In the hour before dark, a woman sits
on her front porch watching the geese
head south. She can’t endure
the ritual departure much longer
and feels, on her porch swing, unsafe
as if she is dangling and ready to fall.
If she dreams tonight, it will be of apples,
late in season, trees heavy with red fruit
too cumbersome for bent branches
to cling to any more. In the morning
the hard ground will be littered with them
and, if the air is right, she’ll pack a bag
and leave this town. She’s not running,
but winter is coming and this year has been
without tangible harvest. Maybe she’ll drive
far enough to find an orchard just in blossom—
fruit not nearly ready to be picked, consumed.
There, with the sound of wings overhead,
she will find a place to start from.
She wants to be more tree than fruit.
She wants to bear the weight of each
season and then be able to just let go.
Christine E. Salvatore received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. She currently teaches literature and creative writing at Rosemont College, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and Egg Harbor Township High School. Her poetry has recently appeared in The Literary Review, The Cortland Review, and in The Edison Literary Review. She is the recipient of a 2005 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: I always imagine setting out for new adventures, especially when I’m feeling particularly cornered by everyday obligations. This yearning, and my love of Robert Frost and Fall, inspired the poem.
In the back lot, the bark rots away from limbs,
home for silverfish and cantankerous beetles.
Boys playing in the alley no longer hide
for safety from mothers behind the dank log pile.
In wet and dry stammers of forgetful weather,
under the mind’s full snow of eternal moments,
the heartwood loses tissue, all the evidence
of once being a tree among other tall trees,
in a busy forest. Christian men brought the load,
mixed proud names of hardwood – oak, ash, maple –
fully seasoned and stacked to a proper angle.
The fiber now is brittle as a box of foxed
newspapers once read daily. The men had felt good
about what they had done. The young are so inclined,
counted their deed service, asked only a fair wage.
Their labor was of course appreciated, though
all the firewood is not yet used, its time not come.
If now brought to the fire, the logs could not sustain
a night of conversation, would burn in minutes,
crackling and popping like little, human voices.
Paul Dickey’s full-length poetry manuscript, They Say This Is How Death Came into the World, was published by Mayapple Press in January 2011 and is being nominated by the press for the National Book Award in poetry. His poetry has appeared recently in Verse Daily, Rattle, Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics, Mid-American Review, Midwest Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review and online at www.linebreak.org A poetry chapbook, What Wisconsin Took, was published by the Parallel Press in 2006. Biographical information and notes on previous publishing activity may be found at http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/NCW/dickey.htm
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: Although the poem was inspired by my wife’s volunteer service as a guardian and friend to nursing home patients, she points out to me that the poem is totally unrealistic. No nursing home staff would have time, inclination, or opportunity to provide such frivolous entertainment to the residents as to allow them to muse and visit by an open fire. I say, my point, exactly.
My brother never understood my map ritual,
never gathered how pushing the colored heads of pins
into imitation vellum to indicate three things
—where we are,
where we’re from,
where we’d like to be—
would build scalene walls between points to bind up the paper ocean.
His favorite part was, once the pin-pushing was over,
pointing out how I had wired the ocean for light.
My brother would hold the map up to the window
and let the light shine through each tiny puncture,
spreading out in elongated cones that ended on our foreheads.
When you endure tragedy, you have to tell someone everything except what happened,
like seeing a little circle of Summer sun just above my brother’s eyebrow
without ever knowing the hole in the sea.
The other side of the map, outside the window:
The river there ran so close to the ocean it changed
directions with the tide, eschewed its own muddy gravity
for the sake of proximity to its destination, hesitated
and deposited its contents for fear of dilution.
The delta is the difference from—the distance
between—the change in—the before but also after—
The delta sifts its own shape from sedentary shores,
piles borders and crenellates partitions, and opacity
sinks into the carved line-laden silt, like the delta’s shape
stitched its own sides into the riverbed, peeled them off
like leeches until only the three necessary
for definition survived. The water slows
when the moon thumbs it into the earth, so refracting particles
stand stock-still for the dull moment before sinking
into a shallow curve, a slower slope—and slope
is the change in vertical over the change in horizontal
and change is notated as delta, a tiny triangle that wielded
more ideogrammatic force as its original Semitic pictograph:
a fish. The delta is where everything falls into a pile:
moonlight, ground stone, shards of bony fish,
pictures that are words, and letters with no sound.
A pile shaped a little like a triangle.
That was our geometric season—
the calendar’s squares dedicated
to sorting out the numbers
that rang in patterns, resonated
in our bones and promised
to swallow us up in their
own hulking simplicity.
Mathematics, he said, had to be
accepted, in all its arbitrary and stilted
strangeness, but it never asks more
than that. I think the strangeness
of it grew from the ground with the ice
that encased ozone-poisoned leaves
before the snow came, when
I replied that arbitrary and stilted
were the best we could hope for
and that I did more than accept it.
He sighed and watched
snow heave from the sky.
My brother alone:
He stands in the winter storm,
submerges his feet in the piling
snow and thrusts his fists into
his threadbare coat’s pockets.
He becomes the axis around which the flakes
tilt on an imaginary grid, the arbitrary cross-hatch
that gifts spaceless points with a location.
Three points determine a plane. A spinning
triangle of any three particles builds the surface
that cleaves him across his middle.
To stand in the snowstorm is to halve yourself
over and over with your own rational imagination.
He accepts the cold, endures the loneliness,
but how does he withstand the endless cross-cutting?
My brother alone: the quickly diminishing solitary geometer.
Three points (two hydrogen and one oxygen)
determine a plane. The water molecule gives
enough permission to constrict it with whatever
pins and however many triangles I can build.
The body is, more than likely, just a river on foot,
carrying water and dropping the rest, another means
of constriction to which the water submits.
In this way the body as I see it
is in the shape of a triangle.
Me alone: a slow-moving vector
if the river there had been graphed.
The snowstorm is a flood of imagined triangles.
In this way the world bent to the human will
is in the shape of a triangle.
He couldn’t follow the logic once the rains came,
couldn’t fall through the hole in the ocean,
couldn’t unwrap the water
from around his vibrating bones.
I suppose, for him, the triangle
was always a cell—in every sense—
and knowledge promised escape.
It wasn’t until that circle of Summer sun
went dark, just before the light
started shining from the other end,
that the delta picked up its three side
and finally drifted into the endless.
Here’s what I know: he was, at the very least, not afraid
of dilution, gulping down a glass of water every morning
as if to keep his insides from crusting over. I suppose, that
last morning, when he didn’t finish the glass, he had hardened
and had to tap his way out with a water-softened fingernail.
I’m listening, my brother’s bones, to your worried rattle
and click, but all I hear is the music of curve and slope,
the sounds of a watery world bent to our will.
Patrick Milian currently lives in Atlanta, Ga., where he sells shoes, plays the banjouke, and struggles with the MFA application process.
Q: Do you have any comments you' like to make about this poem?
A: This poem is dedicated to Harold Kleeman for painting triangles all over my life.