Poetry from Logic of the Lost
THE WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE
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.
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
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)