More Things Than Are Dreamt Of
You asked everyone and me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
And I paused from play to answer.
Later, while I accumulated degrees, you asked, “What are you going to do with that?”
And I robed myself in answers.
I didn’t hear from you for a long time, or maybe you were that hum I thought was an appliance
Always on in the background, or maybe I was.
Anyway, years later, we met at a party, held up our wine glasses like little shields,
And you asked, “What do you do?” And I told you. It was easy.
Then, after I had done most of what I was going to do, and lost most of what mattered,
You maintained a polite distance, but your eyes still asked.
So I went back to doing more of it.
Now I’m done, so of course you turn up again to ask, “What are you going to do?”
I am going to follow the flight of a bee from hive to flowered branch,
Where I will watch an apple grow
That I will bake in a pie
Sweetened with honey from the hive.
I am going to learn the news from Isaiah and Blake and Milosz
I am going to consider water as it moves over stones,
And stones as they do not move under water.
I am going to watch lines deepen:
The lines on her face,
The lines under the names of things,
More things than are dreamt of,
And I am going to keep writing this poem.
Water laughs at stones’
firm denial that only
the river remains.
so it thinks, shifts a little—
the current has time.
One oak leaf still clings,
learns from chill wind and wood duck
reason to release.
From her icy bed,
salmon makes one last journey—
downstream, bit by bit.
Words on the River
to the Membership
To find the gift and later find the giver
Of spring, the winter wind is slow to learn,
But words float on the surface of the river.
A flash of gold in folded green, a quiver:
Trout hover, only patient eyes discern;
They find the gift and later find the giver.
How few in darkness wait to feel the shiver,
How few kneel low and long enough to earn
What words float on the surface of the river.
The eddy hides, reveals but what you give her:
In softer tremble far from channel’s churn—
There, find the gift and later find the giver.
One source, one destination to deliver;
No soul holds expectation of return
Whose words float on the surface of the river.
Then walk among us guilty a forgiver;
Immersed, emerging, dripping, ever yearn
To find the gift and later find the giver
Whose words float on the surface of the river.
My river is a mean girl in the spring:
She’ll flirt, then whisper rumors to a friend
About my crush, while wild at me she’ll fling
Abuse for every wooing word I send.
Rain falls, she gravel grumbles for a day,
Then buried boulder shoulders shrug it off;
And if the timid sun should dare a ray,
She'll glare his glance away to scorn and scoff.
She laughs with flash of fin and silver side
As I launch out my egg-and-nymph-laid line;
Her steelhead knock their heads against my pride;
She’ll tug and tease, but love? She’ll give no sign.
I cast my words as hills cast sticks and stones,
But names will never hurt what no one owns.
Dog and Me
Rosie pads nose down
among brown-eyed susans
at the edge of the sparkling water
serenaded by song birds
foraging for windfall sticks:
all that matters.
This must be a metaphor for
something regrettably human
but if I stop watching the morning
to work it out and
put it in a poem,
I will be it.
Cold Spring Trail Artist
In the living skin of a white alder
overlooking this pool you, stranger,
an hour, more or less,
JESUS IS LORD—
converting, no doubt, many
hiking agnostics since to atheism—
not my point, really, which
is that in the time you took to
your deadly redundancy,
red roots groped in gold boulders long
from shoulders steep up there where slow blue
through green lace
down in beams to
glimmer of stream’s bouncing dance and gift of
green, green, to
all of this,
O, all of this—
and in that hour,
moment, you missed the
root to crown, when the high leaves
in wind, when the branches
out against the pain, and a voice
Father, forgive them.
To kill it, they said at the store,
Shoot it, but I had no gun, or
Dunk the trap in the river,
So after midnight, rope tied to the cage,
I tossed it in, pointed the flashlight to ensure
What would happen had happened.
Through steel wires, through rush of dark water,
The amber glow of its eyes aimed at me;
After a minute, maybe two, as I held the beam,
The amber light was there, then it wasn’t.
Just like that. The light went out.
I pulled up the cage, the river roared,
I dug a hole, buried the thing.
There is probably an explanation.
About the light, I mean.
I only know it went out, just like that.
Also I know that
Next time I kill something, I will do it
Humanely: I will look away.
Bill Stafford rose before dawn,
Followed a thread from his bed
To a study that filled with words
Every night, ready to fall
Into order, into envelopes.
I am just plain sleepy. No poem comes,
Not even the dog. Only a little
Blue pilot flame under the heater
Trembles, waits with me in the dark
For the turning touch.
The sun comes.
What We Are
We are what we have
lost: a child, one who comes home
to give me my name.
Blur of yellow fluff bobs
In the swift current,
Resolves itself into
Desperate to return.
Where the water slows,
It strains for the bank,
Stumbles up, safe
Until the darkness
Brings weasel or fox.
Tyche, maybe, goddess of
Luck, good or bad,
Or fate, one size fits all;
But do not call this selection
Natural, and please
Do not suggest that
No not this---
Happens for a
Their golden mantles pale in waning light,
These aged oak and maple still preside;
How rigid in chill winds they bide upright
And watch in studied silence, dignified,
While ringed within their outstretched crossing hands,
Raised high these many years in benediction,
A hundred feet below, a playground stands,
Now empty in autumnal dereliction.
So still—did children ever fill this air
With light laments of Do we have to go?
So soon? Just five more minutes? That's not fair!
So many warm pink hands, so long ago;
To this cold sheen they rubbed these bars, these chains;
So soon the winter comes, so long remains.
One leaf drifts down, one more, without a sound,
Past hands raised vainly to the tepid sun;
From treetops they spin surely to the ground—
O would that I could save just one, just one.
So from the golden lately fallen, choose:
A memory for each of these bright few;
At river's edge let each of them drift loose;
Release them trembling, as a tree must do,
And dreaming as a tree must dream, of spring:
Impossible the hope, against all laws,
To long not for the season time will bring,
But for the last, the past, the one that was;
For these and only these were this tree’s leaves;
These leaves alone, that now the earth receives.
On past the dragon, through the thorns' thick riot;
Here was her bedroom, first door on the left;
My Sleeping Beauty's castle lies so quiet;
Princess's chamber now of life bereft.
A spindle's sudden prick was all it took;
Now throbbing silence and a film of dust;
A pen, a tissue dropped, a half-read book.
I cannot break the spell, and yet I must
Dismantle the dreamscape of her return.
The story leaps ahead a hundred years;
A moment kissed and all awake to learn
That youth is old and not as it appears.
A children's tale, we've called it ever since—
But O let it be true, and soon, brave Prince.
Time passes, and the misty shore recedes.
I drift away, float helpless on the tide;
Between us only water intercedes;
Your face is fading as the space grows wide.
But now and then there dances on the air
A fleeting shadow of your voice or touch—
As light as hope, as hope is light, is prayer—
To make this world of sense not hurt so much.
Now in the senseless void where you should be
Alive, in all the moments that you lost,
I come to you on lines of poetry
Until at last this timeless sea is crossed.
Hear clearer than my echoes of goodbye:
Susanna, you shall live, and death shall die.
for my students
Between black clouds, late fierce light slants
A threat of storm on grass
That students and scholars do not trod.
No, we respect the paths made for us.
This is the same grass I did not trod
In a Cambridge courtyard
Where Isaac Newton once measured
The speed of sound. I kept to paths.
Now, in the interval between flash and boom,
I calculate that none of us is far
From the apple of gravity that drops
Near enough the path to reach.
The Gospel in Five Easy Lessons
Why have you come to torment us before the time? Damn, always too soon, or too late.
Just grab his hem to heal: luck trumps doctrine every time.
A rock thrower saunters up later to read what that finger wrote in the dust but doesn’t tell.
Sing a song of long live the king and a fling for most on the Via Dolorosa
Afterward, one of the twelve wanders far away and just plants a garden—I forget which one.
Behind obese Derek on the off-white
wall of the little Penske office a big
calendar displaying January
each blank day two inches square,
marked with a neat X, and I do not
call to Derek’s attention that it is
February because he may know,
and our eyes do
not meet when he says in benediction,
Here’s your keys. You’re all set
One day I tried to love with all my mind:
The issue was a sparrow of a truth
Which I let fall into a footnote, buried
Amongst the corollary evidence
Between a Frenchman and a German. There
It lies in wait for scholars' eyes to note
As mine, and noteworthy, or maybe not.
And it is well. And just as well that it
Would not fit into survey lectures, even
Collegial conversations. But You saw,
You saw, and then, just now while I sought words
To shadow your response, a bird outside
My office sang—I'd like to think, a sparrow.
And it is well. On that note I conclude.
I sneak back to campus, summer Saturday.
Someone has left Porter Hall open.
I stand at the lectern, fill the empty
Rows with freshmen,
Whisper the first words of my opening lecture,
And the room gets smaller,
Like my third grade playground,
Where it used to be a mile from the fence
To Miss Tillinger
Who blew a whistle to retrieve us,
All crewcuts and ponytails, Karens and Bills,
Endowed with time to cross vast distances;
Now just a hundred steps to the little chapel,
No further than from Jerusalem to Babylon.
There I sit down and weep;
Later, I get up.
I note the noose in the corner for liars
And steal out into the hot light.
My old office is nearby.
I peek through blinds
At the latest occupant’s scholarly stacks:
A thousand familiar volumes, thick with knowing,
But none, as I recall,
No whistle sounds, but I know that
Despite my inconspicuously professorial appearance,
Will get me sent to the principal’s office for sure,
So I climb the hill to the parking lot—
Not as steep as I remembered—and drive away,
Red-eyed, to the grownups.
Another Poet Turns Forty- or Fifty-Something
Jack said, two things make you old:
What you won’t do and what you’ve done more of than you will do.
One day you realize that you won’t go to Nepal
Or the Great Barrier Reef.
The Himalayas will keep pushing snow up
Everest like a Dairy Queen cone with that little swirl on the top
But you won’t lick it.
Or the Reef, where Jacques Cousteau swam
Back when you had to adjust an antenna to find him—
Ah, you could have been Jacques,
Except for the life you chose
A few days later it hits you that you have eaten a lot more
Hot fudge sundaes than
You have yet to eat;
A future not so full as the past.
You knew, Jack.
Prize-Winning Eskimo Sex Sonnet
Her words whip tundra gales through lichen cracks,
Above my slithy toves of derivation;
She juxtaposes yin and yang and yaks,
Somehow intuits Inuits’ sensation.
My feet in snowshoes do strain to stay with her
Whose dulcet iambs hum like skin drum thrummings;
Her out and innuendos slip and slither,
Unlike my goings and my (i’m no) cummings.
My mediocrity I have no doubt of
When she enjambs where meaning’s harpoon, terse,
Awaits, while I just write until I’m out of
Space—the final affront here to good verse.
[Enclosed, my SASE with my sonnet;
At contest’s end, don’t tell me that she won it.]
Its me. I would of come to class to-day,
But both my kids are still to sick and there
Dad works, plus grammer (husbands mom) wont stay
More then two hours, which I dont think is fair,
Shes in our single wide out back so why
She cant help me some more I just dont get,
Ok, your probly thinking tmi :)
My questions on the homework, I forget
On Tuseday did you say we could or not
Use I on essays? I wrote all I can,
A half a page but that’s asfars I got,
And do you grade on writing? Yours, Sue Ann
P.S. If I missed anything today
Just send it in an email back ok?