The Bear in the Buckwheat

In Cape Breton, perhaps, some fiddler
could tell me what it means:
it’s the only place I’ve tracked the phrase —
a reel by that name that plays in the Dungreen Set
after “The Primrose Lasses”.

And for him, I’m sure,
there was no connection
when he offered up the line
one morning in a sales meeting,
off-hand, slightly abashed.
He said, “So I told him where
the bear goes in the buckwheat.”

I know very little about bears
but I do know it’s
always the imagined bear
that disturbs our sleep.
The real bear roots in the furze,
tunes out the hiker,
and then turns away
to his termites and his truth.

The image remains from that day —
the animal’s brown flanks
disappearing among the grain,
the stalks shuffling shut behind,
the rooks wheeling in the prairie sky,
and the field left
undisturbed for memory.

For Jeff B, dead of a heart attack

Mail Creek

When I am right in what I do
I sometimes see a red fox in the open space,
along the top of the ravine
where Mail Creek
works its five-hundred-year-old course
through flood-ravaged shortgrass plain.

She greets me full-faced,
neutral, brave, and unimpressed.
It doesn’t matter that I’m there.
Whatever threat I represent
she has places to go:
remembered ribbons of trail,
dry thickets on the riverbank,
subterranean passages
I will never see.
Who knows?
a pair of kits among
the fur and bones of old hunts.
She has places to go.

On a more timid day
she might recognize around
the orbits of my eyes
the look of prey:
the shallow breath,
and all my purpose hushed —
but this morning we have come out bold.
She passes on,
just another hunter in the brush.

National Bison Range, Moiese, Montana

Silt-brown and yellow, yellow and brown
the grass urine-yellow
rising into mismatched haunches, and there,
mud stained with sweat, musk, blood:
a brown inimical to
the sweet-pea blue of the sky,
the clover crushed underfoot
and feathered with dust.

The bison gather in knots
on the rolling grassland,
their heads blocked by the air.
In those scattered threes or twos
undeniably, some memory of the
rippling plain of bone and hair,
and in the siege hammer heads
that great Picasso eye,
staring like a shark,
determined, drowning.

They have hidden outrage well
or perhaps they have lost it,
or perhaps outrage is a human thing.

On 70th Street — eight forty-six,
a February day.
The cars queue shoulder to shoulder
at the intersection,
their thunder rolling up
from the Oak Street Bridge
where they ford the Fraser.

Listen! Just like we did as kids,
putting our heads to the sidewalk
and the singing lamppost.
Listen to the inhumation of sound
from the silver metal sea.
How bright they are!
How solitary, the drivers,
their eyes staring,
grimly and gladly staring
drowning, determined.

They have hidden outrage well
or perhaps they have lost it,
or perhaps outrage is a human thing.

Burrow Poem

They say the ermine will kill
even when it isn’t hungry,
slipping through dry corn
like a wisp, a flicker of light
from a passing car, and then quick
at the back of the neck.
The local mastiffs stay in the barn.

And they say the ermine makes its home
sometimes in the den of its prey,
jealous of the memory
of the poor beast’s comfort,
decorating the place
with the skin and fur
of its targets.

But it may be misunderstood.
It’s in a state of perpetual
metamorphosis, after all,
and over the years my words, too,
have changed color in the snow,
marked by cinders from railyard fires.
They’ve also rubbed their teeth sharp,
but against the strop of better writers.
So now I send them out in the dark.

When they don’t come back
I imagine them warm
in the burrows of skulls,
shuffling insomniac
to the mouth of the den,
the arctic night
dressing itself in silk,
hiding the moon for camouflage.

Skunk, Twilight

I remember,
when I see the animal wobbling, distracted,
across the road
that the famous blacks of Velázquez
— the rich black even Picasso envied —
were burnt wood or bone,
plant or animal color,
and not an absence at all,
nothing to do with dusk
or the fading light /

likewise in his dithering,
following a scent trail
to the edge of the cornfield,
he is disconnected
from what is left of the day:
splendid, bold, apart.

And then the hay on each side
freshly mown, the draft horses
in the far stables
apparently alone;
the stag, in its own hour,
a little farther on.

I remember how much beauty
is in these margins,
in back lane illuminations,
our drifting bodies
without the purpose
and accomplishment of daylight,

how I would rather be the first painter
of common things, as Velázquez said,
than the second painter of something much grander,
rather spend the evening
with these rich relations
than back among the waking poor.

Copyright © 2018 Lilibug Publishing.