I have good days and bad days

On the bad days the beleaguered moon,
the full hunter’s moon, splinters in the sky;
footstep pieces rain into the atmosphere.
I am swimming in the Great Lakes
among the decomposing bodies of pigs,
flip-flops, and plastic wallets.
Our neighbor has caught fire
walking to the mailbox
and flakes of his kindling skin
drift up the hill like paper.
The black pine off the deck aches
for the touch of finches and flickers —
its twin is already gone
heartwood broken, heartwood broken,
and the streambed of the ephemeral stream
has given up trying to remember
the feel of water.
The tv plays its only scene:
the thin-boned dad rocking on the curb,
his eyes like socket wrenches, saying
we lost everything.

On the good days it is like
this late November snow / so still
you can hear across Well Gulch
the rustle of that unselfconscious thrush
regular as the earth contracting in the sun.
He has fallen asleep now,
tired in his abundance.

I wear my old wool hat to get the mail.
Melinda, the post girl, is still down the block,
trembling in her cappuccino-colored Jeep,
clapping her hands for blood,
and so I wait,
boots squeaking in the drift
below the cottonwood.

Prayer to Survive the Glacier

In the little alpine chapel in Fiesch,
for more than three hundred years,
the villagers prayed for the ice to stop.
They were farmers mostly. Catholic.
Placid and philosophical at work,
fixtures, like wax or oak,
or pulpits polished by grace —
and sure,
as German hands.

Glacier is ice, they sang. Ice is water, water is life.

But it was death, too, they knew,
swallowing pastures,
dropping immense sheets like buttresses
into the lake above,
flooding the valley.

Friends died, the baker and the blacksmith.

They buried the dead, rebuilt, sang hymns,
looked up at the spectral spirit
come down to earth, yawning and stretching,
pregnant, rudely aping
the Visitation of Mary,
for whom they had named
the little chapel in the pines.

And it worked.

Their anxious voices rose up,
hundreds huddled in procession,
children grew old, falling asleep
with the words of the liturgy
in their heads.

The ice shrank, ten meters or more a year.

So they changed the prayer.
Now they pray for the glacier to survive.
And Mary,
when the little chapel was dark
and the crowd had dispersed,
sat amazed, sighing and amazed,
at how little they knew
about power.

Document the Decline

If they bend your knees just right,
with one leg beneath the other,
you will fit,
although the plot is short and shallow.

Pothunters will wonder why
you are buried under the Russian olive
and not on the hill, in the old mausoleum,
and why the sudden stopping,
the decline, the fall,
the years of neglect —
the center of commerce shifted perhaps:
a terrible epidemic,
a brutal war.

They have sunk all the ships already
and the oil has slipped away.
The bread and the books are spoiled,
the enormous library burned in the night —
not by armies — by the old postman.

You watched it light
that cheerless June, when the evenings
smelled like sage and sherry.
But there are no more good men to poison,
no more pamphlets,
just circus posters on shop shutters.
Even the topsoil doesn’t hold.

Some helpful soul
will have broken your arm to save space,
placed your viscera in a jar
painted with bluebells,
lovingly wrapped.
They will wonder why the stalks of lavender
and the hawthorn berries spilling from your right hand,
a pen with a metal nib,
and who lent the fateful blow,
the one that counted.

They will wonder why you didn’t fight.

A grad student, a coed,
will love your expressionless bones,
fill them with meaning,
construct a digital face and make its lips move.

She will imagine you
like a paper wasp
who came back to the nest
to find it gone — just a ring
like plaster on the wood,
the queen gone too, a few bodies,
and you later on the sill,
slowly, slowly,
slow with cold, in circles.

Herbarium

The Yellowstone Supervolcano,
a giant magma chamber
below a caldera more or less
in the middle of the national park,
if it erupts,
would cover about a third of the U.S.
in a layer of ash, thick enough in parts
that plants would die,
fields become sterile,
the waterways of the Midwest poisoned.

The cold ash and not the hot lava
does the damage.
The Earth would cool,
skies get dark in day,
mass evacuation,
millions starving.

In a worst case it would be
what scientists call
an extinction level event.
But that’s the worst case:
it may never happen in our lifetimes
nor in the lives of our grandchildren.

Still, I crack open
the canvas spine of my herbarium,
position a piece of honeysuckle,
pressed for a month,
and with a thin knife
lift a leaf,
run the ball of a finger
across the wires of veins,
across each pistil thread,
infinitely patient,
infinitely fragile.

Mother Ann Lee herself survived
New England’s Dark Day.
I suspect
the flower had heard
that old saw of hers:
to do all your work
as though you had
a thousand years to live
and as you would
if you knew
you would die tomorrow.

Returning After Evacuating From a Wildfire June 2012

The clothes go back in the closet
and the cats come home
and they speak to each other,
each to the other.

The plume still rises
on the western edge
in the one hundred and four degree heat,
and the firemen on the line,
they speak to each other
in their shorthand speech.

The thank-you signs are out
and the kids approach
with their piggy banks.
On the news at nine
we take the toll
and speak to each other,
each to each.

There’s just one thing
that doesn’t go away,
one thing that doesn’t cower
in the heat:
that one when the sun
wasn’t yet a red ball in the smoke,
when we got the call
and we spoke to each other,
just you and me,
and took the photograph
and not the clock
and took the brooch
and not your letters in a box
tied together sometime
in our third or fourth year
when we were younger, proud,
and full of piss and vinegar:
pride enough to slay
a world of dragons,
nest or night awake,
but not this.

The smoke rose, the letters lay
like wounded partisans
whispering to each other,
each to the other.

Flood

The earth understands wearing away,
it understands wear,
and for that reason it loves me like a child.

Last month a river took houses
where there were towns.
Canyon highways poured into the plain.

It took living rooms and bikes —
kids’ bicycles, lawn furniture,
cars, and then the lawn.

The stream near the shop
ran for seven weeks. I woke up
hearing water and not the wind.

It carved new rivers, new pain, new people.
Sitting out, I hear it whispering
that it loves me, sweet as August,

because the leaves stayed on the plum,
the aspen, and the Rocky Mountain maple
that we lost on Halloween.

Three o’clock, the river whispers
that it loves me like a girl.
Loves me like the girls on Richards Street.

What He Said to Her

The earthquake of ’89:
those fifteen seconds in San Francisco.
An apartment collapsed
on a couple in the Marina.

They pulled him out
but she was pinned.
The glass was cutting her,
the fire was too close.

The firemen pulled him out,
but
that terrible lacuna,
the moment they knew it was too late,
how he climbed back in,
briefly spoke.
What he said to her.

I have come to think
something stopped then,
the world having
exhausted its cruelty.

Hoisted up again, he crawled
from the drywall,
the splintered wood,
cabinets she could never stand.

He grabbed a hand,
found an living sleeve;
in the park,
a long animal silence.

I fill the kettle.
It clanks against the ring.
I miss this remembered life,
where no-one wakes in fire.