The Cutting Line
Red sun rising through the warehouse door,
the mill in summer.
Machines whirring like cicadas in trees:
the presses, the moulder; stacking and grading
wood for fingerjointing: this one cutback,
this one rerip, this one blueheart.
Wading through sweat and sawdust,
fingers cramp, joints ache,
and every now and then, the smell
of eastern white pine, golden pitch.
A grain of your life lies just beyond
the border of Nebraska where the roadmap ends
and the highway hesitates before its long fall
towards the Rockies. We break from the drive
somewhere near Guernsey, at a rest stop, along
one of the rivulets of loose ribbon
that commemorates the old Oregon Trail.
You remember heat-softened asphalt,
the interstate gripping the Great Lakes floodplain,
and the passage through Ohio, Chicago, Iowa.
There were endless cigarettes and cold campgrounds,
the lightening storm on Ogallala lake—yes,
your eyes, touched by flame, burned
into the windshield, while I lay in the tent
threading together its fabric with my eyes.
Behind you now, the world falls
into the sky, and the north fork of the Platte
deepens its reflection of summer corn.
For a moment, you are caught like a feather
in the spines of sagebrush, in the bone cage
of the bison. Tumbleweeds pause
then resume their dance. Cattle turn
and lumber like pilgrims toward the shadows
of broken mountains. Ahead, the Tetons, the divide,
an open range plunging into rivers of wind.
who knew those light rooms
that ancient somewhere
its rotting joints?
there were no photos of
just a myth needled in
tethering the throat of the capital
what restraint and fear among the broken
or the hollow of Helen's
bed that would swallow you up like Scylla?
and were the drifting
sounds of enemy boats
those skiffs coasting in full
of knives and bronze spears?
didn't some God speak
fighting his hair
about a kidnapping
the nature of human-rights?
all this lifted from bric-a-brac
buckle in the attic
from an island
a horse found
given out of love--or
the prospect of war?
Down at the river,
rock talks to rock,
slick click, whisper lisp;
Talks to water,
in the river
while the water bathes
rocks like a mother.
You wait some more.
Moss washing, slippery cold.
A Virgina Rail wades
and speaks in wheezy,
Oh, glean the fluent talk of river:
that clatter splatter,
Minus Sixteen Celsius
On this night of winter
random angels descend
like the one your body left
waving on snow.
The lake grinds its own ice.
Plate sheet, sutures and drift
build each other and a stone
suspends the process of sinking.
Breath blows crystal
variations on a cloud, snow squall and plume.
You take these impressions home but
they arrive before you.
On glass, frost sends white on white
invitations to your own silence.
The first flame-thumping robin.
Nature is never so sweet as survival.
We've crept out from underneath
opiates of hibernation to blink at luck
shining without a full sun.
Last year's nests remain
cupped between whiffs of cedar.
Porcelain shard, hollow membrane
the undelivered prayer
moistens the mouth again.
By the time our spirits return from
hitch-hiking once across the park
we remember what it was like
never to feel this hidden.
Our future hands hold round, smooth exclamations.
In the beginning we come in after the big bang, after the six days, after the dream, after the good was still suspended, inviolate, among the clouds, a hot air balloon filled with hope and surety. Not much later, in a room next door, the creation gets going in earnest as she juggles the proto-types of creatures as yet unnamed, stomps her foot in anticipation of their dancing while the three-headed scarecrow in motley straitjacket begs an extra dose of mercy. She may be listening, but she can not see his suffering, only sense there is a ripple now in the distant sky where memory has been seeded, that covenant whose remembering shall lift us out of the wasteland of boxes tipped and tumbled, forgotten. This side up if you are to see through the mayhem to where the bow is strung between the clouds. Bees are in the honeycomb, sweet and misery ordered together, puzzles yet to come. If I knew the way, I would take you home.
This prose poem originated as a response to the painter Donald Swartzentruber's request for writers to illustrate with words the 36-panels of his monumental Totem Triptychs (swartzentruber.com/13-surreal-art.htm)
Summer afternoon on the deck.
I'm entranced by clouds
crossing the sky behind her--
white fists flying north,
softly gut-punching a fir-spiked mountain
that traps the lake.
Olive, I hear her say,
and I doubt my attention is required.
Olive isn't a serious word.
The clouds reach up a twisting canyon,
claw hand over hand toward the ridge,
hissing through firs
like foam dissolving.
Her voice rises. Not a rant, something less.
It may be my name I hear.
Wind shoves the clouds one into another,
pilgrims at the wall.
It rouses the lake.
She's silent as puffs lift her hair,
let it fall, lift, fall.
Howls crouch on the ridge.
The clouds boil over.
Now, she says, Or, south, maybe.
when i was a leaf
i'd heard what the cranes say,
i'd heard the rough talk of
angels, when i was a
leaf, i was the most
when i was a leaf, i
was the most listening, mine, a
dry tongue in the chorus of
rustling, and within me was the
and i bore butterflies, and
moonlight, and always i
rode with the others
on that sea, the heaving, solemn
out-breath, of my
dark, and mandrake.