Beyond the Pines

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Once, a squirrel could travel from here
to the place the Kanienkehaka called
Beyond the Pines and never
touch the ground, not leave a track
for the People of the Flint to follow
like they stalked the white-tail deer.
From the River Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk
to Schau-naugh-ta-da the trace ran,
maybe where I follow the tracks each day.

I see where the geese have written
their cuneiform tales in the pond-side mud,
edited by the turtles’ tail-writ script.
I read the tracks of the students
on the running trail–the one
that runs for a time toward
that western place–like I’m one
with my Mohawk brothers,
trailing Englishmen from the Hudson’s shore
to where they’ll fell more and more pines
and tear down more of this
Haudenosaunee world.

Are their heels weighing heavier
in the dirt than their toes? Walking.
How deep? Carrying books.
Are their toes dug in, tossing behind
a spray of the history of their passing? Running.
Narrow feet? Girl. Two feet side by side?
They stood to watch soccer practice.
Four feet, two narrow, two wide?
Perhaps a longer story than this moment.

Two squirrels cross my trail,
skittering into their place there
behind that lonely pine. I stopped
to parse their tiny prints, and
wonder about who will stop one day
to ponder all these jumbled tracks
I leave.

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Dawn’s Blazing

Buck Mtn

Buck Mtn (Photo credit: mopar05ram)

This sun yellow pencil lost its great weight
and near-death infirmity overnight.
It arose like dawn from its sickbed
and, come the morning, once again
we hiked around this open space
visiting its mountainous thoughts and questions,
but not so many enshadowed answers.
We leave our blaze marks upon the snowy spirits
of once-towering Adirondack arboreal tribes
to find our way to and from whispered
babblings of sun-flecked streams
of the conscious and the not, so
full of smooth green-slicked rocks and
pin-prick inspirations darting like shiners.
I hear windsongs breathing suggestively
across my woodwind ears. We mark down
their messages and and pray forgiveness
for exposing this sacred place.
Why couldn’t we find it yesterday?
And why, I wonder, would I ever wish
to find my way back to that place
of mere near-life again?

Found Wanting

Mockingbird

Mockingbird (Photo credit: Billtacular)

I heard the tsk, tsk, tsk above me and wondered
if God had again joined the grand chorus
that finds me not quite whatever enough at…
whatever.
Even I’ve begun humming their repertoire.
My eyes skittered up that wife-beater wearing
birch’s bare arms and spied mockingbird’s
long ruler-straight tail. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
“You too?” I said, hoping he had mockingbird
cover band rehearsal elsewhere this near-spring dawn.

A golden bullet flashed between us and
drew my eyes from birch top to pine bough,
where a little black-capped yella fella Finch
parked and sang. I didn’t recognize the tune,
but it sounded like he was tweeting for
a po-ta-to-chip-chip-chip.

We all have wants, I guess, something we think
will content us in this discontented world,
if even for that moment. Some gain joy by stealing it,
in a gush or drop by drop, from another.
Others merely crave a snack. I haven’t divined
my Capital W want yet. Is it possible
to want not being found wanting anymore?
If not, for now I’d like some of Goldie’s chips
and Blue Warbler’s beer-beer-beer.
I know…Tsk…

The Dance

dancing leaves

dancing leaves (Photo credit: jessamyn)

October’s brown leaves, nearly ghosts,
quick-step to the melody of the east wind
across the thin crust of February’s
excuse-me-just-passing-through snowfall.
Locked in hold, they skip as one–
bip bup bip–a dance of possible has-beens
reliving their maybe moment on Autumn’s stage.
Down they go, ass over petticoat and petiole,
tripped upon the jealous roots of
the one-time impresario of this oak-lined
dance hall behind the houses.
He never moved as the birds and leaves;
could ever only sway while the others
danced and sang all about him.
A shift in the whims of wind,
illness or age, and he could have
brought us all to ground first.
But we have Words to apply to that
music and can’t get caught in
the shade-casting of any bullies
who would take joy in adding
one more couple and their art
to the stacks of the fallen might-have-beens
they keep tucked and rotting souvenirs
in the outstretched lee of their once-was.

Transfusion

Cardinals in snow

Cardinals in snow (Photo credit: rkramer62)

Across the dead gray landscape of January
and February’s somber slate skies,
the grating complaint the blackest birds
lodge with steel-wrapped winter is the only
natural sound breaking the creak
and snap of wind bending these boughs
turned old by too many seasons’ snows.
Just when the cruelest month
nearly claims my spirit, the trees
begin to bleed drops of cardinal
from limb to limb and back again.
Urgent six-note melodies perch
on maple and pine staffs, breaking
the monotonous drear and crows’ atonal rasps,
as redbirds flit and spatter a transfusion
of warm hope into this frozen heart. Here,
place your hand on it and feel ice crack
and new life fight to trickle within.

Twined

Each day on my questioning walk,
I stop to commiserate with
a not-too-aged birch that bends low
over the road, as if bowing to the pressures
of our natures’ all too real. In his case,
twining vines have shackled the leafy serf
into horizontal servitude of their bidding.

It reminds me for all the world
of some slavish supplicant begging
absolution for a sin known only
to the choking confessors that demand
obeisance and a contrite posture
of verdant contrition. Does a tree
know the longing for liberty?

Life bent me low for a longer time,
and some of its depressing weight
I’ve already cast off,
which the birch can’t.
It’s tied down by those vines
clinging like children
whining their way to a new puppy.

Or maybe like a youthful mistake
that casts a shadow so heavy
its history bends us into arboreal
arthritic old men, our faces parallel
to the roadway and, only by peering overtop
our spectacles, can we see what lies
on the path ahead.

I’ve considered cutting the birch’s Lilliputian
vines of imprisonment, but I’m afraid
my Gulliver doppelgänger will stay bent over,
and this middle-aged rebellious Defoe will lose hope
that I can spring back to upright independence
once I hone my shears, to sever the vines
of fear, anger and a twisted sense of duty.

This poem was written in response to my colleague Stu McPherson’s prompt for a poem off rebellion over at dVerse Poets Pub. In this case, a tree and I fight our respective natures in order to stand tall again.

Rapture in Rivertown

With January’s ice-scrim mist,
this riverside neighborhood
turns back to photo proof
black, white and gauzy gray.
Holiday colors have faded
like mid-September memories.
Tinder-dry evergreens,
erstwhile harlequin-lit window beacons
for passing ice-breakers,
now lie prostrate on streetside,
snow-dusted Christmas gravestones,
waiting for the herald crash
of the trash collecting Rapture.
And the perennial trees
standing sentinel nearby
at snow-footed attention,
look like lean black guardsmen,
their uniforms on backorder

until a too faraway Spring.

This poem came from my walks and runs along the Hudson shore over the past 20 years. During the holidays, you could see the gumdrop-lit Christmas trees in windows over in Rensselaer. By early January, they were gone, the snow had come and the ice had choked the river. “Rivertown Rapture” is what I recall and imagine of those days.