Archive for ‘Maryland’


“Or will these changing times, motorways, power lines…”

On a cold, sunny day last November, I tromped along the Potomac and decided, on a whim, to hike the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. Over several hikes, sometimes with loved ones but often alone, I covered all of its 40-odd miles, rambling north from the canal towpath by the river along the wooded ridge of South Mountain, and finally—yesterday!—trudging into Pen Mar, Pennsylvania, my own ersatz Compostella. Although I foresaw the hours of chilly silence, the protesting soles, the glimpses of deer tails fleeing like ghosts through the brush, I hadn’t expected to stumble onto a medievalist monument by a forgotten poet or a Gothic chapel emerging from medieval shadows—and I certainly didn’t imagine that the Appalachian Trail itself was built upon a mixed medieval metaphor.

“As Roman civilization received ultimately its cleansing invasion from the hinterland, so American civilization may yet receive its modern counterpart.” So wrote Benton MacKaye in “Outdoor Culture—the Philosophy of Through Trails,” his 1927 address to the New England Trail Conference in Boston (republished in the 1950 collection From Geography to Geotechnics). A Harvard-trained forester with excessive faith in central planning, the eccentric MacKaye dreamed up the Appalachian Trail but left it largely to others to build. He wasn’t always thrilled with the result—he wanted a wilderness retreat, where others were happy to settle for an unbroken path—but over time, he imagined that the A.T. held increasingly profound philosophical significance. What began as a place for public recreation became, in MacKaye’s mind, a long, winding pathway toward social reform.

First, though, MacKaye had to reveal his idea, like an oracle, through metaphors and riddles. Early in his 1927 speech, he deploys the first of two medievalist images:

I once saw Douglas Fairbanks in the photoplay Robin Hood. The hero climbs the proverbial tower; with one arm he catches the beautiful lady as she jumps to elude the bad man’s attentions; with the other he continues climbing, then deftly annihilating Mr. Bad Man, he receives embraces nobly won. It was a glorious show. Intensely I imbibed it from start to finish, transferring my personality totally and thoroughly into Douglas’s rugged body. For fifty cents I had been a hero for twice as many minutes. I left the theatre victorious, vicarious, and with my money’s worth. Into this vivid little Utopia I had made my “get-away” from the humdrum of ordinary prosy life.

Here, then, are the two brands: the Utopia of creative thought, and the Utopia of effortless escape; the pipe dream of a Magellan, and that of a movie-fan; the real and the vicarious; the active and the imbibing. Which in the long run is the most fun?

[. . .]

Which would you rather be—a makebelieve Robin Hood, or a real (though diminutive) Magellan? We can be the first for fifty cents; what are the chances for becoming the second?

Like many before and since, MacKaye recognizes that the Middle Ages offer easy escapism, but he responds to the common claim of his era that men had become “over-civilized” by offering an alternative: personal exploration on a trail through true wilderness.

A second medieval metaphor sends “The Philosophy of Through Trails” spinning off in an ambitious and rather startling direction. MacKaye spent his whole life trying to save wild places from the encroachment of cities, and I love his justification for the Appalachian Trail—one of the oddest uses of medievalism (or, perhaps, Late Antiquity-ism) I’ve ever seen:

And now I come straight to the point of the philosophy of through trails. It is to organize a Barbarian invasion. It is a counter movement to the Metropolitan invasion. Who are these modern Barbarians? Why, we are—the members of the New England Trail Conference. As the Civilizees are working outward from the urban centers we Barbarians must be working downward from the mountain tops. The backbone of our strategy (in the populous eastern United States) lies on the crestline of the Appalachian Range, the hinterland of the modern “Romes” along the Atlantic coast. This crestline should be captured—and no time lost about it.

The Appalachian Range should be placed in public hands and become the site for a Barbarian Utopia.

The metaphor continues: For MacKaye, cabins and trails are “but a line of forts” that require a fighting force of hikers: “we must mobilize our real (if diminutive) Magellans—our pioneers of a new exploration.” I suppose he sees no contradiction in federal bureaucracies claiming and preserving land in defiance of civilization, but such was MacKaye’s mind: a whirlwind of quirky notions all swirling around one transcendent goal: restoring a balance between the natural and the artificial in American life. “It is a quest for harmony,” he wrote,

for what is pleasing and not ‘vile’ in that outward world which is our common mind. This philosophy—or culture—is, to my mind, the raison d’etre of the through trail and its ramifications. It is “the why” of the Appalachian Trail, which—let us hope—may some day form the base for the strategy of a “Barbarian invasion,” and for the development of a Barbarian Utopia.

As a regional planner who worked for the U.S. Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority, MacKaye generated reports that must have read like prose poems to his more practical colleagues. He once argued that hikers, as a small subset of the population, were entitled to mountains of their own in the name of protecting minority rights. During World War II, in a telling example of an expert unable to see beyond his specialty, he advocated that the United States organize its national defense strategy around watersheds. But despite his knack for cryptic pronouncements, MacKaye was always clear about his radical vision.

“[W]e must widen the access to the sources of life,” he wrote in 1946 after co-founding the Wilderness Society, insisting that his democratic goal was “not to grab off earldoms for some but to open up kingdoms for all.” There’s that medieval dream again: Utopian, in that it’s found literally nowhere, but always attainable, as long as you see it’s not someplace to be, but is something you are.

“…but nevertheless you know you’re locked toward the future.”

Nobody associates the Appalachian Trail with the Middle Ages. I wrote that in haste after discovering a faux-medieval monument in a Maryland park. Now I know better—because if you hike north from Gathland for seven miles, the forest opens onto an old highway and the parking lot of an eighteenth-century inn, and across the road you see this:

That’s St. Joseph’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, built in the 1880s to serve as a local Catholic mission church and family mausoleum. The Appalachian Trail now runs next to it through the weeds, but this patch of mountain used to be part of the vast summer retreat of Mrs. Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren.

The daughter of a Congressional Whig, Dahlgren was a Washington socialite and much-consulted etiquette expert. She was widowed twice after marrying prominent men: first an Assistant Secretary of the Interior and then later Admiral John Dahlgren, an innovator in naval ordnance. In 1876, the Widow Dahlgren bought an old inn here on South Mountain, fifty miles outside D.C., and made it her summer home. Although the house looked nothing like a castle, she romantically wrote that it seemed to her “like an old manor-seat surrounded by tenantry.” She commissioned this chapel just as the Gothic Revival style was becoming fashionable for churches, prep schools, and universities.

Dahlgren Chapel (as it’s now known) is a solid and serious piece of work, with no gargoyles or grotesques to override dignity with whimsy and few overt nods to modernity. I’m intrigued by the bell tower, which looks like God reached down and gave it a 90-degree turn: Does it imitate any particular medieval church? Is it unusual to find a cross on both the bell tower and the main roof?

I can’t find the name of the architect—hopefully the group working to preserve the chapel will know—but I did learn something interesting from looking into Dahlgren: she was a highly refined writer with more than a passing interest in the Middle Ages.

You wouldn’t detect a yen for the medieval from your first glance at her ouvre: an etiquette guide, novels about Washington society, a bio of her husband and a collection of reminiscences about living in South America during his naval service, a volume of ghost stories—Dahlgren was as prolific as she is forgotten. She deserves better, at least from Maryland readers, because her 1882 book South-Mountain Magic would be smart and engaging even if it weren’t steeped in medieval metaphors and imagery.

Of mostly local interest, South-Mountain Magic collects Dahlgren’s research into the folkways of her rural neighbors, most of them poor German foresters and mountaineers who weren’t shy about sharing their old-country superstitions. There are stories here about Civil War ghosts on the nearby battlefield, a Native American spirit with its head on fire, jack-o’-lanterns and will-o’-the-wisps, Satanic masses, and even a local wizard whose German spell-book is packed with hexes and cures—which, Dahlgren notes, are always perversions of Christian prayers and rites.

“The prevalence of such a confused mass of superstition as we chronicle, and that too within fifty miles of the very capitol of this vast nation . . . does not prove much as regards a theory of progressive civilization, and the wonderful and special enlightenment of the nineteenth century,” Dahlgren writes with dainty wit. However, her book isn’t a denunciation of occultism and superstition; rather, it’s a careful Catholic argument for studying the supernatural.

Although wary of imitating centuries of “innumerable philosophers and sages, ever seeking for that cabalistic lore, which may overstep the boundary line between the known and the unknown, the seen and the unseen,” Dahlgren waxes theological: What of the “ecstacies, visions, and mystic revelations” of saints who have been allowed glimpses of Heaven? Might not lesser souls with “lower perceptive powers also seize some flashes of light, sent forth from that Divine emanation that permeates creation?” Don’t poets, artists, and musicians have a gift for apprehending the divine? Dahlgren then proposes a scientific justification: By studying magic, we can better understand the relationship between the material and the immaterial, between actions and causes, just as the study of magnetism and electricity has been productive and informative. For all we know, Dahlgren argues, scientific explanations for ghosts and spells may yet be forthcoming.

Today’s Catholic philosophers will still find Dahlgren an articulate, thoughtful ally, but I’m most interested in her respect for the Middle Ages, which suffuses her view of the world. Even as she catalogs local superstitions, she makes a trenchant point about the present: we’re not as “modern” as we think, and an honest comparison with the past should leave us humble but enlightened, like a desert saint:

There is no study, probably, more useful to give the mind something like a just balance, than the comparison of the various forms of civilization, ancient and modern. And yet when such comparisons are made, as they often are, from a sophistical standpoint, they do more harm than good. The class of minds that stultify this present era, without looking carefully through the long vista of the past ages, very much resemble those people who, staying closely at home, make their own contracted notions the standard of excellence.

The present age passes by St. Simon of Stylites poised on his pillar, and jibes at him as an undoubted madman, quite unconscious all the while that he has gained a wider range of vision from his serene height of contemplation, than the dust-stained pilgrims who revile him as they plod onward in the highway below.

To Dahlgren, modern superstitions are the misguided impulses of a soul seeking true religion but settling on “the lovely legends clinging on to the ardent faith of the so-called ‘dark ages,’ although not received as of faith”:

These accepted legends and traditions, orally handed down from generation to generation, frame in the life of the lowly peasant who believes in them, with the absolute beauty of the brilliantly illuminated border of the quaint manuscripts of that age. These borders enclosed, perhaps, a black lettering, but they expressed the true.

As we write, a vision of another and a better world comes before us. We behold the majestic, solemn repose of the monastery, and standing in a niche, as it were, set apart, a venerable figure, with bared head bowed down over the sacred desk in profound contemplation. For here is the Holy Bible, fondly clasped, with its protecting chain . . .

Such faith was of the past. Now what is of the present?

Medievalism was an important part of nineteenth-century Catholicism, and Dahlgren draws on it to offer one of her era’s most charming Catholic arguments against the pride of modern secularism. Her imagery is particularly appropriate now, given how many hikers tromp past her chapel each spring:

It is a long pilgrimage, to be sure, from the mediaeval ages to the present day, and our sandals are turned into shoes, and our shoes have lost their soles in the toilsome journey. So we are at last here, in the broad light of progress, and we enter a fashionable shop to get others more suited to the advanced ideas around us. We are duly pinched and excruciated, somewhat as we once saw the martyrs tortured, only now there is no motive in our suffering to ennoble it; and finally we are told we have “a fit.” How we sigh for the graceful old sandals, that we wore loosely strapped, without having “a fit,” and not high-stepping, tight-compressing, all-torturing, with thin understanding, iron heels and steel springs, as these. But we are assured that our purchase is of the most improved patent and latest style, and our package is handed us.

As we stretch forth our hands to receive it, what blur or film fills our eyes, once so bright with visions of the glorious past? Can we longer see, or do we dream?—for the shoes handed us are wrapped in the rudely torn leaves of a Bible! “May God forgive the impiety!” we explain. “The Bible,” answers the flippant salesman, “is of no special value; it is spread broadcast in this nineteenth century, not chained to the desk as in the Dark Ages. It is cheaper to us than other waste paper, for it is given away by thousands.”

Today, Dahlgren’s home is an inn again, and the land she called her “sky-farm” has been put to other uses, but her chapel stands as a monument to her medievalism—an open respect for the supernatural as a weirder aspect of God’s creation. “The moods that beset us here,” she concluded, “are not to be measured by conventional standards.”

Medievalism as an alternative to or refuge from modernity has a history as long as modernity itself. In Dahlgren’s lifetime, it would find fresh expression not only among Catholic aesthetes but also through the Arts and Crafts movement, in early chivalry-themed scouting clubs and youth groups, among collectors of folklore, and on the pages of popular novels. What brings hikers here isn’t so different. “Truly, this world is replete in mysteries,” Dahlgren wrote. “The golden thread which connects the ages cannot be destroyed.”

“Spin me down the long ages, let them sing the song…”

Nobody associates the Appalachian Trail with the Middle Ages—but when hikers in Maryland descend from the woods through a gap in the mountains, a chivalrous vision awaits them: a castle-like pile of looming stone that seems like the dream of some long-buried age—which, in a weird way, it is.

That’s the War Correspondents’ Memorial Arch, built in 1896 by George Alfred Townsend on the grounds of what used to be his mountain estate, now a quiet and haunting state park.

Townsend was once a familiar name in newspaper-reading homes. Although he spent most of the Civil War in New York, Philadelphia, and Europe, he rose from modest beginnings to find renown as a journalist and commentator, first by landing a scoop of an interview with General Philip Sheridan and later by covering Lincoln’s assassination. He published widely under the pen name “Gath,” got rich, and built Gapland, his home here on a Civil War battlefield, where he spent decades cranking out novels and poems in a futile bid for literary immortality.

And then in 1896, with sponsors like Thomas Edison, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Joseph Pulitzer, who perhaps didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, he built his remarkable arch.

Looming 50 feet tall, with plaques and inscriptions along its sides, the memorial is a busy confection of sculptures, symbols, and nebulous notions. One local Civil War interpreter argues that many of the writers and artists memorialized on it are undeserving or impossible to identify, a charge the park’s historian denies but doesn’t fully refute, even as she calls the monument “inexplicable to most.” The asymmetry, the allegorical faces of “Speed” and “Heed,” the horse heads, historical quotes ranging from Thucydides to to Froissart to Sir Henry Stanley, a sampling of Townsend’s own verse—there’s much to mull over, but for me the big question is: Why did Townsend build a medieval monument in the first place? Sure, medievalism was thick in the nineteenth-century air, but what the heck inspired him to romanticize journalists with such a showy ode to the Middle Ages?

Fortunately, Townsend left behind a 48-line poem about the memorial—collected in his overstuffed tome Poems of Men and Eventslest posterity be baffled. Here’s a taste of “War Correspondents’ Memorial (at Gapland, Md., 1896)”:

Born so rigid, stony and frigid,
    Moor and Roman it must be,
Long erected, a gate dissected
    From some castle’s feudality;
Or set in the passes, where saying masses,
    Pilgrims, crusaders, kneeling them,
Gazed and trembled, with undissembled
    Joy, in the sight of Jerusalem.
Vale of Catoctin, like jewels locked in
    An azure casket, flash thy lights!
Like the Escorial, our Memorial
    Guards them all from the mountain heights.

Yawning fortalice, thine the portal is
    Freedom opened with her pen….

You get the picture. That’s the medieval section of the poem, where Townsend asks us to believe that the monument is easily mistaken for a Romanesque ruin in medieval Jerusalem or a fragment of the Spanish royal palace—although his private letters apparently reveal that he based the overall shape of the memorial on an arch at at a train station and the facade of the fire house in nearby Hagerstown.

Even so, Townsend’s attraction to medieval forms isn’t arbitrary or aimless. If you spend a few frigid winter days, as I did, paging through Poems of Men and Events and his short-story collection Tales of the Chesapeake, you encounter more than a journalist with lofty aspirations, a hack struggling to be Longfellow, Twain, and Washington Irving all at once. What you find, among so much else, are the dreams of a part-time medievalist, a man eager to matter in the romantic, enchanted sweep of the world.

To read too much Townsend in one sitting is to contend with some dreadful poetry and prose: odes to politicians, the treacly story of a lame Congressional page, the tale of a Jewish loner on the island of Chincoteague that’s so vaguely written I can’t tell if it’s intentionally antisemitic. And then there are the rhymes: “Sugarloaf” and “antistrophe”; “standards plant ’em” and “azure bantam” (in a poem about the Delaware Blue Hens!); and thirteen impressively strenuous attempts to rhyme the name Magruder, among them “brooder,” “alluder,” “interluder,” “concluder,” and “obtruder.” And if, perchance, you need a 40-line poem that uses the Senate rules of cloture as a metaphor for a flirtatious rendezvous, then Townsend is the bard of your wonkiest dreams.

But Townsend clearly longs for magic, too. I enjoy seeing places I’ve lived and known well—D.C., Maryland, and Delaware—judged worthy of legend and verse: A boy in Newark, Delaware, accidentally swallows a timepiece as Mason and Dixon survey the area, and he grows up to be an expert watch-fixer. Some hicks in the mountains have an eerie encounter with John Brown. And in one of Townsend’s silliest and most genuinely charming stories, an old man with a blow-hole shambles into a publishing office and claims to have wandered the seas as the King of the Fish. The world of Townsend’s imagination is supernatural and spiritually alive: The poem “Harpers Ferry Sunset” turns the historic town into a setting for Christian martyrdom and timeless enchantment:

Nothing here has since abided
    But the spell of Nature’s spasm,
He the scenery divided
    And his spectre fills the chasm.
Armorers and all their din,
    Feudal times, he gathered in;
Him suspended, where he went,
    He suspended government!
As a whirlpool leaves a tragic
    Rift aghast where it sucked down,
In the camera of magic
    Swims thy maelstrom face, John Brown!

Townsend wants to find myth and magic in nineteenth-century headlines, and sometimes he succeeds. Even with its giggle-inducing reference to “spent balls of scandal,” his prophetic sonnet about President James Garfield is competent enough, and his ode to Rutherford B. Hayes has a metaphysical allure that demanded I re-read it to see if it was better than it seemed. Posterity is ever on Townsend’s mind: a nice 1871 poem imagines the half-built Washington Monument forever incomplete, disdained by a future race as evidence that we were “some brood ingrate with thrift, / And souls unfinished.” The poem made me wish Townsend had paused to hone his best ideas rather than scribble as if being paid by the whim.

Medieval spirits bumble through Townsend’s poetry: Civil War armies are Charlemagne’s troops, the Smithsonian building is a medieval abbey, Jefferson is a second Averroes. Townsend obviously shared his contemporaries’ wistful, romanticized sense of the Middle Ages, so I’m tempted to say that his faux, fragmentary castle stands for martial bravery and chivalrous virtue. But then Townsend does something not so nineteenth-century. In his 1896 speech dedicating the memorial, he explains its purpose: “Its lesson to the neighbors around it is the profitableness of knowledge and of letters and imagination to any people, however they may undervalue these things.” Townsend takes a symbol of war and makes it instead about the peaceful business of writing, reporting, and art.

Or does he? The monument’s main inscription shows a hodgepodge of intentions: “To the Army Correspondents and Artists 1861–1865 Whose Toils Cheered the Camps, Thrilled the Fireside, Educated Provinces of Rustics into a Bright Nation of Readers, and Gave Incentive to Narrate Distant Wars and Explore Dark Lands.” According to one of Townsend’s friends, the Pan-like statue is actually Mercury (or is it Pheidippides?), the faces of the gods represent Electricity and Poetry, and the arches symbolize Description, Depiction, and Photography—but contemporary press reports cited in a 2014 about Townsend don’t offer consistent interpretations of the memorial. Like much of Townsend’s writing, this arch is packed with literary and historical references coherent to no one but “Gath.” Even that pen name, an adaptation of his initials, is an Old Testament reference that speaks to nothing beyond the knowledge of the Bible he inherited from his preacher father. I don’t know what the Middle Ages meant to Townsend; I do know he got lost in history trying to find his place in it.

“Imagine how happy he’d be to know that someone was reading his work,” my girlfriend suggested when she saw me flipping through Townsend’s books. That’s all most writers want: for their stories and poems to exist in the minds of readers who help them outlast their creator. Today, Townsend is remembered only for this architectural folly he built late in life, when he was penniless, reclusive, and desperate for a legacy. “Three score years of pushing quill as the exponent of my hand have become second nature,” he wrote in an unfinished 1913 memoir, “and I hardly understand why I am not still wanted.” Surrounded by stonework ruins, an empty mausoleum, and the indifferent mountains and woods, his arch is now as evocative as a medieval elegy: Fortune is fickle, life is uncertain, and death is assured. That isn’t the romance that Townsend envisioned, but it stands as the story he actually wrote. Hikers at Gathland ponder it briefly, then look to the trees and move on.

“You can keep my things, they’ve come to take me home…”

[This is the thirteenth and final part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appeared here as I wrote it, in monthly installments. In the near future, I’ll make it available as a paperback book; for now, this blog will again focus on medievalism, poetry, and books by other people. To read the entire first draft of this poem online, start with the prologue and then continue through September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, and July.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

AUGUST

She says: Come look. There are lights in the pasture
And more in the trees. The moons are returning.
The first three run like rolling beads
In the innermost ripples and ridges of night.
The fourth winks only at fortunate changes:
A shiver in sunlight, a secret gift,
A whispered assurance in welcoming mist.
The fifth is still clouded, but clear in its vision
And destined to glimmer the day we depart.
In the lowest grove, in the gilded trough
Where the twelfth month rests, red and breathless,
The Pig with Sticks stands proud in the muck
Of the southern horizon. With restless pleasure,
He dwells on his riches. The dregs fly past
As he noses his hoard into new combinations
Of clusters and piles, then picks them up
With a careful chomp and carries the best
To a shaded nook, where shapes rise plain
Into provident lines. He loves his sticks.

…and two weeks later, my love and I
Are down by the river at dusk, on a path
That branches through weeds toward the bank, where fiends
Or fishing pilgrims left fires to smolder
And sailed on their way. The whitest ashes
Assert their curses in sunset embers
That fly with the nudge of a knobby branch.
Our job is clear: we are called to the mud
On the rim of the world for the work of conclusions,
To smother a flame. We flood the coals,
And I hate the way the hissing earth
Defies the silence. If some white wisp
Could ride the steam as it writhes through the treetops
And over the woods through the wakeful dusk
It would glimpse, in the east, aching titans
On the wide horizon of the world grown old,
Whirling in stupor on wheels of flame.
We frustrate their brethren from forming out here;
The scale of the landscape discourages pride.
We creep under trees to the towpath that rolls
Into infinite folly in either direction
And cut straight across, till we come to our door,
Where we light a small home-fire and listen for owls.

But after the coals are encrusted with ash,
And after the ashes are irked by a chill
From the flapping of bats, I fall over something
While thinking of nothing: a thick, dry stick
And a slim, light twig that slip from the kindling
And land in tandem, like a lumbering groom
And his gangly young bride, then blur into strands.
The sluggish canal and the sleek gray river
Roll without touching, twins in their courses,
But one must end; the other reaches,
In the sum of time, someplace immense
And immeasurably good. We should go, when we can.

In the overgrown weeds at the edge of the road,
Across from the fences where cows, in their wisdom,
Meander through pastures and pray to the grass,
I look for a monk, to amaze him with proof
Of a sensible world. I wait until twilight.
When nobody comes, I cast my glance
On the long trace westward: my love is approaching.
She’s pulled by the sunrise; our paths always meet.
The clearing behind her, our home for the year,
Is the long-ago dream of a difficult spirit
Who whirled through the forest, defiant and brash,
As  the earth did his bidding, to open and sunder
Its five blinding moons from the fathomless rock.
The whispering stones say he waits to bequeath them;
The stars say a daughter is destined to save them,
To cast out enchantments and claim her fate
As it lopes like a bear from a borderland cave.
We tend it for now. We talk to the hummingbirds,
Watch for invaders, and water the bones.

We wait without fear, but our fingers entwine
As familiar cravings crawl from their vaults
And a hideous miracle heralds an ending.
The sky starts wheeling, a skittering halo
Of fickle visions that flicker like candles
In utter, awful, empty space,
Then twelve slim notions tumble and shatter
And twirl into pinpoints, and time sets loose
What the pieces contained, as a pillar of vermin
And vultures smeared with smoldering entrails
And shrieking moths in shrouds of fire
Slams to the earth. With an ailing sob
Like the boundless wail of a broken tyrant
Whose empire drowned in an acorn cup,
A lashing of pin-light levels the cornfields
And scatters the crows, and the sky is an outrage
Of muscle and blood. They’ve been here before,
These thoughts with no faces, formless and starving,
That bellow the country will bring us no peace.

And together we watch while the winds go still
And the whirlwind parts, and the white sky summons
A fond constellation to fall through the stars
Reborn, and laden with lighter burdens,
Who rouses the Dawn, and the days grow shorter
But deeper, and sweet, and the dying glint
Of the year in its grave leaves us younger at heart.
Less clear if the wait made us worthy or not,
We shake off the fallout and shuffle as one
Through the matted cadavers the maelstrom cast down,
A holy flood of hook-backed crickets
And mold-white toads and mummified bats.
They crunch underfoot, as fragile new idols
And secret familiars emerge from the brush
With whatever fine meaning the morning desires:
A lamb draped in lavender, love-flustered barn owls,
A bear borne by horses and beasts on the wing―
Like a beaming ghost as it glides among hallways,
Creation turns with us, and welcomes us both
With hope past words to our house in the grove.

I pushed my sticks into pitiful bundles.
I’ve laid them out. I’ve lined up some
And skewed a few others, then scattered the rest
At the end of the drive, by the edge of the road,
And still something formed there, defying all promise
Of chaos with order. Now only the calendar
Ends, while the world, wound in infinite riddles,
Whirls golden and new. I give you this year
To turn and unravel, to unreel as you wish,
To find and fix a fraying end
To its knotted beginning, and I gratefully pray
That the heavens grant you a grove of your own
To puzzle through poems in places of quiet
And murmur new verses in moments of peace.

“She moves with the music, ’cause it never gets old…”

[This is the twelfth and penultimate part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, and June. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

JULY

In a dream about mountains, a mouse warned me
That an owl can hear a heart when it flickers
A farm-length away under fallen branches
And freshly mowed grass. The faintest whim
You harbor in secret, they sense and remember,
But the eleventh month tests them. The land is a clamor
Of wheezing moths on milkweed sills,
The crackling of squash vines that creep toward the shade,
A hiss in the dark when the heavens uncover
The Blinded Dragon. He blinks in vain
But he bristles with visions: blackest when feeding,
Golden when writhing, and red when he sleeps.
Though the night makes sure we never uncover
His hooded face, we hear him seethe
His thieving dreams. At dawn, he twitches.
His mirrored hide sheds heat in waves
And the universe wilts as he whets his tongue
For empty remembrance, the morsel he craves.

You squint and stumble, then stand at attention
To mark out the first of your many new worlds:
A moonlit arena, a maze on a plain,
A web of electric on lush, verdant planets
Where weapons rely on a light you can’t see.
You feel like a hero, this first real time
That the world flickers out, and what stays burning
Are furious atoms of infinite choice.
Count three heartbeats for half of each beep
From the ruby medallion that reckons your life.
Prowl through the underbrush; prey on your friends.
You could turn off your kit; you could call them to join you
And trust them with whispers of worlds yet to come,
Your prophecies spoiling their space-cadet glow.
Too fearful of youth on their faces again,
You just stare at their sensors, like stars, burning red,
Trembling like children with tension and promise,
Then someone says “go!”, and the glittering pinpoints
Bobble, and scatter, and bolt toward the dark.

We steer through the bums on the steps of the Garden,
Giddy with rhythm. The ghosts of the moment
Pogo behind us, their hair a blaze
Of sawtooth waves. Their singing beguiles us
“I’m glad in these hard times, there’s hope in your eyes”
To warble and march through midnight vigils
In hot, dusty rooms, no heed for the martyrs
Who fell by the way: the one we predestined
To wander the night with a knife in his back,
Or the girl with the spikes and spotlight eyes
Who brought the orc who ached at the grins
Of imagined deceivers. Unmoved by our rapture
“Do you be-lieve in love, one that lasts for all time?”
He reached in his pocket to pluck a guitar string.
Her throat puckered red where he wrapped it and pulled.
The dawn train home is hot and prickly,
The headrests are sloppy with hair spray and trash
And our necks run wet with wicked failure.

At the peak of the bridge, the breeze is amazing,
It could pick up your bike as you pass through the cones,
They cleared the way, kept cars away,
Now you’re over the Narrows, you need to let go,
You’ll lock up tomorrow, go limp now let go,
Let your hands fly back as you hurdle through space―
(Why didn’t you listen? The lanes were all yours.)

I could fatten you gladly with fifty raw crumbs
Of regret and remembrance. The grit and sweat
Still chafe the same, and on sodden mornings
When to breathe it all in is a burden, the swelter
Overwhelms, we sag, we sit through more sneering
From gnats that insist we’ve gone nowhere at all.
You could choke on the spores of spent vegetation
And underworked mud, make mawkish collages
From tape-flecked photos that fell from the wall,
Or else you could live. You could listen again.
When the first of our peppers have popped into form,
A song blows north through our silent grove,
A trickle of rhythm, rising and thrumming
When sunlight is fading. We follow the pounding
And find something new: a field past the bramble
Where sunflowers rumble in rows without end,
Like booming speakers that blare the truth
As they turn to face nightfall, no less worthy
Than just before noon. Kneeling before them,
Giddy pilgrims peek from trenches
To honor a whim on the wind, and be healed;
They hear their own songs as they hop through the furrows,
Dancing like frogs with a finger thrust skyward
In natural elation, in lightness unceasing.

The sun stands still: something scaly
Appears to be stuck on the steps in a net
Where it fought with a shadow. Its freedom is yours
To make real or deny. The knots are constricting
And ripping its side, but to see it this closely,
This long, and in stillness, no stars in the way,
Is an offer of grace. It asks for nothing,
But whether it’s sated, or weary, or fuming,
It needs to feed elsewhere. Let able strangers
Tear the mesh gently, then take the wyrm
And leave it in peace, letting it bleed
Through the litter and sticks. Laugh at its weakness
And what it takes with it. And welcome what stays.

“And there’s talk in the houses, and people dancing in rings…”

[This is the eleventh part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, and May. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

JUNE

The year amasses its measureless weight.
With a turn of the heavens, a tilting world
Sends us chasing the mean: chairs and tables
Slide across the floor, and framed paintings
Fall away from the walls. We wait for rest.
As a summer-blown tractor on the sidelong edge
Of a grassy slope slows to a rumble,
Raring to topple, when its teetering rider
Questions his wisdom but coolly steers
Into the incline, toward the even plain,
A whim in the stars leaves us steady and poised.
The Raven with Scales roosts in the treetops
To croak forth the turn of the tenth-most month.
When brilliance and nothingness neatly align
In fleeting balance, he brazenly shakes them:
They swing from his beak on bronze-white chains
Whose plates overflow with fruits and seeds
And nuts he plucked from the purple night.
Then he lifts off, cackling, and lets it all spill.
Far below him, the falling remnant
Is reason for joy: a ring of squirrels
Darts from the vapor of dimmer stars
And bows to their lord. Bobbing in circles,
They hunger for crumbs from higher realms
Past the baffle of heaven, though the briefest glimpse
Would seize up the wheels in their whirligig hearts.

How strange not to mention the moons until now:
The three closest ones clear and cheerful,
The fourth more fickle, the fifth ever dark.
But this was the month when the moons flickered out,
Leaving little to look at, and less to describe
Except stars, once exhausted, restored to their glory,
And the bilious creatures that creep from gullies
To savage the pots on our porch out of spite.

And yet, every morning, the markets open,
Their tables teeming with tender crops:
Stiff-necked garlic, greens in bunches,
Early peaches, early tomatoes,
A few ears of corn―crates in waiting
Renew our hope in the harvest to come.
The soy spills out and spins in the open
Like oxidized coins, but the corn rattles
With woeful groans, as its green stalks spread
Over patches of tan, tousled and sprawling
Down to the stream banks, like drowsy yeomen
Lolling on hillsides in leather and felt.

But look what we find in the last shaded row
By the long purple barn at the bend in the road:
Primeval acanthus, that carven adornment
And monk-doodled frill. The first one splays
Its spines beneath a spike in flower;
The second rests its rounded leaves.
We take two pots and plunk them down
On opposite sides of an east-facing door
And tempt them to prosper, pretending we live
On the leafy tip of a toppled column
Or the overgrown whorls on the edge of a book.
And maybe we do. A monk would train
Their writhing vines around our failings
To bring our days to a balanced end.
I’d read that poem. It plainly commends
That in the mounting fields and flaming lilies
That line the roads, you look to nature
To grant you peace, but the peace of the world
Has other intentions. When it ticks at the siding
And peers through a curtain of perfect darkness,
Be certain you’re willing to see its face:
The light would force you to learn to distinguish
The fleeting pax of a prosperous garden
From living peace. So let it sulk;
Let frantic stirges and faithless remnants
Claw their own eyes out and cling to the brick.
Let them dribble like mud into meaningless art.
When one scrapes at the window in whispered grievance
And seethes through the screen, scrawl your verses.
To its purposeless sorrow, sing your creation
And praise the day. But don’t look back.

“So keep an open eye, it’s as well we tell no lie…”

[This is the tenth part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, February, and March, and April. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

MAY

What rose with a shudder and shook into being
The ninth month enjoins with monotonous song,
The thrum of gutters, glutted and burbling.
When inklings of light on an infinite river
Of roiling blackness writhe at sundown,
We hail the sight of the Sated Snake.
Astrologers say he could stretch his existence
To scale the wall of the sky to its zenith
And slither through windows to worlds unimagined,
If such were his will. But this wyrm is as fixed
As a fallen branch. He bides his time.
When haze obscures him, when the hissing downpour
Soaks through the bramble and saturates toad-holes,
His waiting ends: whole worlds come to him.

It rains for weeks. Weary farmers
Peer from windows with pursed resolve.
The trees turn blue; bugs fall silent;
The flowers starve for a stick’s-width of light.
In purple sunsets, we poke through the murk
And take stock of our grove. We gather herbs,
Frilly lavender, lemon balm, parsley,
Rosemary, chamomile, oregano, dill,
And quaking fennel, the favorite of kings,
Bounded by marigolds, baubles of daylight,
And drop their roots into damp little folds.
I carve out holes for honey-cup vines,
Twine-lined bundles of tangled runners,
And part them with care; you pick up sticks
And stomp through the muck in your sticky boots
Like a stuffed blue bear over bedsheet hills.
From the bug-caked mud, monsters rumble
And rise in a flurry to flap through the bramble
On graceless spindles and gawky necks.
Like lost inspiration from long-ago songs,
We hear them whisper: he will bite you,
He will bite you—
then birds come to order,
Hatching on branches like bubbles of rain,
The blunt little phoebe, fly-gorging, squeaking
Imperious peeps from its pole-top domain.
The night-black grackle gawks from the branch-post,
Its gilt-tinged eyeballs agog like the sunshine
We wait to receive. The wind brings only
A seed-hungry bunting, as blue as the gloom.
When the rain does relent, and the dark wings part
For a few bright minutes, we fiddle with slingshots
And rev up the tractor. Toads fly in horror.
We roar through the weed-fields and raze them at last.

When the drenching ends, as all things must,
The brittle farmlands bow to the grumble
Of wobbling green trailers and whirling blades.
The hay-bales fall like formal poems,
Stanza by stanza, studies in concord,
Pleas for order in the endless distress
Of unquenchable life.

                              Look in the garden.
It seems that some creature got sick in the dirt.
But see how it moves? No moss or fungus
Explodes overnight, like a nova, then rolls
Through the cool of the morning. Look closer. It pulses.
The sick is the creature. It creeps as it feeds
Over wet, weedy mulch, just one oozing cell,
Massive and vital, with millions of nuclei
Dancing in union, but destined to crumble.
The dirt awaits the wealth they commit
To the worm and the world in wild indifference.

But nothing here dies over nothing at all,
For nothing is nothing. I know what I hear:
A minute to midnight, the mad windfall
Of giggles and whispers, a wisp in the moonlight
That slips through the flowers and flits up the rail
To its perch on the porch-roof, where it passes the night
With such delicate breaths that I doubt it was real.
When you come home, you’ll hear it too:
The whip-lash crack of a cricket-bone goad,
The wheels with spokes of spinners’ legs
Entangled in elf-locks, and out of your mind
Comes a burst, like the swifts that blow from the chimney
And soar over currents on scythe-like wing,
Never suspecting they nest at our whim:
It’s easy out here to feel utterly trifling,
A blade on the edge of an infinite plain.
But nothing is nothing; you know what you mean
When a hummingbird sees you. His sees what you’re doing
And knows who you are, not the name others gave you
Or novels you read, but the role you fulfill
In his fidgety soul, the father of nectar
And giver of zing. So go to the window
And listen till dawn for a laugh from the roof.
It may be that fiends, in their mocking at twilight,
Admit that you matter. And maybe we stay
In this marvelous place at their pleasure and whim.
Maybe they stay at ours. Maybe everything matters,
But we’re never the thing we think we are
And always the witness that others demand.
So tell them the tale of the toad in the flood
When his pond and perpetual downpour were one,
How the whole of the world fell to him alone,
And how he wept, and then willingly leapt
In the maw of the serpent, to see what comes next.


“Takes more imagination when everything’s remote control…”

[This is the ninth part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, February, and March. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

APRIL

When derelicts pelt us with petulant snow
That scourges the lampposts and scatters in winds
So willfully lawless that the windows rattle
And doors fly open in the upper rooms,
Then the eight month mends an ancient promise
And winter slinks off with the whiff of decay.
From the slopeside pens where alpacas mumble
To the lopsided tear-downs that loom too close
To the market-bound road, we reel from the wallop
Of dung flung over the face of the earth.
No wonder by then that the wind itself retches
When the White Skunk pokes through the sky at dusk;
She rises in rows of the rankest stars
That skirt the horizon and roots through the heavens
Assured of her freedom, a shadowless nomad
Aroused by the newness of noisome rewards.
Yet others here say that they see in her outline
Not starlight expectant, but the pallid exhaust
Of a hearse making ready for hearts in decline.
In the attic, fine ears heed the echo of wheels.
The bats, bored of fidgeting, brush past the fringes
Of rust-crumpled vents and go veering through treetops,
Where finches run screeching for fear of the brewing
Misrule in the twilight, the ten-minute limbo
When the dubious comforts of color forsake them
And everything winged is one in dismay.

We sing of this season as sodden with green,
Writhing and heaving and rampant, a surge
Of eternity spewed in a spasm of dust―
But the ripe-eyed flies and the flowering combs
That make us yawn strew yellow everywhere.
After frost and flurries, fields of wheat grass
Turn ocher from shock, like ancient maps
Unfolded and crumbling on a cloister wall.
By the sides of driveways, forsythia snap
Into splayed glory, like the golden spikes
On synth-happy boys when the sequencer rises
Through arches of limelight, and only their tribe
Wants to dance through the aisles to the opening band.
Clusters of yellowcress cling to the fringes
And pop from the meadows on microphone stems.
Packs of dandelions dot the crabgrass
In overblown clearings, and oceans of buttercups
Bubble through pastures and pass through the hooves
Of oblivious mares. An abundance of courage
Is waiting to ripen and rip from the wood,
But the land is as guarded as lines on the road.

Then things that fly throw flashes of red
And pink in the palace of purposeful cardinals.
He whistles, bristles, and brings her twigs
As she plaits their nest among purple blooms
And wadded mulch in a woody azalea.
Our feeders blaze with the fiery wicks
Of crests and crowns and craning necks
Of brazen woodpeckers, broad-winged and rapt
By grubworms that rustle in rain-sopping bark;
And the breast of a grosbeak gorging on seeds
In a thrill of abundance; and the throat of a hummingbird
That hangs in the firmament, heady with nectar,
Then turns, with a glint like a twinkling inlet
Compressed to a flash at the final sigh
Of a spent summer day.

                                    Then the dark splays its feathers.
Like drops from a storm cloud, a duo of bluebirds
Splash through our forest, and find it worthy.
We raise up a home at the height they demand
Graced with eastern exposure and platters of worms.
Still they loiter, and leave, then look sidelong, and hover,
Insultingly cautious, as creatures must be
That summer in holes. Yet they sense the encroachment
Of skittering claws; then they claim every right
To the trunk, all its bark, and the brambles below:
As nimble fingers work fringe on a loom,
They drop and cut, across and returning,
Entwining the beast in a tangle of wills
Till its haunches blister and their beaks transfix it
From ear-tip to tail, shearing tatters of gray.
When the shuttling blur of blue comes to rest,
Pick up the feather you found in the grass;
Let slanted sunlight slip through the down
And between the barbs, let bouncing motes
Ricochet, scatter, and race through your thumbs.
Twirl the feather; it fades in the day
Into nothing but air in your open hand.

Then that nothing explodes, knocking you asswards
Through laughing creation. Lambs in pastures
Wobble and pop as empyrean bleats
That blast off their fleece leave them bald in the mud.
Cowbirds scatter when calves look amazed
At the force they unfurl when they fart in a barn.
In musty lofts, tumescent wretches
Glutted with colors they gulped down for months
Pull up their paunches and part their cheeks
With a clap: and they cough up a crackle of green
That scorches the grove, a green that burns
Through electrified branches, a blinding jolt
For restarting the world. This wheeling and bobbing
Is not for us, but is ours to imagine
Through plant-spattered glasses, a prism upended
That sucks every color through coiling green vines
For the shuddering out in one urgent bright come.

“Give us direction, the best of goodwill…”

[This is the eighth part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, January, and February. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

MARCH

Wake early; fill the feeders with seed
And sweep away the swollen remnants
Of busted mice. In barns and garages,
With the sickly rumble of a rusting key
In a seized ignition, the seventh month turns.
As spiders creep from the crags and fractures
That kept the runoff from wrecking their gears,
Shuddering trucks and tractors emerge
In the blur before dawn. The dingy glare
Of their headlamps rises over hillside fallows
And fills the stars with the Farmer’s Sons.
Their hands have yet to be hardened by summer
And their eyes are bright. In an hour of prudence,
They seed the sky with skittering beams.
Wake early to learn what their labors have made.

If you look, you can sense when a late snowfall
Will send the moths that suckle at floodlights
Back to the shadows. Bristling finches
Too harried to mete out harmonious verse
Flap to our awnings, flooding their gullets
With suet and seed. They see past the treetops
And over the daffodils, open and bright,
That rise on the edge of the road through the woods;
Beyond the monsters that yelp in their hollows
Or hoot from their crannies or cluck in their roosts;
Higher than chimes from the churchyard garden
That blow through the fields on a blustery night―

I’ll see for myself. Like a sixth-grade gallant
Who whets his hero in a haven of orcs,
Hacking and slashing, I hew the limbs
From saplings; they crumple in soundless defeat.
With a mattock and clippers, I clear a channel
Through a lake of leaves, and I lop the chaos
From looming boughs. Though litter and twigs
The wisp of a pathway points to a clearing
That swells from a stream to a strand of grass
Where the fertile tide of the forest recedes.
In the midst of these exploits, I meet myself loping
The opposite way. “The work is noble,”
I laugh at my wheezing, “but leave some steam
For a wary walk back. We both should be patient
And wait to make claims on the worth of the trail
Until blazing the way in both directions.”

For now, we go forward. We nail up meshwork
Filled with mealworms to flatter bluebirds
And tempt them home. We hang an orange
And strips of twine, if stray orioles
Should drop from the morning, dizzy and singed.
We sing of strength to a struggling lilac,
Frail and slumping, as we fondly consign
A blessed fish to its famished roots.
Like a limping exile with an ancient cup
In a bundle of rags on a battle-cragged tor,
I plunge dry sticks into stony clods
And pray for berries to bloody their thorns.
Then I hate how I’m getting ahead of myself:
Nothing but radishes rise in the weed-beds
That buttress our home; they break up the soil,
The humblest of callings, and hasten the rest.

In the cool of the morning, a creature of twilight
Struts through the bramble, strawberry gold
And vast with purpose, a vision of judgment
To the quaking souls of songbirds and mice
But auspicious to us, like an angel ablaze
With inscrutable news. Nosing the furrows,
It finds no prey in our pitiful sprouts,
But its tail flares up, like a torch at the vigil,
And in a glimmer the fur and the fire are one:
We walk in darkness from a whistling pyre
On the graveyard’s edge to the open door
Of a wayside church, our chanting scattered
In the passionless wind, but our wants converging
With the eager peeping from pastures and creeks,
More pleas for mercy than the measureless lauds
Of souls that wake early, as silence is conquered,
And all things rise in an endless note.

“Behind our glass, we’ll sit and look at our ever-open book…”

[This is the seventh part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. Inspired by ancient and medieval calendar poems, it appears here as I write it, in monthly installments. First read the prologue and then September, October, November, December, and January. To read later entries in this series after they’re posted, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]

THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR

FEBRUARY

A sickly gnawing from the ceiling unnerves us.
Say it’s the wind. Our walls are flayed
By twisted sticks, stiff and bristled
Like matted fur; and in the midst of the sixth
And shortest month, the Mouse ascends.
On her midnight revels, she rips through the stars
That spin on their tips like spilling fistfuls
Of sunflower seeds. The sundered shells
Pour from the heavens, unheard by mortals
But a deafening call to the dozing spirits
That nod over eggs in their evergreen lair.
The winter dares them to warble for joy.

In an age of delusion, I often lingered
In a sooty vineyard, a sacred wedge
Of pitted beams that bound an alley
To the sagging backs of city shops.
A clever hunter held court in this void,
Where he staked out every stalk and cutting,
Muttered enchantments, and made things grow.
Singers gathered, summoned by whispers
Of wistful frescoes and fountainside wine;
One pale and limping, with plump white ringlets
Framing the sides of her sightless eyes
And seasoned tongue, was attended by men
With old concertinas, who ached to warble
Their heartsick songs. I heard them once,
When lines of lovers lost to enchantment
Followed them out through falling dust.
The grove remained, and its grapes gave comfort
To rumpled pilgrims and peeping beaks.
They lazed in sunbeams; we leafed through books.
I never knew the names of the birds
That shared that place of shade and rest;
I just tossed them crumbs when they tiptoed near.

I know them here. Like hurtling suns,
Burbling goldfinches boing through the yard
And shine their light on our sheltered rail.
Beside them, chickadees sing of riches:
Their fellow seed-fowl follow in waves.
From forking treetops and tousled weeds,
A derisive cardinal and his rosy consort
Trill their judgments. A junco bristles,
As plump as coal, and pries out snacks
With his stubby beak, staring down brethren
That flock to our feeder to fend off the cold.
A feather-length more than its fellows and blessed
With the buoyant aid of an extra toe,
A gray-white nuthatch grips a tree-trunk
And clings without fear; it creeps ground-ward
Tail over neck, nabbing a seed-pod
To cart to its haven to crack it to bits.
Agog, the titmouse turns and ruffles
Its hooded tuft, like a tempted friar
Warily clutching his cassock of gray.
From the hollow wood, the worm-fowl follow:
In flooded yards, flickers huddle
And bow to the morsels that bubble to life.
When a stunted holly stirs with larvae
That writhe beneath the notice of men,
A rare riot of robins in swarm
Inhales them all. My hapless measures
Lack the wit and weathered reason
Of born woodsmen—“the bluebird carries
The sky on his back”—and the skilled shaping
Of silly fluttering into subtle miracles
Pecks at the novice. I’ll name what I see;
But what things mean is tomorrow’s work.

We waste fewer words in welcoming specters
That flit round the curtains and fall into lamps.
They startle us first, till we find out what plagues them.
They loiter in summerlight low by the ground,
Where their wriggling litter, lusting for earthworms,
Will feast for weeks. Then flies emerge:
In their thirst to endure, some delve into fissures
In attics and eaves; others find refuge
In slats under windows. Sluggish and trusting,
They dream of dirt, but their doom is real.
Winter tricks them; they wake too soon,
And the hearth tempts then inward. Haunted by sunlight,
They cluster by doorframes and keen their own failure
To die in the soil. Their song is fleeting:
And when we form a face on the glass
Just look away, and let it pass…

The house fails us. A horrid crunching
Makes the rafters cringe—we run to the threshold
With morning-cold weapons and wince at the prospect
Of a gristly ogre grinding the bones
Of winter’s victims in his weltering maw.
But the doors fall inward; from the endless heavens
The Mouse tumbles. Her time has passed.
In vain she basks in a bag of seeds,
The churn of it echoing out through the night.
We bar the way, blocking crevices
With rags to keep her rage contained,
But when we flee to bed, the frantic gnawing,
The hideous scraping and scratching at doors,
Scare us till morning. The scurrying world
Woke in confinement; it wails for release.