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from Littlefoot

ISSUE:  Winter 2006


The level’s so low in the short pond,
The snipe seems to walk on water,
ruffling his dagger-drawn wings
As he heads for the next mossed hillock.
Suddenly, under a cloud, the sun’s bottom auras the pond’s surface,
And snipe is consumed by fire,
still walking, angelic, wings dipped in flame.
It must have been like this on the first retelling, back there on the long water.
Such mystery,
sunlight and surface-shine and something winged on the waves,
Snipe settled now, deep beak in the curls.

The logo is Fra Angelico, 
alone in the unfinished rooms
Upstairs in S. Marco, blank windows

He colored with apparitions and visitations,
The outlines already there,
Apparently, waiting to be filled in.
And he filled them, stroke by stroke,
Bringing the outside inside.
He painted, it’s been said, the first recognizable landscape.
As for the others, 
he gathered the form from the air, and gave it flesh.

The snipe stands on top of himself
on the water beneath him.
When he drinks, he drinks from his own mouth.
What could be luckier, as full of grace and replenishment,
As feeding oneself on one’s other self, one’s stand-in,
Life’s little helper swagged under our feet,
one’s doppelganger and replica?

Windless, just-August evening.
Only the grasses move, and slightly,
The tall grasses, hearing the whispers of gravity,
And turning their tired necks
as though they’d prefer not to.
Otherwise, not even the stubbed clover moves, nor the snipe,
either of them.

August, blue mother, is calling her children in
Out of the sun-dried thistles
And out of the morning’s dewlessness.
All of the little ones,
the hard-backed and the flimsy-winged,
The many-legged and short-of-breath,
She calls them all, and they come.

Listen, this time I think she’s calling your name as well.

I wish I remembered the way the stars looked
up here some thirty-five years ago
When the lights went out.
Pretty much as they do now, I’d guess.
Though I never see them,
given, as now I am, to an early bed.
Original oxymorons, ice on fire, I loved to watch them fall.

And loved them, too, as they stayed in place,
Designs from the afterlife of dreams,
and beyond that,
Connecting the dots from nothingness.

It comforts me to know they’re up there,
and that their light
Keeps coming long after my sleep has gone forth, and my sleep’s sleep.

We’ve all lead raucous lives,
some of them inside, some of them out.
But only the poem you leave behind is what’s important.
Everyone knows this.
The voyage into the interior is all that matters,
Whatever your ride.
Sometimes I can’t sit still for all the asininities I read.
Give me the hummingbird, who has to eat sixty times
His own weight a day just to stay alive.
Now that’s a life on the edge. 

I live here accompanied by clouds
Now that the weather’s broken.
They take and release sunlight
like stained glass outside my small window.
A light that sometimes prompts me to want
To leave the world and settle, like some white bird,
on another mountain.


Those deep East Tennessee nights,
Stars scatter-shot over the Cumberlands,
the roads dark
And mysterious, was the rhythm I always wanted,
The song I wanted to sing,
The sound and set-up I tried to remember
and tried to bring.


What does it profit us to say
The stiff new bristles of the spruce tree
Glisten like bottle brushes after the rain shower?
To what avail us the thunderstorm
Passing just north of us, and south too,
Like a growling and wire-haired dog
still wishing us harm?

Description and metaphor,
The fancy dancing of language,
to what good end, my friend, to what end?
And who will remember us and our enterprise,
Whose fingers will sift our dust?

We’ll never know, Horatio, we’ll never know.

Cold snap, not even mid-August yet,
The little engines of change at work
Unexpectedly in the atmosphere 
as well as our lives,
The dragging, black-bellied clouds
That enter our blood from the wrong side of the compass,
The double-clutch of wind shift
Into off-limits and unappeasable places
Is coming our way soon,
and slow-dropped out of the blue.
One sees it and feels it at the same time,
Pulling toward the meridian, then over the hill.

The evening’s homily comes down to this in the end:
Praise for the left-out and the left-behind,
Praise for the left-over and over-looked,
praise for the left hand
And the horse with one lame leg,
Praise for the going-down,
and the farther going-down,
Praise for the half-things, red moon and the smoke-scented sky,
The half-winded whicker of geldings,
light water on top of the dark,
The dispossession of all landscape
As night cuts the music off,
and pulls the plug and eases in. 

The over-heated vocabulary of the sun
Has sunk to just a few syllables,
fewer than yesterday.
And fewer still tomorrow, I’d bet.
Slaphappy sidekick, guttering old fool,
tongue-tied and toasty,
What are your last ones likely to be, ‘you’ Or will they be ‘the?’ 

Bringing the horses in is like
bringing the past of the whole race in.
Sundown, a cloud-flittered sky.
They’d like blood, but hay is what they get,
Ghosts from our former lives,
ghosts who could carry us still.
Breathe lightly into their nostrils, scorgle their muzzles.
They brought us here,
and someday they’ll take us far away. 

Twenty hours of rain in the middle of August,
No thunder, no lightning strikes.
A gift.
I saw two kingfishers last week outside my window,
Above the creek. I hope they’ll come back.

Autumn is underway, already the first gears
notched and turned.

Abandoned squirrel nest under cloud-slide.
Pencil stub.
The dread of what we can see, and the dread of what we can’t see,
Crawl in the same manner,
one in the back of the other.  

Struck by the paucity of my imagination
To winnow the meadow from anything it is,
I watch the yellow-tail hawk
cruising its edges, the willows
Along the creek’s course,
Low down and lethal, then up like a slung lariat
To circle and telescope,
Eventually to noose back down
And crumble,
only to rise, big wings pumping, back to the west.

Beside me, the shadow of a windchime’s bamboo drag
Turns like a fish on a string
Noiselessly in the still waters of morning’s sunlight.
A pack train of white and off-white clouds
Works east where the hawk had been.
Almost noon, the meadow
Waiting for someone to change it into another. Not me.
The horses, Monte and Littlefoot,
Like it the way it is.
And this morning, so do I. 

After the end of something, there comes another end,
This one behind you, and far away.
Only a lifetime can get you to it,
and then just barely.  


The page is dark, and the story line is darker still.
We all have the same book,
identically inscribed.
We open it at the appointed day, and begin to read. 


There is a kind of depression that empties the soul.
The eyes stay bright,
the mind stays clear as Canada on an autumn day
Just after the rain.
But the soul hangs loose as a plastic bag in a tree
When the wind has died.
It is that drained.
And overcast. The little jack-weeds
That line its edges exhale,
And everything falls to a still, uneasy remove.
It stirs when the wind shifts,
and seasons tumble and stall.
It stirs, but it does not disappear.
Though weeds re-up and the clouds relent,
it doesn’t disappear. 

Like a golden Afro, a bunch of eldergrass has blossomed
And paled out
On top of an uprooted pine stump
Across the creek.
As the sun goes down,
What small light there is drains off into its spikiness,
And glows like a severed head against the darkness.  

Oil lamp lit, outside light a similitude,
wet world
From recent downpour,
I think of you back in Massachusetts,
hurting from head to foot heel,
Still summer there, autumn beginning here, no drop of complaint. 

Brush stroke bull rushes in front of pond’s mirror,
rain spots
Pimpling diminished mountain.
My 70th birthday,
such wonderful weather.  

Whatever lights there are are ours, or can be,
all things
We see are like that.
And those we can’t see gather the light
closely unto themselves,
And look around steadily for us.
How is it we miss their messages?

August the 25th, the snipe gone. 
Do they go south?
I suppose they must, but where?
Certainly not to east Tennessee
Where I held the bag for hours
in Oak Ridge one evening after supper
(There goes the kingfisher, and then the yellow-tail hawk,
One up the creek, the other one down).
I hope they are walking now on a warmer water,
And that their reflections are just as clear,
and the moss as green.
Sixty-two years ago, the year of aluminum pennies,
My hands still burning,
the mouth of that croker sack still open. 

Lord, when the world is still, how still it is,
contrails and mare’s tails
Criss-crossing the sky,
Patterned so lightly on its unmistakable air.
One waits for a presence from the darkening woods,
one large and undiminished,
But only its absence appears, big as all get-out.

Evening arrives so swiftly these days
even the weak-kneed weeds
Don’t know which direction to bow in,
The fugitive wind-fingers,
Groping north, groping south,
then hanging like unstuck chimes
From their disused and desolute hands.

Out over the sunlit Pacific
Mischief is in the making
(Good, there’s the kingfisher again,
Then gone in a blue, acetylene flash
Down to the trout horde),
Whose scratches and plum knots
we’ll feel in a day or two.  

The world’s whinny and the world’s bit
are two thousand miles away.
How is it I hear its hoofbeats so sharp in my ear?  


The past is a dark pocket
where even the coins don’t shine.
No lights to the reservoir,
no path to the deep water.


Emptiness happens.
It’s like the down-curving dead branch
On the pine tree outside my window
Which ends in nothing, its mossy beard
Moving just slightly, no more than that, in the slight wind.
One hopes, in due time, to be so moved,
in just such a garment.

There’s an easy emptiness, and a hard emptiness,
The first one knowable, the second one not,
though some are said to have seen it
And come back to fight the first.
Which is bespoke, and fits like a shirt.
The second one’s colorless, and far away
as love is, or a resurrection. 

The bottles my messages are sent in have long disappeared.
Cloudy September jumbles the sky.
The great purity waits for me,
but no one has answered my questions.  

These are the night journals,
an almanac of the afterhour,
Icarus having fallen
A long time ago, the sun in its ghostly pursuit
Behind him behind the ridge
Not enough light to see the page,
not really,
Much less to imagine how it must have been, the pale boy
Scalded by burning wax,
cooled by wind,
The water a sudden oblivion, so nothing, so welcoming,
So many worlds since then, all of them alike, all of them
Suncatcher, father and son. 

The beginning of autumn dark is quick, and it’s cold, and long.
My time of life is a preen of feathers, and goes on and on.
If not in me, then in you,
I’ll look for you in the deep light, on the other side.
The water is wadeable,
not too big, not too small.
I’ll be the one with the white hair, avoiding the mirror. 

It’s odd how certain combinations
are carved twice in the same memory,
Once in the surface rip-rap and once in the deep seams.
Lake Garda is like that, and Valpolivella wine,
The sun going down above Salò,
The waters, as has been said,
crumpling and smoothing toward Bardolino,
Fish on the grill, the wine like blood in liter carafes,
The dusk a darkish serenity laying its hands
On our shoulders
warmly, with a touch of freshness, but warmly.
When you’re twenty-three, you’ll live forever, a short time,
It turns out, but still forever,
two cuts in the memory.  

One horse up and one horse down.
And Punto S. Vigilio,
Olive trees semaphoring in the wind O love me.
And I did, I did.
I wonder if I will ever see it again?
And Riva, that myth-bag, Gardone,
And all the way over and back to Sirmione?
And Thorpe and Hobart and Schimmel and Schneeman,
will I see them,
And Via Mazzini, La Greppia, Piazza Erbe?
Not as they were and not as I was.
The past is a dark disaster, and no one returns.
Initials are left, and dates.
Sometimes the bodies are still hanging,
and sometimes not.

Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The poets are coming to town.
One in rags and one in tags,
And one in a silken gown.


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