A break

I took a break from weeding and lay in the hammock awhile. Cloudless, breezy, equinoctial day–in no time, acorns and oak leaves hastened down to join me (nothing quite like having a large acorn ping on the forehead to remind one of the force of gravity and the inevitability of seasonal change). Hammock time is being pared away by the longer nights.

When I can be out of doors, I keep an eye out for migratory dragonflies, monarchs, flocks of robins, assemblages of chipping sparrows. Yesterday, I spied a kestrel in flight, zooming pointedly, clearly on the hunt. Today, we heard the weirdly rasping, short-stopped honks of herons, a stately pair of whom were being followed by an oddly-silent flock of crows.

smallcornsThis brief post is likewise a break for me. Post-weeding and post-hammock, I have student papers to grade and a busy work week ahead. Well, that’s what happens in the fall! I may as well be ready for it.

In the meantime, specific observations from the hammock or the back porch may act as feeder streams for future poems.

Dogs & lions

By chance, I encountered the poem “Thorn Leaves in March” by W.S. Merwin (1956, Poetry magazine) a day ago and felt levels of resonance such as poems can evoke. The powerfully “clear expression of mixed feelings”–thank you again, W.H. Auden–converges with seasonal details in this early Merwin piece and merges, completely by happenstance, with events in my current life.

Walking out in the late March midnight
With the old blind bitch on her bedtime errand
Of ease stumbling beside me, I saw

At the hill’s edge, by the blue flooding
Of the arc lamps, and the moon’s suffused presence…

My elderly dog stumbles beside me on these late-winter nights; I do not think she will see another full-blooming spring. Resonance.

alicelamb

Rescue of an orphaned lamb.

“As a white lamb the month’s entrance had been…” Well, that has certainly been true of this year’s weather. And the lamb allusion makes me think not just of the old saying about March but about my daughter, who is spending this month’s last two weeks working among ewes on a farm in Scotland as lambing season progresses.

Merwin’s speaker refutes the aphorism; his March comes in like a lamb because it is white, and goes out in white, as well:

…as a lamb, I could see now, it would go,
Breathless, into its own ghostliness,
Taking with it more than its tepid moon.

The lion, he claims, is “The beast of gold, and sought as an answer,/Whose pure sign no solution is.” No lion in this quiet, late-winter/cusp-of-spring snowfall–the light is silvery, the budding leaves of the thorn trees translucent and cold. The speaker stands beneath the “sinking moon” and wonders, questions, listening for something he knows he will not hear.

The old dog, domestic companion (neither lion nor lamb), completes her mission; the man lets go of metaphysical thoughts; the earth inexorably turns toward summer–despite the snow.

I’ll keep this poem in mind as the next snowstorm heads my way on the equinox.

 

Roadkill

As the spring equinox approaches and creatures rouse from dormancy, the number of roadkill incidents spikes. Yesterday as I made a left turn into my driveway, I noticed a groundhog carcass lying in the middle of the street. I was stopped to retrieve my mail anyway, so I figured I should move the body off.

And then it moved–bloodied mouth opening and shutting, one heavily-clawed forepaw shuddering slightly. It wasn’t quite dead.

Poems about road kills sprang to mind. I thought immediately of Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark” and that moment of swerving, replete with caesuras, in the last couplet; Billy Collins’ “Ave Atque Valealso skittered into my thoughts, that bloated woodchuck waving “hail, Caesar” to the passing vehicles.  As I pulled a plastic bag from my car, one of my own poems resonated–“Burials,” which is in my collection Water-Rites (available through this link and posted below).

I made a glove of the bag and grasped the poor beast by its tail, a precaution: it might have been lively enough to snap at me. Not the case this time. A car running over the body would have put the groundhog more quickly out of its misery, but by daylight drivers tend to avoid road kill; it gets smashed during the night hours. So I left it on the embankment to gasp out its last breath with the birds larking about above it and some damp wintry weeds under its dark body.

This sort of experience feels oddly metaphorical…obviously, not only for me but for people like Stafford and Collins. I am sure one could put together an anthology of very lovely roadkill poems.

~groundhog-day-groundhog

BURIALS

1.
Last week the neighbors’ dogs eviscerated a woodchuck,
left it, stinking, at the perimeter of our woods

which is how we found it, by the smell—
body bloated, partly hairless:

a scientific demonstration on the rapidity
and absoluteness of decay, the brief time it takes;

but today my daughter cannot bear the stray cat’s
road-killed stillness, the soft, domestic body,

the pet, which isn’t hers—she begs to bury it.
The schoolbus arrives with my promise

to give the cat some cover. Under mulberry I scrape
a shallow grave, in thin and gravelly roadside soil,

cover it with fallen leaves, an autumn prayer—
nothing more, because I know burial does not forestall

death’s swell, its stink, desiccation,
absoluteness; I do what I promised,

disguising the body’s inevitable progression
from the eyes of my grieving child.

2.
Shall I cover my gray hairs
with dry leaves, shall I layer
my wrinkled hands beneath clay,
hide my own departure—

or shall I teach my children
to understand the truth of maggots,
which consume equally
the treasured and the stray—

which arrive unasked,
fulfill their contract with the earth,
never seeking recognition
or time, more time?

~

© 2012 Ann E. Michael

 

Equinox: autumnal

ann e. michael poet

I do like early autumn. The bright flowers of late summer possess almost tropical coloration: tithonia, goldenrod, zinnias, dahlias, canna lilies, cosmos, salvia, marigolds…meanwhile, the leaves begin to turn. Where I live, the euonymus alatus (spindle-tree/burning bush), sassafras, and sumac are the first leaves to redden, along with the five-leaved Virginia creeper vines.

My reading in Bloomsburg was a great experience. There was a full house, the sound and lighting systems worked, and the Moose Exchange is a delightful building, similar in purpose to many arts-venue collectives in other small US cities as they attempt to revitalize their downtown regions. The building was once the home of the Moose Lodge, one of many community associations that once worked to keep small cities and neighborhoods vibrant in the days before flight to the suburbs. My reading, part of the Big Dog reading series, took place in the third-floor ballroom! Afterwards, we had dinner in a terrific little Italian restaurant just off Main Street. Portobello mushroom ravioli in sage-butter, delicious.

The drive home was quiet–mostly highway, late crickets still making noise along the road, full moon in a perfectly cloudless sky.

I recognized that I can work on my writing practice more diligently and less anxiously than I have been. There are ways to make space in my life for creativity again. My recent readings on consciousness and the nature of being lead back to the poetics of space somehow.

first day of Autumn
my heart is pounding wild
Ah! The full moon

     ~Basho

Endemophilia

This poem is sort of my version of endemophilia, describing (as Albrecht defines it) “the particular love of the locally and regionally distinctive in the people of that place. It is similar to what Relph … called “existential insideness” or the deep, satisfying feeling of being truly at home with one’s place and culture.” You might want to check out Glenn Albrecht’s site for more detailed definitions and philosophical/psychological reasons for inventing names for such concepts.

My long-poem in Water-Rites, “The Valley, the Whitetail: A History,” probably fits the term endemophilia more closely than the poem I’ve posted below–which may one day appear in print if I can find a publisher for my next manuscript. But the long-poem is a little too long for a blog post.

[I have an idea: buy a copy of Water-Rites from Brick Road Poetry Press, and read it there!]

~

Suburban Georgic

A mild day in February. Good chance
there’ll be more snow or ice. Walk slowly,

note the footprint of a hosta, dormant, or
the arrow-shaped deer hoof in hardened soil.

Look more closely for the ravages and burrows
of rodentia—woodchucks, voles and mice.

You may discover where squirrels have
hidden seeds or laid waste to crocus corms—

try to restrain your wrath. Decide
how best to counter such yearly looting;

strategy keeps the mind sharp. Grubs,
for instance, in your lawn—a different tack,

and this year you may succeed, and keep
the skunks from rooting through the grass.

Weigh, in your mind and pocketbook,
the relative costs of pesticide and herbicide.

It might be the year to go organic,
though there’s even odds the dandelions will thrive.

Ease your troubled breast from lawn woes.
Raise your eyes to forsythia, to witch-hazel,

observe critically the shrubs’ bare bones,
decide what needs the kindest cut,

find your saw and pruners, time to oil
and sharpen—your fingers itch—

but it’s a little soon. To assuage your
yearning, cut back the redtwig osier

so its new growth will flush crimson.
Consider forcing blooms indoors—

aren’t there soft, small swellings on
the slim wands of pussywillow?

When the next storm hits, dream of columbine
and narcissus. Get out your Horace, and wait.

ann e michael

quince blossoms

~

© 2008 Ann E. Michael

~

Waiting, in the place I call home, for spring.