The mountain meadow spawns a crop
of small brains, white, spherical mushrooms
with a marbled cortex, and shriveled medulla.
When lightly struck, they reproduce, emitting
a cloud of ripe spores I can barely see. My tired body
slinking to rest, thinking goes on,
trying to get it right, this time. From elsewhere
the earth might look like God’s shooter marble,
cat’s-eyed and dog-eared.
Down this hogbacked ridge, welcome to
a pandemonium of penstemon, a hot-pressed blue
while I’m still any wayfaring stranger—
of some toil, some woe, in this bright land
through which the wind sleeks the grass, from crown
to nape, and climbs an octave,
veering hard to spray,
then back-comb. Whole meadow of grama and sedge
is teased up high and golden, ready for anything.
SMELLING OUR WAY HOME
Mornings the percolator, its bright-bitter waft
slapped down by the stringency of vinegar
and bleach to scrub a farmhouse down. Then visiting
someone’s house, a bowl of gardenias past prime
leaking sadness through the rooms, while to dinner
came someone, her jasmine over-amped,
her he cloaked his sweaty and anxious being
in a citrus overlay, followed by Sunday mornings
when the mushroom houses were mucked out, unfurling
their yeasty, grotty cloud, so you’d grab and crush
the lavender blossoms to temper your breathing.
And then there was my mother leaning into
the peonies, swallowing a pink, billowy world,
while, for my father, tossing the hauled-in log
to the fire did the trick, as he inhaled bright droughts
of the spark-tinged air, while we kids paid homage
to the dead steer in the back woods, fearfully
gulping the scent of decay, later dragging ourselves
home to buttered corn on the cob, but back to Ma,
now happy alone, sniffing the curry comb and brush
from the horse she’d made pretty, again, that day.
THE WORD YOU SIT BESIDE
It’s not a word you lightly choose to live with
unless you have to; and then you breathe it in
as deeply as it breathes you—lonely—and while
you diligently try to unweave it into alone,
to lone, and one, then to on and on—finally
failing—you slide back into sounds—so the life
generally goes—and so look up, the bent tip
of the neighbor’s redwood is burnished copper
by the late sun and the day’s last yellow finch
keeps on pouring his splendid self into a tune,
while beyond, there’s the roar—not roar, assault
—of traffic, the massive sunset human traffic,
unknowable, but listen, you can hear each one
of them—the hearts of strangers hurrying home.
BREAKFAST ACCOMPANIED BY FOWL
Green plate on his belly, he’s fingering the yolk,
nibbling the crisp edges and whining
about geese. Long ago he loved them
in migration: Honduras to Canada and back,
loved the beauty of genetic intention
that V formation of winter coming, or
spring is here; hearing the insolent honks
he’d cut the tractor engine, light a camel,
speak in full, rhapsodic paragraphs about how
even the stupid geese anchor a year.
But then, he decided that the great Clockmaker
in the Sky had let the eternal gears run amuck,
turning his own sweet fancy to other galaxies
throbbing at the edge of time–
that was Dad’s rhetorically declaimed thought
about why the hell those geese
plopped their fat-ass selves down on his acres
for the long haul, soiling his asparagus patch,
harassing his cat, obliterating the passage of seasons,
belonging to him, not to time, not to the year.
COUNTRY MUSIC II
High up the wind can’t hold its note,
breaks apart, reconvenes as a living thing,
a sound swarm with icy celestial snowfields
to graze and glean,
a hive to fly home to, a queen to revere.
Chorus jumps between verses, wanting the day
to hold still, then wants to climb higher
where the outcrop spine of volcanic debris,
the huge shape of a flung liquid
is splashed with rust-red lichen
as if the rock had bled from all that uplift
out of earth, into lean air.
White anemones, petal-skirted, wind-lashed
hang on tight for the ride,
circle broken, chorus repeats.
Helen Wickes is the author of four books of poetry: In Search of Landscape, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2007; Moon over Zabriskie and Dowser’s Apprentice, both from Glass Lyre Press, 2014; World as You Left It, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2015. All six poems published in this article are from an unpublished manuscript titled “Transit of Mercury”. She grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, has lived in Oakland, California for many years, and used to work as a psychotherapist. She is a member of Sixteen Rivers Press, which has recently released the anthology America, I Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience.
Cover artwork: Paolo Vitale “per sciogliere un’onda”