Poetry from Absolute Faith
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.
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.
Odd, isn’t it,
how the lay of words is 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
as illusive as love.
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