Teton County Resolution
The turning season mutes the colors of summer,
upper rooms appeased by winds that shrug oaks
and alders into autumn. They surge, dip, and rise
over grain bins in Fairfield, dust
the lip of a farmer’s coffee cup, quickening
as if they’ve traveled all year to find him
watching fields, flanked by the snare of briars,
filled with the amber flame of wheat he will harvest late.
Deadfall whirls through his unlocked gate,
its corrosive blooms of rust. Wind draws
from his kitchen window the musty lilt
of late summer wildflowers too long in water.
Tonight, the moon will fracture on his icy windows,
its light a trackless footpath erased by early snow
lived in a town where every other church was named
for Washington Irving. The Rockefellers claimed most
trees & hills. It just goes to show how generous the
ego can be. & all these statues of men. Whatever they
stood for. Whatever they took. We speak of the wisdom
of crowds, & it was a crowd that brought down Jefferson
Davis in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. A crowd
beheaded Christopher Columbus in the city of Boston,
where he became, at last, shoulders above the rest. Over
in Bristol, it was stone Coulson that was toppled. A guy
who grew rich shipping slaves. It’s like a virus, flashbang
fever, a rage of rage. & who cries for these losses? I have
never cared much for figures of figures. Much less,
racists. A world without effigies sounds finer to me.
But not all metal icons are past expiration. Like the big
bronze arm of Joe Louis I looked up to, that first call
to jury duty. Like the Big Green Bitch. That’s what the
National Parks guard called America’s torchbearer, two
beers into a cookout one warm summer day. Maybe we
leave the weeping mothers of God alone, the laughing
Buddhas, the nymphs, & how about the marble smooth
thighs & rock-solid glutes of the ancient troublemakers?
Kids need to learn their anatomy somewhere. & all that
work. All those artists. Maybe we keep the sculpted horses.
Reassess riders. Place the graven images on some island with
guided walking paths. Charge a fee for the ferry to pay the
pilot & the person who runs the slushy machine. Stand pilings at the
shore so some statues seem to walk on water. Let the docent explain.
End of Day
Things look different tonight. I was expecting
a midwestern apocalypse. The smell of oil rags.
Corn stalks peeled back to black. Roving militia.
Instead, there’s a bitter orange sun, in retreat,
a ring of wildfires in the hills, and the big bay,
an eyeless monster emerging from smoke, sodden
tongue lapping ashy sands, a thing come to drown us
with the very thing the western sky needs.
I am so tired of low-grade worry. Of knowing
there’s an upside to parents’ being dead. To having
no grandkids. And what a thing to feel. The getaway
car is filled with photos, spectrum of ghosts,
black and white and color, fading into psalm.
Saying so, a talisman.
The counter, lined with Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers.
I am so like a pharmacy now, thanks to the virus.
There’s no fill-in-the-blanks worksheet for this
existential test. Just checklists—keys, wallet, ID,
charged cell phone—Alan Shepard took a six-iron
to the moon. Rusty Schweickart slipped quotations,
on onion-skin paper, inside his spacesuit, in case
they found the body—For in the long run those who
change history are not those who supply a new set
of answers, says one—flashlight, battery-powered
courage, water bottles, a change of heart—but those
who allow a new set of questions.
I have to ask myself, What’s irreplaceable?
And it seems to be all too much or nothing at all.
Just look at all the piles of papers and books
and baskets, the floor dust on the cheap laminated
planks, like another planet with seed creatures
and rivulets of hair in high relief.
And that’s the way it is with toads,
Untrustworthy, thick-skinned, lying
In the enjoyment of mud, ready at
The drop of a hat or some other act
Of negligence or indiscretion to tell
A story just so slant that everyone
Will believe it by the way it deflects
The truth with a measure of fact.
Take, for instance, the way a toad
Will loudly croak as the sun sets,
As if the fading light is evidence
Of the permanent growth of darkness.
When all the while every toad knows
The sun is nothing if not inexorable.
What would you like to be when you grow up
was always the question I was being asked
by those who had already grown up, parents, say,
my teachers, the little league baseball coach.
Once after I had made the fatal error that let
the winning run score against us, I sat
on the bench in tears, looking out on the field,
now empty, and to help me to set my sorrow
aside the coach sat down and said don’t
worry about it. What do you want to be
when you grow up? And I never understood
how that would help me, and I was confused
by the question, its timing, the probity
with which he asked it. I think it was the word,
the emphasis on be, as in to be something,
or not to be, as opposed to the implied word,
the understandable word do. What would
you like to do I might have understood,
for certainly I would have wanted to do,
or not to do, rather, the thing that I had done,
throw the ball, that is, over the outstretched
arm of the first baseman allowing the run
to score, losing the game in extra innings.
See, I have always been one to live in
the present moment. But to be? In the future?
It was like asking me to say the difference
between a raven and a crow. Too subtle
for my tender mind at the time, I must confess.
But as I sit here these many years on, I’m asking
what do I want to be or not to be, or, as Hamlet
would ask, do I want to be at all? What am I,
for the phrase I am is hustling round
the infield of my mind. What do I do with words
that flow like sugar through the sieve
that topped the slice of lemon cake my mother
cut for me after the game to sweeten
my bittering heart. What do I do with all of them?
Not being is of course out of the question.
For Walt, in April
Children and sky, the innocence
of a new spring was felt each round of the planet’s sun-turn
in every blade of grass, in every cloud,
in each song of the sparrow,
humblest of birds, or the nightingale,
that prince of twilight song
whose music wings to heaven
like the pure ringing of bells. This is
the dream of a past girlhood spent climbing trees
in an unknown orchard, eating the pear whose juices
sprang from the seeds of Eden’s fruited bowers.
Now we wander on this misbegotten earth,
a planet of swollen seas and melting ice,
of vanishing tundras and beaches,
of wildfires and seaquakes unknown to our grandmothers,
of fish imbued with plastic and poisons,
and of all the disappearing reefs of blazing coral.
Our songs are the whispers of lost gardens,
of forgotten flowers, the hum of remembered bees
in the mouths of cupped flowers, the honeyed past
of buds and blooms extinguished by carbon’s massive waste.
There is no time
to watch the seas succumb, to mourn our lost youth
in the shadows of an earth
that once was held in the palms
of our outstretched hands. Listen
to the children. Heed
the sky’s vast warning.
Hey, look: I was a Boy Scout in Jersey City
in the ‘50s, so wherever I find myself now
I always remember to look around and wonder,
“What is there here that will be a good weapon
when things go off the rails again?” And also,
“Where is the closest unlocked exit?”
Then I test that door, just to reassure myself,
so I can stop worrying, chill, relax a little.