James Owens: “Brief Turns of Weather”


Midday, warm for this early March, hovers
above ice, as wind thins through paltry weeds

in cracks of asphalt and makes them tremble.
Coatless, I loiter along the driveway

to know wind, slate-dour sky and frozen yard.
Grey rain alternates with corna cealdast,

the phrase from a frost-bitten north
girding curt pellets with sower’s irony.

They sizzle on earth, these “coldest of seeds,”
that won’t root here, that rain will wash to slush,

though nearby, dark in sod beneath the freeze,
shoots curl tight in sheaths, test the loam, nudge.

Popcorn snow was my mother’s name for this,
as much for the look of flakes compact as hail

as for their rattle and bounce off stiffened ruts.
Winter always began with it, after wires

of rime had bound the wasted leaves to mud,
as gusts trapped in snarls of pale sedge

beat themselves free and thrust birds sideways.
The day the weather turned, the fall’s first white

like shot stinging the backs of hands, shushing
among corn stubble, we were binding the rustle

of foddershocks and stopped to gauge the sky.
“A foot by morning,” she judged and stooped to the work.

But I’m no farmer now. It has been decades
since I leaned cornstalks in shocks for fodder

or gathered armfuls to winter a milk cow.

I watch the shifting flakes define dimensions
with a Lucretian randomness of swifting,

blown swirl—just as, one June, I stood
with my wife under the broad, innocent maple

that shivered once, or seemed to shiver in pleasure,
and released its shower of blossoms down on us,

as pale and swerving as snow-petals, glittering
as they found slants of light that pierced the shade.

Remember, love? We took the path beyond
litter and road noise, through waist-tall ferns

into the cooler woods, and then that clarity
of falling petals, a space where silence held,

as if, unknowing, we had stepped into an air
outside the seasons, breath stilled between breath

and breath. You gripped my hand, so I would pause
for once from my worldlong stumble, look up

to find the maple flowers in timeless drift.

And we knew the place already. Earlier,
at the gray edge of spring, a day like this

of mist and restless cloud, we climbed rock
and sat talking on wet lichen, and we shivered

out of our clothes, your cry an echo over stone,
both timeless and the quick of pure happening.

This snow is ending already, no real threat
in these brief squalls, and soon the softened loam

will ruck open where life rises to thrust
hungrily at the day, as Pound observed,

naming “the gilded phalloi of the crocuses.”
I like the thought, this sexual, seeded earth,

but hear a cheating fall in “gilded.”
I’d rather gold, or, better still, pure flame.

In no hurry, a buzzard lifts and lifts
above the neighbor’s plowed field, describing

time’s other spiral, brown flap of canvas
lofted away from earth. I turn from watching sky,

fissures of blue in the banked marl of cloud.
I am younger now than the crocus shoots.

James Owens’ most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems, stories, and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications in Adirondack Review, American Journal of Poetry, The Honest Ulsterman, and Southword.

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