gray
frogs chant too loud of their prolixity
in every nearby puddle. So a clean
and austere sort of beauty's all but gone.
This ice: it's winter holding onto winter.
I know my loves; why look for something other?
7 May, 2003