On Writing and Reality

“Written Deer” by Maggie Smith

    Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?

—Wisława Szymborska

My handwriting is all over these woods.
No, my handwriting is these woods,

each tree a half-print, half-cursive scrawl,
each loop a limb. My house is somewhere
here, & I have scribbled myself inside it.

What is home but a book we write, then
read again & again, each time dog-earing

different pages. In the morning I wake
in time to pencil the sun high. How
fragile it is, the world—I almost wrote

the word but caught myself. Either one
could be erased. In these written woods,

branches smudge around me whenever
I take a deep breath. Still, written fawns
lie in the written sunlight that dapples

their backs. What is home but a passage
I’m writing & underlining every time I read it.


On Grief

Peel back my skin, peel back your own –
You’ll find a heart beating only through fear
And cut by the blade of grief:
That sharp edge we grip to remind ourselves
That we, at least, are still living.

On Whether Anyone Hears the Lonely Tree Fall

“Wolf’s Trees,” by J.D. McClatchy

If trees fall in a wood and no one hears them,
Do they exist except as a page of lines
That words of rapture or grief are written on?
They are lines too while alive, pointing away
From the primer of damped air and leafmold
That underlie, or would if certain of them
Were not melon or maize, solferino or smoke,
Colors into which a sunset will collapse
On a high branch of broken promises.
Or they nail the late summer’s shingles of noon
Back onto the horizon’s overlap, reflecting
An emptiness visible on leaves that come and go.

How does a life flash before one’s eyes
At the end? How is there time for so much time?
You pick up the book and hold it, knowing
Long since the failed romance, the strained
Marriage, the messenger, the mistake,
Knowing it all at once, as if looking through
A lighted dormer on the dark crest of a barn.
You know who is inside, and who has always been
At the other edge of the wood. She is waiting
For no one in particular. It could be you.
If you can discover which tree she has become,
You will know whether it has all been true.

                                                                                            for Wolf Kahn

On Time, Death, and Their Acceptance

“Dirge Without Music,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve. 
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Lingering Memories

What is Sacred, by Lee Herrick

I have no idea what priests
dream of on Christmas Eve, what prayer

a crippled dog might whine before the shotgun.
I have no more sense of what is sacred

than a monk might have, sweeping the temple
floor, slow gestures of honor to the left,

the right. Maybe the leaf of grass tells us
what is worthwhile. Maybe it tells us nothing.

Perhaps a sacred moment is a photograph
you look at over and over again, the one

of you and her, hands lightly clasped like you
did before prayer became necessary, the one

with the sinking cathedral in Mexico City rising up
behind you and a limping man frozen in time

to the right of you, the moment when she touched
your bare arm for the first time, her fingers

like cool flashes of heaven.

On Storms in Life and Sky

Revenant, by Christian Wiman

She loved the fevered air, the green delirium

in the leaves as a late wind whipped and quickened —

a storm cloud glut with color like a plum.

Nothing could keep her from the fields then,

from waiting braced alone in the breaking heat

while lightning flared and disappeared around her,

thunder rattling the windows. I remember

the stories I heard my relatives repeat

of how spirits spoke through her clearest words,

her sudden eloquent confusion, trapped eyes,

the storms she loved because they were not hers:

her white face under the unburdening skies

upturned to feel the burn that never came:

that furious insight and the end of pain.


Becoming and Not

The earth reclaims her own.

“From dust to dust,”

And from dust to trees,

From trees to these autumn

Leaves left scattered

On the ground in early spring.

Our houses– so secure,

So lovely — need to be safeguarded

From their homes;

Even our lives seem to need

Protecting from the place where

They are living.



Author’s Note:

I wrote this poem while thinking about how incredibly disconnected our lives have become from their physical realities. Our lives are inherently connected to the earth, and it seems the earth itself tries to remind us through erosion of asphalt streets, the rotting of wooden houses, and the perseverance of life throughout the seasons. Perhaps life would be less stressful if we viewed these natural intrusions as an invitation to return home rather than a threat to the way our lives are supposed to be.