James Owens, "Albedo"



The way north of town is rough with slush
and tire ruts, mud-slick in the hollows, slopes
washboard runnel, jounce and skid.
Late March, still a waist-deep berm
of plowed snow at the roadsides,
then knee-deep, crusted snow in the serious
bush, after a week of thaw and freeze.

It is Sunday morning. Somebody pours prayer
on the ruined column of void we call our hearts.
Somebody strops the word love to a razor’s gleam.
I park to walk a smaller, worse road,
and on the hills, stands of birch blur with distance
to drifts of grey smoke against a screen of pine.
Shadows of branches in slant sun
clutch at the snow‘s glare.

I go head down, dazzled half blind.
A week ago, we hiked a snow machine trail
a few miles from here, where a wolf crossed
from forest to forest, silent, close,
pausing just yards ahead to glance back,
his shadow edged and arched, starving for meat.

Today, dark water slides under a gap
in river ice. Crows slick
their opaque cries on the sky. White trunks
of birch tremble like a wife’s thighs.
Back home in the afternoon,
Erin tells me she found a caterpillar

wakened early on asphalt and thought to save it
from the path of cars. It curled and uncurled
furry on her palm, tender black face butting
her thumb—but only hard snow on both sides,
nowhere warm to lay the caterpillar down.
Nowhere, she says, a rent despair shaking her.


James Owens is the author of two collections of poetry: An Hour is the Doorway (Black Lawrence Press) and Frost Lights a Thin Flame (Mayapple Press). His poems, translations from French and Romanian, and photographs appear widely in literary journals.