Feature Poet:

Pam Bernard

 

 

 

HOW CIRCUMSTANCE

 

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north.

 —W.S. Merwin

 

As if no other god could alter his decision

the neighbor’s cat loped across the darkening yard,

a young female cardinal clamped tight

in his jaws, and the argument that had

 

begun to boil between us stopped.

You had been looking at the freshly mown field,

your afternoon’s struggle, and I at you, trying

to find a way to say what I’ve never been able to—

 

that our long marriage had come undone.

Backlit by the hemlock you were

taking in the day’s last saturated light,

the kind that makes trees seem to glow

 

from within, light I’d tried many times

to paint, but always failed to in the end.

Soon the bats would be careening above us,

fragile, endangered, their welcome presence

 

the one thing we would agree upon.

But when your face recorded what you saw—

before I turned to see—you took on the demeanor

of  a small boy, hurt so deeply you were beyond

 

child reason, whose mother left him for

a vaudeville clown who knew how to please,

a boy who loved to gather walnuts

from under the tree, fingers stained for days.

 

And though you caught the cat and didn’t

wring its neck, and saved the bird, which

showed up miraculously at the feeder

the next day lopsided but otherwise unhurt—

 

before it was all put into motion so irrevocably, so

without mercy, I was about to say I’d given up on us.

How circumstance can save us from catastrophe,

loneliness seeping back to where it lives

 

on a moor deep in the belly, while the walnuts

come fresh, as if from the tree again, and a boy

awakened from the honey of sleep

walks steadily toward us.

 

 

 

FIELD NOTES

 

All I have is my voice

to undo the folded lie. 

 —W. H. Auden

 

i
Tall grass feathering cool

between my fingers, field

 

blazing in late summer heat.

A gathering of willow, catkins

 

scattered among the understory.

A loud drumming, then

 

a ruffed grouse bursts suddenly

into the wavy air, where it hovers,

 

wings beating wildly—

 

ii
Fog lowers its skirts over the speckled

murmuration, smudges the tops

 

of Norway spruce, as the starlings

roost high above winged branches.

 

Who can believe their grace?

Impossibly precise, a whirling throng

 

above these crooked fields, the spent corn,

reed bed where the marsh harrier,

 

leopard moth and rove beetle

thrive, where the dobsonfly

 

crawls out of a watery cradle to emerge

into its gauzy, membranous self.

 

iii
The remembering trees, their fierce

loneliness through the long winter

 

an act of faith. Deep within them,

beyond reason or plan, flow rivers

 

of amber, while the trees

hold still in their long patience

 

and the waiting goes on.

What I have longed for to be past, is not—

 

the sad work of children

paying for what they do not owe.

 

iv
Where is the covenant we promise them,

where the safe harbor?

 

But for the trees, who

will heed their cries?

 

Held in their taproots, voices
of the children so sweet

 

even the junipers, flung out

into the wilderness, hear.

 

 

IMAGO MUNDI

 

after Borges

 

Perhaps the oldest map of the world—     

two concentric circles incised

on a clay tablet, and between them

the cosmic ocean.

 

Within the innermost circle, seven

named cities, three unnamed, all

revealed in cuneiform.

Salt sea, a river of bitter water.

Mountains, swamp, canal.

Babylon at the center.

 

Below, parallel lines represent

the southern marshes,

a curved line the Zagros.

 

Seven triangles radiate from

the outermost circle. Representing

islands, they surround the known

regions, and are named by

degrees of brightness.

 

The islands are a mythical realm

fusing our earthly domain to the heavens

engraved on the tablet’s reverse—

stars and constellations, all

that could be imagined.

 

And because the prevailing orientation

was dictated by the four winds,

and because the goddess Ishtar

deemed northwest most favorable,

the map is thusly inclined.

 

Yet it proclaims itself to be a mere

representation of a map lost

to time and memory—a map, perhaps,

of such exactitude, it was a map

 

of an empire the size of an empire,

or a map that so distorted the world

the poles went on, in pure theory, forever.

 

 

Pam Bernard is a poet, painter, editor, and an adjunct professor of writing at Franklin Pierce University. Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, two Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships, a MacDowell, and the Pablo Neruda and Grolier Prizes. TriQuarterly, Barrow Street, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, and Nimrod are among the journals within which her work has been published. Of four published books, three are full-length collections of poetry. Among them, Across the Dark was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Her latest is a novel-in-verse, entitled Esther, published by CavanKerry Press.

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