FOUR POEMS, FOUR POETS
Everything for the Horse
Oftentimes, when the melancholy has gripped me,
and God knows that can happen at any hour of the day,
the black bile has backed up into my craw,
the atrabilious cloud has settled over my head
and every last detail of life seems out of joint,
I tell myself it’s time to visit Peter Bell,
my skewbald stallion. Combing his coat
brings a pleasure to us both it’s safe to say,
time has no meaning for me, one animal
grooming another, and a wave at sea.
I read no thoughts into Peter Bell, simply
that he is happy enough with my quiet company.
We are both getting on in years now,
and while I know full well that regrets will get you nowhere,
how can I not from time to time remember
my dear wife Dorothy, not to mention her gooseberry pie,
and her Sunday dinners in general.
I try like hell not to become maudlin,
but being alone on a farm just isn’t right.
The rooster crows, the sun comes up
and there’s nothing but sick thoughts in my head.
I could shoot Peter Bell and move to town,
I wake with that thought nearly every morning.
Old Clyde would hire me on at the hardware store.
Rent a room from Matilda, drink
a couple of beers with the boys at The Green Parrot.
Too many mornings all that sounds like heaven to me.
Woman and Hens: Postcard
Look at this woman smoking a pipe
and bearing two bound hens on her head,
the blue pillow they sit on, the woman’s
red and green striped shirt. The hens
are craning their necks, heads jerking
side to side, red eyes hungry
for the passing fields and road.
They are the blossoms on a woman’s head.
They are the jewels in her crown. They are
hens of the highest order.
Perhaps she’s hurrying home to her husband
and other wives, or to a dying child.
Maybe she’s humming time to her feet,
modeling that hat for a buck or two,
or she’s just hungry for the good soup
she’ll cook after she lops the hens’ heads
off and their bodies run until life
runs out of them and they are gutted,
plucked, and dropped into the pot.
All we know is the look
of hens that are riding high
before whatever happens happens.
A Voice Caught in a Tree
Writhing and slick-sided, a length
of cassette tape stretches against wind.
This must be the memory curled
around the rib, a lost phrase
our lungs still remember. This tree
a map of the river, the river a map
of the blood, thinnest branches reaching
deeply inward. Whose voice is this
thread between fingers? What song
help up to the light? The grackles
lower like plumb lines – and this
the season of removal – already
it’s begun: the intricate weave
and warmth, dry grass, down,
bit of ribbon, a strand of the missing
girl’s hair haunting a low nest.
Somewhere is here – exactly where
isn’t important. The hour is late,
the sleepers on their rafts are turning back
at the point where even inside their dreams
they can hear the roaring waterfall of light
that is morning. Someone is awake though,
that much is certain. She is rolling
her name around inside her mouth –
it melts away like an ice cube. Comfort
is not a fact acceptable to her. Now is not
the time to make small talk or pour measured
shots from a fifth of vodka. The reason is apparent
to anyone who has weighed the worth of his or her own life.
But suicide is not under considered.
It will suffice to call it heartbreak,
a convenient and not wholly inappropriate label
describing this state of mind or circumstance.
A footstep on a stair, the underside of a leaf.
She will try to latch on to the smallest element
of life, the least essence of existence,
salve, salvage, salvation. Then dawn,
the day that is both after and before.
The light is not perfect. She will notice
it is November everywhere and the trees,
so full of color a few weeks ago, are bare
and ungainly, and yet, looking up through those branches
she’ll observe that there is, if nothing else, more sky.
all from Green Mountains Review: 10th Anniversary Double Issue (Fall/Spring 1996-Summer 1997), Ed. Neil Shepard.