Before your memory fades—
what did you see?
Grass moving in the wind, birds, young pines
like bottlebrushes, squirrels.
No, no, you must
what did you see?
Bull nettle sharp with glassy needles,
Venus’ looking-glass in endless self-reflection.
And persimmon blossoms
scattered like confetti, sassafras.
White-tailed deer, a herd
divided by my presence.
fetterbush, poison oak, grape.
Muscadine, I guess.
And butterflies in the deep woods
like flying shadows. Swallowtails.
I do not know.
Some kind of peaflower, I remember, white and pink.
Some kind of oak, the leaves rounded. White oak.
But what about the smallest,
the shrinking and timid and camouflaged?
Those I didn’t see.
Not the jewel-backed beetles
nor the worms in the galls
nor the agaric just starting to swell
nor the small herbs among the grasses
nor the voles in the pine straw?
No. But I can tally
meadow rue and dewberry,
a fox squirrel black as burned pine trunks,
a blue-tailed skink, pipsissewa.
But did you see Eustis Lake Beard Tongue,
(it should be in blossom now, pink blossom)
or trailing arbutus,
or painted buntings?
Not the buntings?
Then they are gone.
What you see, that is what survives.
What you remember is all there is.
Don’t you want to save the world?
Lore II: Tap’s Tips
Lost, you can follow water down
to civilization—a bridge, a mill, a town—because
water makes wealth.
Dry leaves are a comforter
for the forlorn—tunneled into, they trap heat
and life. In snow country, hemlock boughs
bent over your single bed may be sealed by snowfall.
You can daub your shoes with mink oil,
waterproof your coat
and hat, dip matches in paraffin
and seal them in a tube.
But not having planned to enter the trail,
nor to lose it,
you have made no provision.
No matches, no hook, no coil of line, no knife.
You eat what the season allows: fiddleheads,
the pith of cattails, cress, dandelion greens,
morels if they are not false, strawberries,
blackberries, blueberries, fox grapes,
feral apples, hickory nuts, walnuts, Indian potatoes,
bird eggs, turtle eggs, frogs, dace, crayfish,
a nest of hairless mice,
yellow clay, clean snow, a pane of ice.
Honey cleanses wounds
but so do maggots.
Consider that the ones who love you
will not look long enough.
Father Showed Us the Aurora Borealis
On lawn chairs sunk
to the webbed seats in snow,
we sat bundled in blankets,
faces tilted to the unrolling scroll:
Colors of a hummingbird gorget,
parrot fish, shallow seas,
in the airless
earth and moon,
glories we couldn’t
our eyes since birth
whetted against sun
on snow, a palette
of twig and bone,
knowing only north.
Across the road from our bleak farmless farmhouse
was once another, crumpled into its cellar-stones
under an orchard of apples, pears, and plums.
We shook fruit down from summer ’til snow,
gifts from householders faltered, fizzled, ruined, dead—
trees they had planted outlasting their other works.
Greengage plums glowing on black-knotted boughs.
Bartlett pears, bruised and buzzing with yellowjackets.
Pale cheeks of Maiden Blush apples, washed crimson.
Concord grapes clustering under a crawl of vines.
Last to be gathered: Wolf River apples,
large and lopsided, not much to recommend
them until put to the fire, cored and filled with brown
sugar, butter and cinnamon, propped
on uneven buttocks for baking. Taken from the oven,
their steam clouded kitchen windows dark with November.
When the garden was in rags, when the sun
slid toward its deepest sleep, we ate.
If we thought to thank those who had planted—
eh, well, we did not know their names.
Watch the sun come up on your own life
The nature of the tourist
is that she has nothing to do
despite the itineraries,
no place to settle.
It’s all about glutting
the eyes, nose, ears,
sucking in all this
the diesel exhaust
along famous boulevards
where one glance
up would present her
with a mother scrubbing
a child’s neck, a youth
naked from the shower,
an old man inspecting
a worrisome mole –
moments when light
reaches deeply into familiar
rooms and we pay heed
to our dutiful bodies
newly not the same.