Poetry from Absolute Faith

THE SLIPPING

Migration is a cumbersome word

for monarch butterflies slipping 

through Tunnel Gap. Once he lay

a whole day counting them: a few

 

orange specks flickered

out of nothing, coasted the hanging

laurel, then dipped away

on Tiffany wings into the blue-

 

smoked valley. Barely a hundred

in a day he did not mind wasting

then.  He has heard old-timers say

that forty years ago the monarchs flew

 

massed in roiling cloudfire, burning toward

milkweed and the quivering

Mexican forests where they stay

the winter or die. And every fall he will do

 

the same, as if he, too, heard

some imperious call: he grabs his hiking

boots, camera, and drives the Parkway

to their crossing point. But what is true

 

slips between the seasons, and

nothing shames him into fleeing

the silent highways

of rutted air and age. And too

 

many days, like today, he drifts forward

without knowing why, yielding

to each unknowable need, learning his way

as the monarchs straggle through.

WARNING

WARNING

How easy it is, to shut the damper thinking

the fire is dead. In the morning your sapless mouth

croaks with ash.  Or maybe you've done nothing,

and still a skunk bivouacs beneath

the mice-ways and plumbing of your mountain home.

He endows the drapes, a seasonal legacy

creeping out of closets and the sofa's foam.

Ten years ago you told yourself such petty

griefs were nothing but beggar lice, but now

you're finding it harder to shrug and forget the burrs

that seem to stick to everything you know.

It's not the way you want to live, and there's

good reason to keep from keeping that list

you dearly love--those things gone wrong or missed.

WORDS

Odd, isn’t it,

how the lay of words is sometimes

poetry, sometimes

an insurance policy or other ruck.

 

How the same words, more

or less, explode

one time, freeze another,

how we always know

 

one word late

what is one word too many

but never know the one word

that will speak perfection.

 

How there are removes of love

the word cannot reach, the way

the same beach can be a mist of silver,

a dependable tide, a fog

 

heavy as a secret, a single drift-tree

twisted deep in the sand,

its branches gray as marble

and as cold.

 

How to you words are impulse

and momentum, a river rippling

around snags, and to me

words must be measured and cut,

 

laid tight as deck planking

so they will not leak; how we can even

talk—another word

as illusive as love.

ABSOLUTE FAITH

What was I thinking about, driving

home that night, turning some unmade

choice like a set of keys in a coat pocket—

when a fox leapt from a laurel brake

just as my headlights swept the curve.

Spotlighted mid-arc, he twisted

back upon himself as lithe and fluid

as a whip, so his rear paws touched

instead of the front and he was

back in the woods he leapt from.

 

I think it the most graceful movement

I have ever seen, pure suppleness, like a wreath

of red smoke touching a breeze. Such a moment

terrifies, such ease in changing direction,

without plans, wholly committed to a move

and then undoing it, without caprice,

just absolute faith in opposites, seconds apart.

Second Prize Winner, Chester H. Jones 1999 National Poetry Competition 

©2019 by Ken Chamlee.

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