the moment :: margaret atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

the poet with his face in his hands :: mary oliver

You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

for the children :: gary snyder

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

the strange people :: louise erdrich

The antelope are strange people … they are beautiful to look at, and yet they are tricky. We do not trust them. They appear and disappear; they are like shadows on the plains. Because of their great beauty, young men sometimes follow the antelope and are lost forever. Even if those foolish ones find themselves and return, they are never again right in their heads.

–Pretty Shield, Medicine Woman of the Crows
transcribed and edited by Frank Linderman (1932)

All night I am the doe, breathing
his name in a frozen field,
the small mist of the word
drifting always before me.

And again he has heard it
and I have gone burning
to meet him, the jacklight
fills my eyes with blue fire;
the heart in my chest
explodes like a hot stone.

Then slung like a sack
in the back of his pickup,
I wipe the death scum
from my mouth, sit up laughing
and shriek in my speeding grave.

Safely shut in the garage,
when he sharpens his knife
and thinks to have me, like that,
I come toward him,
a lean gray witch
through the bullets that enter and dissolve.

I sit in his house
drinking coffee till dawn
and leave as frost reddens on hubcaps,
crawling back into my shadowy body.
All day, asleep in clean grasses,
I dream of the one who could really wound me.

Not with weapons, not with a kiss, not with a look.
Not even with his goodness.

If a man was never to lie to me. Never lie to me.
I swear I would never leave him.

american manhood :: robert wrigley

In the dull ache that is midnight for a boy
his age, I heard the sound of him first:
hiss of the pistol-grip hose from the garden
and the clatter a watery arc makes
coming down silver under streetlights,
on the day-warmed pavement of the road.
And though I muttered at first
to be wakened, I stand now in the window
upstairs, naked and alert, the cool breeze
sweet with the blossoms of locusts.

My wife murmurs, stirs. She is a slope of white
in the bedclothes, dunes of softness
below the light from the window
and the single blind eye of the clock.
“It’s just Travis,” I say, hoping
she’ll lapse again into sleep.

I hope she’ll sleep because he is a boy,
fourteen, soft yet himself, unwhiskered.
He believes he is the only one
awake, the only one alive in a world
of cruel nights and unbearable silence.
His parents snore, their house is dark.
He is crouched on the curb
in just his pajama bottoms, barefoot,
swirling figure eights into the air trafficked
only by insects and the fluttering, hunting bats.

Tonight he speaks a language I believe
I must have known, in the time before, those years
when a boy’s body imagines the world, the heartbeat
rhythm of water on the road, the riches
coined by streetlights, the smell of the night
that is everything at once, alterable
and contained—all that keeps him awake
long after I’ve gone back to bed.

But before sleep comes, I listen, until the noise
he makes is my own even breathing, and I remember how
the old rented guitar I learned on smelled of music,
how the young married woman across the street
robbed me of the power of speech,
and how I wandered one night the alleys
of the town I grew up in, a brick in my hand,
breaking thermometers, taillights, and windows,
and went home and laughed aloud and wept.

afraid so :: jeanne marie beaumont

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Will it get any worse?

turtle in the road :: faith shearin

It was the spring before we moved again, a list of what
we must do on the refrigerator, when my daughter
and I found a turtle in the road. He was not gentle
or shy, not properly afraid of the cars that swerved

around his mistake. I thought I might encourage him
towards safety with a stick but each time I touched
his tail he turned fiercely to show me what he thought
of my prodding. He had a raisin head, the legs of

a fat dwarf, the tail of a dinosaur. His shell was a deep
green secret he had kept his whole life. I could not tell
how old he was but his claws suggested years of
reaching. I was afraid to pick him up, afraid of the way

he snapped his jaws, but I wanted to help him return
to the woods which watched him with an ancient
detachment. I felt I understood him because I didn’t
want to move either; I was tired of going from one place

to another: the introductions, the goodbyes. I was sick
of getting ready, of unpacking, of mail sent to places
where I used to live. At last I put my stick away
and left him to decide which direction was best.

If I forced him off the road he might return later.
My daughter and I stood awhile, considering him.
He was a traveler from the time of reptiles, a creature
who wore his house like a jacket. I don’t know

if he survived his afternoon in the road; I am still
thinking of the way his eyes watched me go.
I can’t forget his terrible legs, so determined
to take him somewhere, his tail which pointed
behind him at the dark spaces between the trees.