TONGUE OF STONE
In Pocantico, where I walk in every season,
Sometimes talking to myself or to the cows
That pasture there, or calling to coyotes
Trotting on the hillside or in the dense brush,
Today I mostly listened—to agitated geese
Alighting on the frozen lake, to the Morse code
A woodpecker tapped out high in a rotting oak,
To the wind clicking through black branches.
I followed my usual path through open meadow
And bare deciduous woods, up and down hills,
Along the sweep of the Pocantico River
Meandering darkly through whitened banks,
To a place where a rivulet cut across the path,
Tumbling down a slope in the swollen cascade
Snowmelt had made, then sluicing over
A tongue of stone to fall like notes into a pool.
I stood very still and listened closely to that rill,
That riddle of existence, that spill of syllables,
That run-on, never-ending sentence that kept on
Making perfect sense.
THERE WAS A GREAT PROFUSION OF GREY STONES
There was a great profusion of grey stones
On the hillside where I walked this twentieth
Day of November on a light crust of snow
Through which sprigs of long grass poked.
It takes a little bit of courage to walk in a cemetery.
It’s not so easy greeting the dead in the ground
By way of their markers so stolidly arranged,
Each stone grey and mossy in the damp chill.
Fog hung like gossamer netting against the evergreens—
Medicinal gauze, grey intonation—
And a big golden barked at me doggedly, unceasingly,
As if he bore some animus toward me.
Maybe he smelled my mortality. Maybe I smelled it.
If so, it was a sweet, wet air refreshed by this season
Of mists, mellow fruitfulness. Mellow fruitfulness.
How it stood up all around me like my very life.
THE SQUIRREL SUICIDES
You know summer’s over when squirrels
Begin throwing themselves
Under the wheels of passing cars.
You see them all along the roads,
Flattened and bloodied, skulls crushed,
Plumed tails scraped into gray pavement,
Or lying on their backs, their tiny paws
Clawing the sky, rigor mortis twisting
Their snouts into un-squirrel-like grimaces.
Some seem to do it for the sport—
Testing their speed and timing by darting
Through the briefest of intervals.
Others seem to be testing us—
Who has heart enough to hit the brakes
As they scurry across?
Maybe they’ve simply had enough
Of this nutty world, and fall appears to be their last
Best hope for self-immolation.
Watch out! There’s one now, a gray pelt on hind legs
In the pale grass by the edge of the lane,
Daring you to slow down and give way—or else.
ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF MY FATHER'S DEATH
In this first year of your death
I have crawled in a kind of infancy
Toward my first sensible utterance,
My first erect step into the future.
When you died the years of my life
Dropped in a litter,
On hands and knees
Howling in the dark.
I have had to remember you
Stroking my ear to help me sleep
To help me sleep again
And dream of wholeness.
For what is infancy but peril
Held at arm's length
By the vigilant parent
In the dark room.
And what is growth
But my first step away from your arms,
My first word
That separates us forever.