SESTINA FOR A COLD SOLSTICE
Dark, oh dark, each day is shrinking, the light turns
weaker each morning, each evening declines
so soon, edging toward a brittle sundown.
The land curls on itself, burrows down, clings
to what heat it can, knowing the cut of wind,
the hard-frozen sod, the white-crusted branch.
This fading is no surprise. Every branch
is sharp-etched, a Japanese print, day turns
from fading to gone. And the lurking wind
cannot be trusted; it whips or declines
without warning, in the shadows cold clings
to its cruel power, building toward sundown.
It all moves fast, this slipping toward sundown.
Each tree sleeps in its warm core, every branch
waits better days. And so we humans cling
to dreams of thaw, to distant summer, turn
to the days before this bloodless decline,
to remembering the flowery wind.
We know better. Stonehenge plotted this wind,
this light spooling down toward frozen sundown.
Feasting, beer, wine may yet halt this decline.
Shuffle and stomp and wave the sacred branch
of mistletoe. Burn blood and do not turn
away. Chant the holy words and cling, cling
to each hour added to each day. Cling
to hope beyond each gust of starving wind,
our bellies caving, our stark ribs. Men turn
to gnawing, watching the axis tilt. Sundown
by sundown, soft ice clogs the swollen branch,
while bleak midwinter slowly relents, declines.
Yule logs have blazed, announcing this decline.
and each year we believe the ashes, cling
to our faith in the embers’ glow. Branch
will yet be lined with swollen buds, the wind
will fall. We feel the grip of each sundown
loosen, each night retreats. Our numb hearts turn.
Winter’s tread grows distant. Its legions turn
from plunder. Bird song teases dawn, pleases sundown.
The fallow earth awaits a soft, sweet wind.
THE 17-YEAR MAGICICADA ARE GONE NOW
Franklin and Jefferson wrote about them. Benjamin Banneker,
who lived near Ellicott’s Mills, MD, wrote of “a great locust year” in 1749.
The thud of sudden silence. No more thrumming,
Doppler drone of the males, calling “Weeee-whoa.
Pharaoh, Pharaoh.” Now burnished gold wings
scatter the lawn, the walk, float our coffee,
glue to our cars, decals of their passing.
Clumps of brown branch tips clutter the grass,
dangle in a million trees. The gargoyle husks
of this last molting still cling to our maples,
our pampered ornamentals. We have born
their ghastly red-eyed bumbling, hanging on
our skirts, ricocheting off our foreheads.
They seek not escape, but a month to practice
‘Predator Satiation”—snacks for birds,
possum, cats, squirrels, snakes, foxes, dogs and ten
trillion ants, a stupendous slaughter
to lure the females to a chorus tree.
After mating the females cut slits in twigs,
lay eggs, which hatch and fall to earth. The larva
burrow deeply, living on the juice of tree roots,
emerging after 17 years. And thus
the cycle begins again. Other researchers
assert this dark hiatus underground
is in their DNA, one equation
to avoid enemies from their ancient past.
What to make of all this? We share the world with
creatures we loath, who remind us of when we
climbed from the slime, sniffing for a mate,
standing on feeble legs, waving our
appendages, certain there was charm
in our musky croaking. Strutting at the top
of the food chain, what new tools will we fashion
to modify our fate? What new tongue will we
conjure to articulate our fond farewell?
Ahead of us stretch miles of poems like this,
rife with riddles leading to The Big Goodbye.
What future progeny will stand musing
in their brave new world, observing our
passing and remark—how bazaar their life cycle,
how odd and quaint their courtship rituals,
how very lonely their long silence.
WHEN WE PASS
in the hall, I nod. I rehearse
my memoirs, but my yarns seem too
humble to share. Our lives deflect
off our shells of dreams. We will not
stand and deliver, revealing
lands unknown. I could learn your lingo,
be bemused by your quaint customs,
but why invest in arcane myths?
At the party others seemed glad
to hear your spiel. But you wouldn’t
care for my wry—been there, done that.
We will never know what we lost.
Let that be a lesson to us.
Living wears hard spots on the soul,
where any hopeful knot slips off,
where no ivy of affection
takes root. You seem such a decent sort.
When we pass in the hall, we nod.
Mark DeFoe is Professor Emeritus of English at West Virginia Wesleyan College where he teaches in Wesleyan’s low-residency MFA Writing Program. His tenth chapbook, In the Tourist Cave, was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press. DeFoe’s poems have been published in Poetry, Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, Paris Review, New Letters, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, North American Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Smartish Pace, Tar River Poetry, Salmagundi, GW Review, South Carolina Review, Denver Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, and many others.