A squirrel is loping the high wire over Main Street, Elkins, West Virginia.
A purple hairstreak meanders about a mistletoe slumbering in an elm.
And me, I’m following a coal truck disgorging black smoke as I head north.
I swear: Goddamn it.
Then, slower, think that it is what it is, a small town in Appalachia.
And, weren’t you and I just in full voice, no worries, singing?
Still we were in something as fluent as singing, as song,
a fluent conversation about Coltrane, let’s say, or Ravel, The Seldom Scene,
first beers, first kisses, first deaths—
fluently reminding ourselves that reminding ourselves
is what we do that makes this singing sing.
A block further out, the song continues along the overgrown bank
where, in their formal attire, the men in orange suits
are shoving their lawnmowers, lifting the perfect smell of new mown grass—
They should get a day, no, a week, a year off their sentences.
The clouds run in rivers overhead.
The sky is open for the business of glory, and poetry, and eternity.
Who else arranged this but these dedicated men dressed for respectable work?
What else but this squirrel out on a frolic, that butterfly reconnoitering?
Who else but you and I who’ve reminded ourselves
to look for them doing this, what else but friendship,
how else but by doing the work, rifling the word hoard for just this,
a chance to see again, and sing, sing, perhaps, this song
for this small town in the lost mountains of this deranged country,
sing, and so take our refuge where we can, if not in the gods, at least
in these, the little men, the little butterflies, the little squirrels,
all doing what they do, perhaps, even, all any of us ever can…
Small Town Hospital
Two white butterflies invade the pasture, alight
on the bowed, wire fence below the blue ash.
The rust trembles under their weightlessness.
She’s watching from the concrete pad where the hearse loads.
Tosses her gum, straightens her blouse, wonders
about that taste, that taste in the mouth after blood.
The river tug’s gray horn jars the quiet
dance of this yard-sticked afternoon,
its light and shade.
The china clinks on the bone saucer.
A circle. A spill. Shaky hands.
He’s only thirty-four.
This house a mansion that’s seen its share of lovely teas.
Of all hours of the night long ago, she thinks.
Nursing was more muscular then.
He has hairy arms.
So she knows there will be shaving to come below.
The dog circles the bed.
Its tail goes thunk-thunk.
Some things don’t change:
the carrot jello, Mass on Sundays, side-rail beds.
It would be good to slow down, watch the fields.
The redbud waves its branches, a desperate beckoning.
Esther Merinar, eighty-four, is sitting
on the park bench below the verandah
smoking her daily Winston.
The coal barge’s surf wakes the green river.
All this happening between four and five in an afternoon?
And which part, now, was the story she meant to tell?
The cabbages have fat, green worms.
She stops, stoops, picks them off,
flings them onto the graveled path.
She’s tiptoeing along a tightrope in her white uniform.
Gently, she claps her hands over her ears.
The voices land delicately upon the silence
between all these holes in her head,
between what’s here and what’s gone ahead
into the weeping flames of the afternoon,
and will not surrender.
Another stick of gum,
a hand job.
She’s doing what’s possible:
the saint of herself
anointing those she can
with fingertips and smiles.
Asparagus trees, blue birds, the summer
comes, tangled clouds simmer, thunder
runs through the sunlight, the hoe strikes,
cuts, and the work goes on,
under, goes where
the rain sifts, lifts
seed, magicks what is
into more, and the breeze murmurs
what it will.
Doff your hat, salute, wipe
the sweat, call it quits, call it enough.
Don’t kneel this one time,
this one hour,
in sync with the call,
your face to the sky,
the open freedom
of what might be,
and apparently . . . is.