THE HEIFER

Once,  on a morning yellow and cold,
I walked by a brook through an overgrown wood
where heifers grazed.  Wary they followed.
I walked with care around their curiosity.

I stopped by the brook on a flat gray stone.
The heifers startled, blundered away.
Had I been careless of their tenderness?
The beech trees trembled their amber leaves.

The heifers startled, blundered away;
I wondered if I’d done some harm.
Beeches stood with amber leaves trembling,
pine branches, hemlocks flickered in the sun.

I’d not meant them harm.  I was turning to go
when one Jersey fawn returned alone
through pines and hemlocks flickering the sun–
her cloved feet pattered softly on the stone.

I stood as silent as the heifer there, alone.
She cocked her head in quizzical solemnity,
standing still as I on the old gray stone.
Her eyes were deep and questing, unafraid.

She cocked her head with curiosity,
then kicked her heels and ran back through the trees.
She frisked away, not at all afraid of me,
on that cold and yellow morning, long ago.

January 17, 2006

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THE DIARY

After Ella Warner Fisher

 

Mop, mend, make pies, bathe the children.
A burden to be unequally yoked.
Dig up a lily and plant it in the yard.
Every day subject to the same blight.
A beautiful day, long to be remembered.
Henry cleans harness in the kitchen.
All attend service but Helen and Grace.
War bread, two meatless meals.
Tuttle takes down the stove.
Mend the stockings.  Make mince pies.
Henry carries Grace to her school.
Terrible fighting in France.
Ruth and I kill and dress two hens.
Dreaming among my poems.
Sick headache.  Go down street.
Anna receives a silver spoon.
My boy, my poor boy!
They of the few, the tried and true.
Gertrude has mumps.  Mop and mend.
Benjamin and Tuttle bring the body home.
Rain.  The white washing piled in chairs,
stark as so many ghosts.

ONCE, LEVIATHAN

Some nights a bear wandered into her dreams.
She’d be polishing brass, or cooking supper
and there he’d be, thirsty,  peering in her window.
She’d fill a tub with water so he could drink,
and carry it through the flimsy door.
The bear would drink and drink, never enough.

Once on the roadside she traveled only in sleep
she found a cat,  paralyzed but still alive.
She brought it home and fed it bones and cream.
One day it stretched and staggered away,
meowing from one side of its mouth,
blinking its one green eye.

Sometimes at night a dead whale would wash up
on the shingle beach, brown flesh
draped loose like blankets tossed.
She’d step through the lipless mouth
into that rib-walled room.  Once
she found Jonah, asleep.
Every other time, she was alone.

But one night, a living whale swam through.
Stretched along its back, a woman riding.
In vision luminous, rare as sapphire,
she knew the rider,  felt blood heat
of her own muscled arms, great flukes.
All night long she swam, unmaimed;
one creature, her long thirst quenched.