Prayer, Christmas Eve, for Recovery of My Dog
O magnum mysterium shoulder me lightly
like a clear river carries an autumn leaf
away on a current of harmony, beyond
this concrete bridge where breath and brain
track the secrets in this dog’s flesh
panting here before me with his three legs
and thumping tail. Too soon his lungs will fail.
Or over there, just beyond the road,
the memory of my brother’s child
crushed between the wheel and the hood,
the accordian of her auto pressed to the bark, Oh
Tannebaum, before gasoline lit
that perfect conifer in one great choir,
searing ornament to a father’s Joyful Season.
Or further down that road a mother, things
that made her cut– a vain attempt to purify
for Holiday, and so she comes to pass one evening
a bag of bones and tumor lying in a bed,
and all a boy can do is drum this nativity away.
Pray? That she could run, like the dog in his dreams?
What can children do for their mother but live?
Or beneath the midnight star– raw earth silent
after the battle’s pageant– a shrapnel-clad soldier
lying in a crater, medic kneeling over him,
hands pressed against the sucking chest wound,
eyes searching for the angel of any medivac
to appear in the dark above and tally them both
to manger before the Magi’s gifts give out.
Only wander does wonder to relieve this beauty,
this annual thrust to blackness. Gracious God
reaching from beyond the nebula, cradle me,
small wren stunned by the window, through this birth,
so I may again walk with dog the village green and pause
where for eight-hundred years grandfathers paused
to contemplate solstice and in that softening evening hear
acapella voices sing In Dulci Jubilati
and recover the faith of my father, my dog, and my God.
“… Oh that we were there. Oh that we were there.”
Christianity & Literature, 2003; Imago Dei, 2012
In Pursuit of the Loon
The marsh lay grey and still.
Mist drifted like thin smoke.
Swamp grass grew grey and silent;
A few stunted tamaracks poked their black beard
Through the soundless contrast of level color.
“So Lonely …”
The loon’s slow echo reached me,
Hands that cupped my ears in sobs,
“So Lonely ….”
My grey raft swelled silent in the slate marsh,
Each oar carefully placed and drawn
So that I moved like leaf in stagnant pond.
The loon knew but stayed
Always at the edge of vision.
Like a ghost he beckoned ‘til I closed
Then submerged leaving an image vanishing like vapor.
Seconds primed ages, and he emerged without a ripple
In a more distant place. He soothed, a siren of loss.
His black-and-white-lined throat seemed
Stark against the sifting curtains of grey.
His eyes glowed red as he called,
“So Lonely ….”
It echoed to hills hidden in mist and returned;
It filtered the shore in riffles that wash and restore,
“So Lonely …
So Lonely …
So Lonely ….”
Appalachia prize for poetry, 1988; Loon Call, 1990; The 2008 Poets’ Guide to NH, 2007
Along the Monadnock Watch
Moonglow casts deep to the dark spine
and flank of this ancient whale of rock.
And here beached by the edge of a marsh
stream, like a salt, like an almost Roman
outpost, stands a well guarding hemlock
and brush while mist unveils its tapestry.
Soon a giant form thrashes clear of water;
a moose, rack erect, plods toward the well
and pauses. Steam rises from his back.
He slowly wheels, wattle winging like a bell
and sniffs toward the granite peak
that once sheltered wolf until these
near-sighted, almost Latin tillers ringed the stone
with flame and burned the green to ash.
The moose listens as those night legends sing,
then ignores the granite blocks and returns
to his slosh toward great lodges of pine.
Later, as the moon guards its lower track,
the moose is nailed on Highway 12, four limbs
shattered by the chrome of another dreamer.
An officer kneels by his side, strokes the dark fur.
The moose breathes deep; each slow release
a soft cloud masked in the flash of red and blue,
low crackle of voice, square box of rescue truck.
But there on the mountain framed under stars,
a gray wolf floats up the shoe-worn rock
and turns to stare down at the tiny strobes
gathered along the pencil line it cannot cross.
It sifts its head, then crouches low
and points it snout to heaven. The howl descends
to the ears of the valley. The moose awakens;
his clean, dark eyes meet the officer’s. Natives awaken
and listen to owl echo wolf echo loon. The bull
imagines his antlers rising from a cold lake
while lilies cascade from his rack and he bellows.
The officer points his pistol and brings the hammer down.
Monadnock: More than A Mountain, 2007; Spring in the South (China); Lungfish Review, Anthology of New England Nature Poetry
Calhoun Family Forest video: A Poem in Three Parts
Calhoun Family Forest: Gilsum, N.H.
Abandon pavement and parking of Route 10,
after marveling at the great vault
of the arched, granite bridge lording
century-and-a-half over the roaring Ashuelot,
slide onto the squish of March mud ruts,
frosting on a frozen base hard as granite,
and walk upward alongside White Brook
yet to infuse itself with the tannins of this land.
Always upward, follow a nuthatch’s arcing flight,
its hungry call, upward to a hard-crafted stone stairway
and its green rock cap where children and grandchildren
rushed for their midnight summers’ dreamings.
Upward to Porcupine Falls, spring melt spurting
through a thin split in the rock. Sit awhile, think
on the child you once were, the person you have lost.
Let that child frolic a bit in the glen, and then,
rested, walk with your memory all the way down.
II—almost a sonnet
After the line of late day squalls, a close,
blue breeze skits between crust lichen and moss-
covered limbs. It echoes dappled sunlight
afoot on duff untouched for generations.
Elsewhere too, the sanctity of lost song
tugs at the eaves of crowned oak and maple.
And what of the feldspar, garnet, beryl,
and smoky quartz? Crystals withdrawn on sites
which beget lanes and highways to transport them
to skylines, those grand, monumental shots
to nothingness. Let the mica remain,
let it glitter among the tourmaline—
faceted testimonials to what
we’re not—predating all we’ve ever known.
III: The Legends
A fecund, lunar vapor stirs the nostrils
as the trail winds its way to Skull Rock:
Keeper of Stones,
Guardian of Granite Outcroppings.
He marks each traveler
approaching iridescent broomfork,
“Is this one worthy?”
And for each who passes,
the story door opens.
An azalea sphinx flutters across stone steps
to the bridge. It alights on the other side,
contemplates the flame of the sun.
Is this the innocent heal-all?
A swift courses acrobatically through timbers,
locked in its search for sustenance.
Each sudden twist a possibility,
each a future somewhere else.
In this dank hollow beneath the ledges,
generations of quills wait
for the boy hiding from his seekers.
Little brother earns his name.
A man with his hiking stick returns
after wintering with his daughter
on the tidal flats of Virginia. Each day
finds him walking with memory of her mother.
One warbling vireo gabs gossip
with a black-throated green warbler—
cousins in tenacity and woodland chatter
carried from before the Abenakis.
A road led to Sullivan in the age when travelers
did not concern themselves with comfort, a track
children skied from hilltop to base not concerned
with anyone or thing coming the other way.
Such a road could lead to Switzerland’s
solstice moon setting an alpine meadow aglow,
where the blue shadow of an angel
suggests the perfect spruce for Christmas.
Parked aside a logging trail in the older growth,
a green jeep waits on a forester and small boy
learning to mark trees. Instead. the boy learns
an independent compass and true north.
Above the falls, behind the ledge, five islands
among the wood stubbled rivulets become stardust
for five children. Each island, a tiny spiral galaxy.
Each galaxy, a stepping stone to an expanding universe.