I. To Make the Earth My Home
BUILDING A FIRE IN WINTER IN MAINE
I am remembering being cold,
those late nights, mesmerized by the flames,
then dozing off before the blazing fire,
before awakening with a start to the sudden chill
and the remaining bright coals
dying in the pile of ash on the hearth.
I remember running out in the wee hours
the crunch of my footsteps over the hard, packed snow,
careful not to trip and fall, or else
I would not be found till morning.
Beneath the black sky scattered with splinters of ice
I saw the wood pile becoming low.
I took the twigs of kindling felled by the wind,
and the remaining split logs I could carry,
listening to winter’s profound quiet
and the quick retreat of raccoons
from the trash.
Inside, the cold was already heavy and quick
to triumphantly take over the house.
I fed yesterday’s news to the remaining sparks,
poking them to come alive till they licked the print,
devouring momentous events
as if they’d never been.
And I waited for the kindling to catch
and to ignite the white bark of the logs,
giving it air and more air
until the fire became ravenous and roared,
Its mighty breath safely behind the grate,
before it would need more and more
but meanwhile I could safely close my eyes,
having earned that lovely warmth.
We are fragile creatures
surviving between several degrees,
just a small window between extremes of deadly hot and cold
I was surrounded by all the contrivances
of modern life, but none of them of any use
in keeping the fire alive.
I imagined a woman sitting in her skins in a cave.
watching the fire, the shadows dancing on the stone
who learned how to survive in the dead of winter,
that she had mastered this task alone, keeping her child warm,
and passed it on.
GREEN LAKE, ELLSWORTH, MAINE
Striated layers of clouds form, dissolve,
reshape over the aqueous mirror
that is Green lake. Their reflections
ripple, pool around rocks, wash
over stones. We sit in the accumulating
darkness infused with sunset,
surrendering ourselves to the subtlety
of dusk suffusing the fir woods. Shoals
of dark purple bands, the shade
of lupines in bloom, blend into a pink
incarnation of the wildflower
gone past above another layer
of cloud, lined with wisps of gold,
of rose, that disappears entirely
into smoke across the silver sky,
until it all gives way to an accord—
the whole horizon opening up
to the rush of stars that fill
the imminent darkness with sparkling
light that reflects the lapping waters,
their ceaseless hush, with such
breathlessness that compels one’s mouth
to form in a circle in which to express
the exclamation, Oh, as in prayer,
which, when uttered repeatedly,
reiterates the monosyllable of gratitude.
for Gabriel Rummonds
They bloom above
the yellow dazzle of cosmos
and even after the sticky sweetness
of the vibrant petals of red peonies
were shattered by wind and rain.
These royal purple iris,
reigning atop their thin stems,
as royalty to the garden,
their petals veined with magenta
and tipped at their center
with a dab of yellow,
open, as if always flying upward,
their emanation a similar hue
as that associated with Zadkiel
and the angels of the purple light ray,
whose auras are so memorable
that they appear
as they appear, etched and emblazoned,
by a divine aesthetician,
and providing not just contentment,
which can merely be palpable,
but also constitutes a healing visage,
a balm for the eyes—
as if the irises themselves
are rinsed by their color
pervading the air, and in their
uncommon, but simple, decorum,
avail themselves in cleansing us all.
WHERE DO THE SWALLOWS GO
Where do the swallows go so fast
in the slow summer evenings
when the trees start rippling
shaking my heart back to fluttering life
scrolling epiphanies in air
where do they go so fast
to a tree they chose as a home for the night
I walk the well-worn steps
and at my door turn back and ask
where can I walk so fast
to a chosen tree for the night
to be a pilgrim under the sky
send a soft sound
make a movement of heartbreak
and make the earth my home.
THAT TIME OF YEAR
At Kaiser Permanente Hospital,
in a room on the seventh floor,
my sister lies on fresh white sheets,
her spirit withered to the core.
There scarce is ground upon her
flesh to inflict another wound.
She’s woozy from medication,
her head lolls to one side.
“I don’t want to live like this,“
she whispers. “Would you?“
I have no answer.
Her heart is failing,
her spine’s a torture chamber.
She motions me to the door.
I walk a street I’ve never walked before.
Were the street a leaf-strewn bier
on which reposed a late-October light,
its decomposing body dun as the sky
from which it fell, the fall air
its chill and formless ghost, the odd
walker haunted by it, his coat
drawn close about his throat,
a skull upon the sidewalk chalked
in a child’s awkward hand
would make me think of
painted faces, ghoulish costumes,
and pillowcases fat with candy,
but it’s the end of June! Every
dooryard garden is adrift in bloom!
Even the air, petal-plumed,
is a sun-hot blossom goldening open.
—Constance Rowell Mastores
This is how I used to fall asleep that summer
And as I got to the track
Close to midnight
Ablaze in light
There were parents trying to tire out
Just like me
They played soccer
And I thought
If I can run
Why can’t I kick a ball
Toddlers whining after their parents
After the older kids
After the ball
We stop and drop
And I think how nice
The fake grass feels
On my hot cheeks
I check my pulse
Hurray! Over one hundred
Five minute forced rest
All clear and we help each other up
And I wave good night
It will be
And I start for home.
—Mindy Aber Barad Golembo
And now, about the fields that are laid stubble
by Summer's end, I warble my Autumn lay.
Stanzaic forms have sometimes meant much trouble,
but I don't feel too difficult today.
Farewells have all been said, and, like a rhyme,
returning, echoing, “Once upon a time,“
the friends that once have left rejoice in double,
as if departure were returning's seed,
as if returning were departure's fruit.
and love the flame that new beloveds breed.
Yet now I look upon the barren ground,
quickened with rain, and then a flute
emblazons on the air a simple sound,
that makes them seem not very far away.
Of a sudden
All the leaves
Fly in the air
And all the
Birds fly up
And you stop
—Fred Jeremy Seligson
NOVEMBER IS BROWN
November is brown
a working man’s broad back
lifting the rocks onto bare hills
November is soft gold
the russet of medieval old
hurry home early night
to fruits in bowls and velvets and wools.
November is a grey curtained
dance in the wind
a dance of fear, a dance of care
a dance on hardened ground
for it is the time for all who knew the touch of sun
and in the darkening turn around.
I was sweeping snow off our porch when caught
By something moving up along the wall
Beneath our kitchen window—what? a wobbling,
Shaken brown spider still alive in all
The wet chill from winter’s first storm, its sleep,
Or death doze, broken by my human action.
But no, it was the wind alone that whipped
Some last, shredded web and, with it, attached,
An egg sac. What design was this? I wanted
To know. Inspection showed a backside hole,
But also a long insect limb that ran
Along the bag, a moth’s or mother’s, who
Could tell? I caught the fragile sac by touch
Alone, with plans to magnify, but then—
It filled my eyes, wafting me off the porch
Like the moon rising above snow and wind—
Then gone. Still, there behind the window, vased,
A pine branch in water, its own plain grace.
Can you will faith, can you will feeling? If
Not, then what—put yourself in place and hope?
The ladybug passing the upper left
Of the bathroom cabinet mirror stops—
At my stare, I think. Maybe at my breath.
We’re close, my examination, her look:
Placid, rounded back, just above a pith
Of flat, furious skeleton—head, legs, trunk
Still a moment, fearing an enemy?
She’s not lovely, I’m not friendly, her kind
An infestation, my place a wintry
Haven for these beetles who can bite, sting,
Hurt somehow, I’m told—a mass huddled in
The high corner, six shells grouped on the floor
Near the wastebasket. Coming to an end,
She must not see herself on the glass, or
Know anything. Then again, moving as bid,
She sprouts wings and flies off, back of my head.
WINTER ON THE LAKE
Soon the ice will come
to the water we call Wapogasset
and over the transparent surface
a cataract will form
a foreign landscape and
our vision of how it was
before will be lost.
We’ll walk the black December
nights and point our ears to
the telltale groans of ice expanding
under an unforgiving wind.
By day we’ll note the bundled shapes
pulling their sleds
loaded with bait, lanterns
and dreams of what might be.
Dogs will prance over
the white, and race to nowhere.
And always the wind that cuts
deep the exposed flesh
and a numbing nothingness
so bright, it seems to say
come look. But in a couple months
we’ll see things differently
and everything we knew
and trusted in this space
will be abandoned, picked up,
the only remnant the sun
and a world we had grown
to think of as home.
from THE WREN NOTEBOOK
Wren is at it.
Flying into storm clouds
banging into window panes
into hard branches and hard sky,
crazy and hurt and cold.
A wren hopping on one leg
as something closes in.
Frantic wings pivot in little circles
as she tries to lift off
from the ground
she’s never trusted.
Limited vision, limited range,
There's a crust of black bread
in the snow.
It's almost as if
she has a future.
If she could just
sleep silent through
A LITTLE MORE
Let it be a cold cloudy day
so I can brood
on the spaces that make soft gray and elude
the oppressive lights of the blindness of the world
The trail I follow is a track that loops
I can’t stop
but in every hollow, the bark, the scratches on the rock
the proud print of one who walked before
I can learn just a little more.
THE CLOUDS OF JERUSALEM
Her eyes are blue like the sea of the Kinneret.
They search the earth from between the lattices of heaven.
Her dress is billowing white and dances in slow movements.
Rays shine down on the gates to a city that adorns her in royal attire.
Floating on air, she raises herself beyond the mundane.
The higher realms are easy to touch within the skies of this abode.
The white stones, holds the tears that ascend with thunder and
Ancient walkways are sheltered by her doves of glory.
Healing rains reign down to shower blessings from on high.
Revealing the rungs of her mystical pathway to Gan Eden.*
— Shoshanah Weiss
*Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden.