Rush Pond Trail / Kathleen McCoy
The other day my daughter showed me
I had to slow her down so we could talk,
allow the woods to shield us from obsessing
on the news. She flicked her flopping ponytail
behind her, smiled—she’d meet me later
at the house—plugged in her music, jogging on,
knowing the trail but not which branch to choose.
My music came from red-eyed vireo and thrush.
Felled white birch bits rested in a bed
of ferns in a room with green couches
of mossed maple; then I saw the forties roadster
careened into a trunk and left to rust,
right door missing, now nest for raccoons,
rabbits, squirrels. Eventually I reached the bridged
marsh, largely green and blooming with water lilies
and the unabashed purples of swamp milkweed.
What pilgrims trekked these woods
before the path was cleared? Acclimated
woodsmen, sticky wood-wise children, herb-
smart women, broad aprons for sacks?
Today my girl is purple wildflower, floating lily,
hers the chatter of invisible vireo, ethereal
song of wood thrush reverberating in the pines;
I, the rusty car, part of my right side missing,
open to air and moss and the steady passing-by of life
in all its forms. Tomorrow I will be the bed of ferns,
the green couch greeting her upon return
from her shadow-laced trail of song and surprise.
in memory of Eva Leah Robinson McCoy
Bite into the apple of love, enjoy its juice
and let the seeds fall all around you.
Lips and hands must measure
before they dispense their wares.
Set an extra plate for an unexpected guest—
someday it could be you.
What you most despise in your sister’s eyes
is what your own reflection reveals.
Darkness and rain
A stately house shrinks beside the simple one
whose walls vibrate with laughter.
To stand your tallest,
plant your feet on rock.
No one can schedule a natural birth
and it isn’t over when the cries begin.
Ask for your desire and when you receive it
offer it up again.
When the sun shines, focus its light in your body
and when the rains pour down, the rocks will gleam before you.
Take the hands of children for they fix their eyes on you
and when you grow weak they will scoop you into their arms.
The race goes to the horse
who runs for utter joy.
Birches in Snow
but the quick gust that kicks them,
not tenacity of brown leaves clinging to the branch
but how the white shawl settles there,
but the sponge of light that catches it,
not the hard, slick ground
but its gradual softeningso my every step leaves
an imprint that will only
last so long.
For barberry thorns, curled tresses of birch,
seeds of pomegranate and grape, for awe
of threes, small miracles of knees
that bend and hands that scrape,
gesticulate, mold, touch—for a world
dressed in gold with cape and skirts of pollen,
then blue and white with shadow and light,
for querulous rodents nesting in our wood,
for the child who sheds her heavy pack
to stretch her willow arms toward sun,
for every branch-born song that descends,
for dry islands on slick glacier ground,
working muscles’ hum, hearts’ synchrony,
for a world gone green again, its aching presence,
resplendent in our pauses, for whirled
perception teasing at the edge of sight, Orion
loosening his belt to the tune of galaxies’ spinning,
for the black holes that vacuum up dying stars
and the white holes that whelp them,
corpuscular joy that erupts and leaves a spiral trail,
for singing, clear or raspy, from belly and eyes,
for your fingers laced in mine,
for pink streaks at dusk, for rain made
of cherry blossoms, for darkness, for hail,
for swimming together in silence, in words—
praise for the litheness of limbs, lines
around a pensive mouth, cool crispness of cotton,
for your salt tongue, the black
forest of your chest, our bodies’ blur, praise
for the way your steps sound sure and tentative
at once—praise for ignorance,
praise for bliss, for I know nothing
but long to learn love’s alphabet tonight—
praise for fire which, though it burn our house,
graces with clearing to start again—
praise even for urns of our dead, for ash
that can never contain us, praise
for fluidity on the horizon of our days.
In the memory of Adrienne Rich, one of our country’s finest poets who died last week, I offer the following poem, penned a couple of decades ago and revised very recently:
The New Androgyne
She will be like the deaf mute turned composer:
ink will pulse through her veins the color
of half-lit midnight when grass sways slightly
By turns she will be gardener and stargazer peasant
and prophet bag-lady and carpetbagger
pointillist and modern dancer
delivering mother and midwife delivering
the mother and her child
You will see her gradually
rising with the sun her origins uncertain
her language raw and bold her hands stained
strong-boned her eyes deep as Andromeda
She will take by the first two fingers
anyone who will enter the labyrinth listen
to the crackling of leaves as she infuses them with breath
and witness her gypsy dance as she steadily
wrenches an arc of bone from her side
(published in a longercreative dissertation, Losing the Rhythm for Holding the Notes, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1991)
Bells for the Hibakusha
for Setsuko Thurlow
The flash is mabushii, dazzling as the sun,
so real it cannot be believed, just felt,
a bone-crushing tsunami, pink heat
with no jihi, no mercy. Lucky to be
inside? But inside is instantly outside.
So often it is that way.
In memory it’s happening today as I,
a teenage decoder, am obliged to solve
puzzles of war for the emperor.
Shall I tell you of the walking charred
who shuffle to stationed barrels to guzzle
water that kills from the inside out?
Of the outstretched arms of thousands
whose flayed skin clings to cuticles?
Of the nukes we’ve buried that won’t
stay down all around the flaming world
and the many who trade in blood?
Of the kanenone, the peals of bells
real and longed for, bells for the dead,
bells for my sister’s body stirred like pork,
bells for our youth, for a world without jihi?
Around this burning world bells ring for us,
Bells for aijou, love. Bells for this
love poem, rennaishi. For peace, wahei.
(Published in West / East Poetry & Art, ed. Sheldon Hurst. Queensbury, NY: SUNY Adirondack, 2011.)
In my meditative poems I try to convey a sense of struggle all seekers share. Here’s the most recent product of this quest:
The Slim Blade
Along the slim blade that divides
time from timelessness,
a newborn foal rises, cross-
legged, collapses and rises again
to fall again and again until,
unstopped by fear or thought
of failure, he pulls himself aright
by sheer belief in uprightness:
not transcendence, not some heady
levitation over wracking waters, but
stillness and movement congeal,
transfigured light vibrant
as anchored sprouts
of orange maple leaves.
(Published on Poetry for Peace, December 2011)