When travel-hardened neural paths
have been destroyed by mold and time
I’ll leave you with these battered maps
of where I walked my scattered mind.
I was a river when you found me, little bird.
You couldn’t bathe in the deeper parts of me
for fear of being swept away.
Instead you found some dissipated eddy
in which you could immerse yourself
and sing your titillating gratitude.
You marveled in my ebb and flow
and followed my tributaries as far as you dared.
Dark trees hung over me in which you could wait
for safety, to be fed,
or just to roost and hear my constant voice.
The change was nearly imperceptible at first.
A little softer
or a little lower down the mossy bank,
and you thought the winter runoff was ending early.
But it came and went, and still I changed,
twisting and turning on my own sandbars
until I covered twice the distance
with barely half the water—
From river to stream to brook,
and all of nature hedged me in
as banks retreated.
Many times you’ve flown to the source
to see what was the matter
only to find there’s nothing you can fix.
It may be that someday
I will find my course again,
and all my rivulets will become one
meandering no more, but raging,
crashing down and rising up
breaking the bars and blasting the trees,
retreading my old path.
Perhaps I’ll gurgle from the depths I’ve sunk
and pour over the sides again
with greater flow than ever
for the perspective I’ve gained,
and my branches will spread like fingers
over this place, clutching
and grabbing it up with abandon,
creating new tributaries to feed my appetite.
Perhaps, my friend, but I cannot tell.
I did not foresee this bend, and
almost everything has changed, little bird,
save one thing only:
I am still your stream.
Come perch above and sing to me.
Come bathe in my clear and gentle waters.
November mists rose from the mountains
but already had come and gone from the grass
leaving its frosty footprints on the lawn
for me to follow as I left my own.
Our minds have grown around the past
like a tree that swells over a boulder
as its leaves push upward and outward.
The seasons pass,
the sap runs black,
the old trunk groans,
until the two are one—
though sometimes weaker for it.
Then, in some blissfully distant fall,
an evening wind may blow just right
stressing the tree along this fault
or ending the work the boulder began;
and were it to be removed by some
misguided arborist (or therapist),
the entire trunk would crack
and tumble to the grass.
No, we cannot ever escape the past.
Moved by an impulse like the migrating birds
I began to molt
and preened and plucked off one by one
and placed them in the path
with nothing to distract
but the wind in the trees
and my thoughts.
Two little girls went out for a walk
in the chilly autumn air,
and they gathered handfuls of leaves as they talked,
and the leaves were as gold as their hair.
They followed the path that cut through the park
and wound with a slow little creek.
They never minded the frost on the bark
or the cold wind that bit at their cheeks.
They fed the ducks leaves from the withering trees,
but the ducks didn’t seem to care
I said with a sigh that ducks didn’t eat leaves,
but the girls only wanted to share.
I measure myself in lines of poetry,
and some seasons I don’t amount to much.
If poems were leaves and I a tree,
I’d be a sorry, patchy thing,
full of bursting, sun-bleached buds
with a dry pile ready for the fire at my feet.
And a passer-by might ask himself
(or another with whom he wandered the yard)
if this blasted thing were a tree at all
or something only trying to be;
and should they cut me down and count my rings
they’d find me older than some sprouting trees
that blossom always in the early spring—
but though my rings be many and my leaves be few,
I mean to see this winter through.
The boys found a field mouse family’s
burrow beneath one of their tents.
The mother ran under a bush to watch
as the scouts inspected the shallow trench.
In the earth she’d made a careful nest,
laid with cotton fluff and fine, dry grass
for the naked body of a birth-blind pup,
which chirped as it searched for her in the dirt.
I covered the place with a piece of bark,
and whispered to boys to step away and watch
the mother come back from where she’d fled.
They crushed her pup with a rock instead.
It grew in the space between walkways
where students shuffled past year round
hurrying to classes, learning
to fit into their chosen professions—
but the tree didn’t fit in. Not anymore.
It leaned too far south, they said,
and its grasping fingers had claimed
too much of the campus sky.
On a warm day in spring before its leaves budded,
a worker drove slowly to the spot
in crowds that broke around the service car.
The man stepped out and spat on the ground,
scrutinizing the trunk and branches.
He moved around the tree, peering down the walkways,
to see how it measured up to the others in its row.
More campus workers came during classes
and threw red ropes up the leaning trunk.
They hacked and hauled off the abnormal branches,
checking their work against the row
until the tree earned a passing grade.
When I lay here with you
I feel as if we’re boulders
touching in a mountain stream,
and time rushes onward
all around us,
fast with a Spingtime thaw
or slow with slushy frost—
now choked with leaves
and broken sticks
now thundering by
in seething foam.
The seasons blur before us
and wash the world
but here we are