Poetry from Logic of the Lost

THE WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE

for David

 

Somewhere below the balsam summit,

the trail we followed from the valley

is gone.  Wide as a boulevard

beside our morning camp, it narrowed

away from the river, collapsed to a suggestion

of ferns, and now has disappeared

beneath stump-spill and jackstraw trees.

The last blaze mark was an hour ago,

and cryptic light is slanting across

our unshouldered packs. We are lost.

 

When the Puritans sagged to that rocky coast,

they did not know the sea of trees

before them was as vast as the ocean behind;

they knew only their fears: beasts

and devils, unimaginable darkness.

They hacked graveyards and clearings, roughed out

scaffolds and cabins, each acre

of ragged stumps a sanctuary.

 

In the deep gloom of rhododendron,

I recall how every season someone

strays from a mountain trail and dies,

someone who did not expect to, and I

begin to understand the Puritans.

I see myself in stiff clothes,

swinging an axe against the wall

of woods around me, wanting it gone,

wanting to be back at the river

by a dwindling fire, not pulling myself

through heath-hells and gullies choked with roots.

With the logic of the lost, we grope

the way we came, hand by hand,

the hardest way, the only way

toward what we think we know.

FANTASIA AFTERTHOUGHT

            Tottering on a balding hassock,

thick pencil for baton in hand, my son conducts

Dukas and Disney--the Sorcerer's Apprentice. 

    His pajama sleeves loose

    as blue pillowcases,

            he steers Mickey toward the wizard's glowing

              moon-starred hat and helps him

                        spark a broom to chores.

 

            But the mouse drowses off, and soon dreams

he is commanding stars and seas: streaking comets,

oceans crashing at his cue.  My son flails and rocks

    through this cosmic whimsy,

    embellishing the tale

            with full-mouth fortes and heart-jolting leaps

              above the hassock, shrill

                        warnings pitched for naught.

 

            Meanwhile, the broom, hexed with the single-

mindedness of a child, fetches pail after pail

to the overfilled cistern. Swept from dreams to sense,

    Mickey whirlpools toward his

    rashest blunder--raising

            an axe to his helper.  The splinters, like small

              lies, come back with their own

                        lives: keen, insistent.

 

            My son conducts hugely, happily

lost in the myth of pure control, oblivious

to those dreams he will prod to life and abandon,

    to orders and endings

    impossible to charm,

            to gray wizards waiting to dash his work

              to droplets and broom him

                        through the splintered air.

'OH, BLESSED RAGE FOR ORDER'

I never saw my father shop for anything

except grass seed and groceries, maybe

a wrench or a box of nails. Still,

 

in the middle of washing a load of socks,

my mother would answer the door

and there would be a workman 

 

with a washing machine strapped to a dolly. 

She had learned not to say "There must be

some mistake," for there was never any mistake,

 

only socks dripping like clumps of wet bark

in a hastily-cleared sink.  At supper

she would say into her peas, "The washer

 

was fine, dear."  But he had heard

something in the grind of its gears

and bearings that argued past her.

 

He was the same with dying. 

I always thought he'd pass away while sleeping,

but he could not sue the time, and it troubled him.

 

Still, a month was all he spent on dying.

Time for whispered conversations with his wife,

friends' visits, blessings to his sons.

 

"No machines," he said, and later,

"No more food."  We sat with him and waited.

He died with the preacher in the room.

 

We found a note in his tidy bureau

addressed to her.  What to do

with all the bank accounts, how to

 

divest the stocks, when the car should go

for service, the kind of seed and lime

to buy for spring.

First Prize Winner, GSU Review, 1999 Poetry Contest (Georgia State)

©2019 by Ken Chamlee.

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