On oak branches hang frosted leaves– Brittle, icy, and walnut brown– Among stones, wolves, owls, swans, and geese, Where flakes of snow fall thickly down. Fragrant pines and gnarled cedars stand In a gorge by the frozen stream Where fog lies in a milky band, And the sun makes the clear ice gleam.
Through this cold, all solitary, Walks a man most melancholy. All he owns is all he carries: His bread, water, hopes, and follies. He recalls a girl from his past. He dreads the long, poor road ahead For darkness here is most unkind. He has no place to lay his head.
He treks across the snowy plains Past the scrub oak, the pines, and streams, His mind is hard, his body pained. His clothing is worn at the seams. The moon rises, new and dark. Stars are woven like fishing nets. The land lies daunting, grim, and stark.
“What Are Islands” is a poem that warns of the dangers that accompany the continued destruction of the environment.
What are islands
but the very branches of the earth
rising up to break the waves?
And what are pits
But little scalloped holes
Where bats may live,
as they do in darkened caves?
What are these features, high and low,
But the merest bumps
Upon a sphere so smooth
That but a small ways up
From its brilliant atmosphere
These ridges and declines
Vanish into a sleek and satiny luster?
I’ll tell you now.
These islands and these pits
They are our home:
The verdant forest,
The yellow plain,
The milky fog
The chilling rain.
They are our home.
We have no other
On which to roam,
We have no other
To ocean floor.
And if we throttle
This pretty planet
If its cerulean face turns grey
Still the sun
Will descend at dusk
And still the sun
Will rise at day
But all those things
That make life happen
The birds, the bees
The air, the trees
Will be killed by cement
A Sea of Trees
There once was a fabulous sea
Whose waves looked like summery trees
There were breakers like ash
Whose foamy leaves fell with a crash
Amid a forest that ebbed and flowed mistily
The Scarlet Macaw
There once was a scarlet macaw
Who had but a single real flaw
It became the happiest bird
When it would shout a curse word
And leave the polite people in awe.
The Lazy Artist
There once was an artist from Chartres
Who loved but one thing more than fine art
And that was to be as lazy as hell
And for that he slept long and well
So his magnum opus he never did start.
A rancher is lost in the Wyoming mountains. One evening, as his wife is looking through the windows, she spies him coming down the mountains. She hurries out and meets him beneath a lodgepole pine.
The poem is written in blank verse.
She is a woman, auburn haired,
With eyes of green and careful mind.
She looks through windows onto snow,
To mountain ranges, crisp and clear.
She’s as tough as stone, as rough as cordage,
Supple as a rope or birch.
And in that cold Wyoming evening
Where the mountains meet the sky,
The clouds are forming, an airy meadow,
Like fields of mushrooms or beds of scallops
That grow up and white in course of time.
And coming down from that mountain,
With broken shoulder and riding slow,
Is a tall man of her age
One she’s bound herself to love.
And like Penelope she’s been watching
That rocky chine for hopeful sign,
And now at last her man’s come riding
Down the slope, back into life
To make again the old ranch whole.
So the woman, standing slowly,
Slips out through the cabin door
Into the air that’s crisp with autumn,
Chill and fair, suggesting snow.
She saddles up and rides to meet him;
She finds him ’neath a lodgepole pine,
And there the two dismount and embrace
Relieved to learn their hearts will mend.
For above the firs the birds are flying
Vultures, condors: the carrion pair,
And how they’d love a crippled cowpoke
Lost amidst the mountains there.
Now she and he are hugging fiercely
As the sun sinks behind the stone
And though Death is hungry
And impatient it must find another time
For tonight these two are coming home.
For those people who still lie awake after counting sheep, a visit from the make-believe slumberjack may put you to sleep.
Counting trees is like counting sheep:
Each will make you fall asleep.
One-by-one as you count the sheep
You wait and wait till you drift to sleep.
But if by chance you cannot sleep
You must forbear from counting sheep.
Bring in your mind the felling of trees
By a man with a saw like the buzzing of bees.
He dwells deep in a forest of spruce trees and snow
For the taiga’s the biome where dreams like to go.
He is a slumberjack, and with every tree that he fells
Down you shall go down sleep’s bottomless wells.
Falling and falling you’ll have no bird’s wings,
Deeper and deeper you’ll sink in your dreams.
Drop and drop into the black
In the dark frosty forest of the sleep slumberjack.
One day Ray woke to discover that plants had overgrown his home.
A tree rose through the chimney, the carpet was covered with brome,
Ivy crawled up the bricks and wound over grout,
And when Ray squeezed his toothpaste tube, roses came out!
He had to brush his teeth with a paste made of petals,
So his evergreen breath smelled of needles and nettles.
While on the bookcase, where the photographs of his parents had lain,
Were garlands of daisies, tied in tender knots in a bright daisy chain,
And in the picture frame which’d featured a Eurasian magpie,
There was now a photograph of a desert landscape full of succulents and cacti.
In the kitchen bowl where there’d been garlic and chilies,
There was now water, and, in it, red and white Santa Cruz lilies!
When Ray opened the refrigerator door,
He discovered its chamber was abundant with bright slipperwort.
And when Ray walked into his once plainly furnished living room,
He found it overflowing with fungi, a forest of mushrooms!
All throughout his home, wherever he went, wherever he stood,
Ray was surrounded by orchids, azaleas, wisteria and wormwood!
But the most peculiar thing of all, was that Ray felt something in his foot,
And, looking down, he noticed that it had grown a root!
And from his fingers, there were growths of shoots and leaves
And the woody drapes that a liana weaves…
Ray suddenly felt thirsty for water, though his urge to pursue it was scant,
And with a final green look at the verdurous world, Ray turned into a plant!