James Brasfield, "Northern Bay"




Here, the firs at Penobscot 

are tall as pines remembered 

at a southern lake—half a lifetime ago—

autumn’s raw mist, a morning breeze, 

a hawk soaring.  Here, a heron climbs the thermals, 

disappears in low clouds gathering over woods 

and bay clear of fog—singular the clarity 

of light—high wind in a moment of midday. 


Perhaps someone at the lake remembers 

the wind, as it is here, through the trees: 

May, dandelions, dew laden, open 

in the meadow, seeds aloft, and already 

a poplar, leafed out, bears its summer shape, 

its moment of clouds’ wind-carved symmetry 

in the branches, a yellow warbler 

come and gone in its moment of light.  


Diamond glints coming in, wind-driven, 

a rhythm like rows of woodrgrain 

through a plank table, such insistence lapping 

stones, their stillness below what passes . . . 

each stone its sudden luminous streak of rain, 

as if etched on a blank window, a room 

arrayed with what’s been salvaged from a tide: 

what a hand reached for, what remains.  


The sun sets through rain-slacked clouds, 

its sheen bristling on the current 

crossing the bay, brightening tide pools, 

their veils inching out, lapping mud, 

and sundown backlit, as on another day 

here, for someone else—the heron 

scales in, settling himself on his long legs 

steady on smoothed stones.  


He looks down mirrored, unaware 

in a revelation of starfish, clams and snails, 

yet so little time to find—Does he choose?—

life to live from.  When, above the lake,

the hawk called—the sun a white disk 

in that gray sky—the hawk, circling, 

banked from sight over oaks 

beginning their starvation of leaves.


All the while, the heron has found his altitude—

a someplace else through moments 

to a moment I imagine 

his coexistence stunned, as if by something 

invisible through the air, wayward 

his line of flight, wind sustaining a serene 

bewilderment, a weightless heft falling, 

the sun suddenly blank. 

Never to feel the hard water or stones,

endlessly the bird in air


with the hawk long dead I last saw in flight, 

from the dusty pebbles at the lakeshore—


part of the going forward is how it was.



James Brasfield’s collection of poems, Ledger of Crossroads, was published by LSU Press, 2009. His poems have appeared in many periodicals, including Agni, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, The Literary Review, New Orleans Review, Poetry InternationalPrairie Schooner, Shenandoah and Southern Review. He is a recipient of fellowships for poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and he received the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and a Pushcart Prize.