More Poems, and Poems from Rivertown
Her bony back is pointed
and spare. I ride
surprised the way the bones
dig into my bones,
legs around the barrel
of her stony ribs.
Two thin cows scrounge
the rocks and weeds.
We three in the old orchard --
one to hold feet and boost,
one to steer the somnolent
beast, and I astride.
The boy who knows, goes behind
and cranks to make her start.
She sets off, a rough jog,
I bouncing, bone against bone,
for the closest apple tree
barren and old, to scrape me off.
Under its long, bony arms
I fall on the rockfilled slope.
The hands that squeeze the milk,
tired from working on the road,
will find it sour, tonight.
But we don't care.
On native houses sometimes
I used to see dark streaks
on the white painted walls
three, four, five, even six feet
above the ground, running down
where boys in the summer
and winter must have had
peeing contests. Reminds me
of the ones I used to have
with myself or my brother off
the back step to see who could go
the farthest. When we were
a little older and discovered
morning stiffness, who could hang the
most weight on his hook--
underpants, shirt, towel,
how much before it all slid
plop to the floor, the
wooden peg perversely
reasserting its angle to
equal the rafters overhead--
we laughed, and thought
that was all there was
Behind the Wheel
This old barn alone in the field of hay,
with its gray, creased boards, leans
against the nails, against the sun.
Your feet, shade-struck, crush pungent mint
where grass crowds out post and threshold,
and the door hangs on one dark hinge.
You enter through the slit gingerly,
assailed by the musty, minty smell
of damp earth, darkness, and old grease--
these ancient autos always smell like this.
You open the car door; it bends and shrieks;
moldy upholstery, old wood trim, rusty metal,
all smell together, sour and bitter like sounds of
LaSalle, Packard, Pierce Arrow, Terraplane--
dried ferns and stems in crystal, petals long-fallen.
Sit behind the wheel; you feel coil springs,
the crackling leather seat. Now try the switches,
wind the clock and set the hands,
shift the spark, throttle, push the clutch;
it crunches under foot; hit the brake.
Push, and the door gives grudgingly, groans,
a rusty runningboard may drop your weight to the ground.
Light glimmers through cracks and knot holes,
breaks in the roof, shingles gone;
swallows nest on the beams, with bats,
(one may chase you by day, the others by night).
Become accostomed to the smell of age,
of rust and grease and ancient horse-hair,
your eyes will read the faded label on the radiator,
see through the darkened glass a yellow disk,
on windows prints of hands, of noses, foreheads,
staring back where you reflect.
Slipping out again, into the brilliance,
is a kind of death.
--the preceeding poems, slightly changed, are from
Country, ed. Joseph Bruchac,
(except "Contests," which is from Shiva,
Walking past the bricks, the scaffolding,
the old panel doors lining the street
like a parade of painted screens,
catch a breath
as the hundred-year-old building
exhales, this warm autumn day, a cool musty
like mushrooms growing in a root-cellar,
or old leather shoes under the basement steps,
the chill of crypt, mausoleum, or plain earth
the smell of gaseous riverbottom mud,
clay with fossilized trilobites,
lime of Paleolithic seashells,
faint creosote-scent of the ancient fire
that blackened the rough, thick beams
like white pine bark or alligator-hide.
Behind this heavy air sliding out,
the whine of skillsaw, woodpeckertap-echoes
of hammer, the hint of fresh-cut spruce,
wet plaster, laughter.
--from Gates to the
City, ed. Jeanne Finley, et al. (slightly changed)
Poems from Rivertown
at the top of the Hudson River Estuary,
before the first lock, which leads to
Erie and Champlain Canals
Bankful and brown
this time of year --
I scour my banks
and undulate like a worm
across thawing lawns
before shadblow blooms
or birds return,
so I spread full width
mark my surface with ragged swirls
like bark on ancient trunks.
I am restless, resistless,
even to the tide that tries
to force its way up my long stem --
I am sweeping, sweeping, bottom
and bankside for old bottles,
boxes, logs, branches,
of muskrat and deer,
lost dogs, kittens
in mesh bags, or worse.
All the detritus I am scouring,
scouring. My water now brown,
sour and thick
will be clean when the herring
and striped bass race
upstream to spawn
in my branches.
Venus and Jupiter go down together
Tonight, side by side
on the tree-softened horizon.
Later, behind me, the huge, leering
face of the moon, almost full
rises swiftly in the window,
taking me by surprise --
the tides are extreme
today -- they pull the river
from its bed and me from ...
watching the gulls leaping
and falling, flopping and
splashing, the rise of
spring in the blood --
tides that ebb and flow.
Summer Heat Wave
Greenhouse effect --
we sag under a blanket
heavy as lies
and the only bright green
grass is on a shoal
washed twice a day by moon-pull
while we in the gull pale
air as drought-starved carrots
pulled yellow and limp from the crumpled earth.
Afternoon on the Hudson
River flows backward now --
tide pushes against the flow
gulls are floated off
a sandspit point of land
under the haze
and cloudy gray
for the river to reverse again
flood out to sea
so they can walk the sand bar
pick among the black and silver mussel shells
food enough to feed them all
and no squalks or squabbles
none at all.
as river fills
water like tea
flash in the pan
Gulls suddenly gone
lifted while no one was looking
breeze has shifted
a cold damp south
wind and tide push
against the grain.
Tugboat in Autumn
an oak leaf
earth on sky
The smoothness at the bow
cutting, rolling aside a clean, blue furrow.
The turbulence astern
spinning water like a long
twisted rope --
unravelling the loose end as it goes
downstream, prop chewing down
muddy water, fast, leaving
in the wake.
And the wake, bouncing
ashore, returning midstream,
crisscross, crisscross, and subside,
A tug has sunk
up-river and a thin
stream of oil
from its sunk stern
excapes the vacuum
hose, the skimmer, and
the containment booms
slides, slippery, gray
with an occasional rainbow
against the wind and waves
downstream, past the drain
where the ducks and gulls love
to congregate, looking for scraps
from their human admirers,
hugging the wall. I hope the ducks
stay away, and the gulls and the cormorants.
In my mind I see the dead, oil-soaked
cormorants on the Persian Gulf sands.
What will become of the little flock of
black ducks that stays through the year,
that braves the ice in the dead
of winter? This changes
I watch the oil
slick, snakelike undulating
along the riveredge
its scales dully glinting
in the gray sunlight
its mouth open to the hapless
prey, its tail coiled
deep in the tugboat's
fuel tank, its
belly full of
the oily dead.
The Yacht Club
The river high, wide, and over-ripe with flood
flows brown and thick with logs.
I hear a heavy throb and thud
rhythmical, deep, and mellow, as
a tall, white fiberglass bow,
chrome rail, bowsprit flowered with flags,
parts the waves, a yacht,
63' at least, with portholes, and
cabins, pennants streaming, bikini-
beauties lounging, radar slowly circling,
asses raised high,
tanned men, passes by
with a deep resonant roar
of twin engines, "Serendipity I" at the stern.
Something green emanates from the twin
exhausts amidst the water and steam.
Thousand-dollar bills stream out
hot and limp, disolve in the water
become oil and rust. A fish leaps
a hand stretches out
clear as water,
more hands in the billowing wake --
the stately yacht glides on --
props churning bodies
thud against hull like logs, throwing
up chests, limbs, lips, ears, ropy intestines,
like bubbles in the wake,
while thousand-dollar bills dissolve
in their grasp.
He pilots an empty barge
sliding down the somber river,
holds the charts by heart
and turns the brass lamp exactly so
to light in turn each bend and curve,
linger for a brief confirmation
caressing the warm stones of memory.
The throb of engines deep within
vibrates his skin, travels up his legs,
vibrates in his groin the sunfilled daze
when he lingered on a shore heavy with palms.
A city's dark silhouette slips
by the sides riding high in turbid water,
silent voices, sirens, sing and sigh --
wharf and seawall lost in shadow
and reflected shadow; he steers the middle
channel, beyond the eddies, back-currents,
in the swift water.
Searchlight beam swinging, swinging,
sweeps across seeking the
bridge, the buoy, the lock.
Unseen mariner in the dark
pilot house glides into a
hall of mirrors. The beam sweeps, pauses
on skeletal steel, on bridge pilings,
the other shore.
Penelope is dead.
The arc light caresses the wrinkled water
like a familiar face
long accustomed to the light touch,
sweeps its beam deep in the perdurable gloom,
sweeps across, moves on.
frozen too tight to
asthmatic, ribs cannot rise and
with the moon pull --
ice clasps the banks
grabs the bottom at shoals
weighs down against the inward push
of the sea.
Occasionally it will sigh a great crack
and the splitting boom will echo
like a crackling bone
across the cold, still air
as it struggles to breathe in
Twenty-six, thirty two, too young --
sleeping in broad daylight,
propped up in the bus shack at Division and
bags around her, under her head,
dark hair matted like a mattress,
so dense no brush could ever let it float
bushed after nights of watching, keeping moving;
someone said she was fired from the bank --
too proud for welfare, or was it spite
she slept there mornings when the streets
began to flow.
Winter so hard the river froze too tight for
great white blocks bumping and nudging
an empty sack up against the bank.
"Reminds me of that doe froze upstream
when the dogs drove her in. Too young,"
he said, swinging the axe, chipping her free.
The River, Frozen
The gulls fly by.
They won't stop.
There is no open water,
and the ice looks like sky.
One breaks loose from the flock
and floats down in slow circles
like raven searching for a clod of land --
hovering, dipping, head turning side to side,
the shining sky in ice; his wings pick
up the beat,
strain to rejoin the flock. Three crows
circle, craving water, cawing, ragged
feathers torn by the wind.
You too circle, circle, but whether you are
or like a carp roofed with glass nuzzling
or mayfly nymph in the opaque depths
you are not sure; whether you search for water
or for an opening in the roof above
you cannot tell.
Funny to see the ducks
Funny to see the ducks
ducking, and swimming, fluttering
their feathers in mid-February,
the little pond of water
in the great icy field of the river --
black silhouettes against gray
ice at dusk, standing on the glass
shores, bathing, preening while the
ragged orange sunset breaks the craggy
clouds, promising snow,
but down the street
in the courtyard
house-finches are singing
among the snowdrops.
Link to Poems
from Katannilik Journal