I’ve been living in a dead tree since the first war ended,
not in the branches among birds but inside where
the firewood lives and invites a woodpecker’s knock
only to let a few of the overpopulated bugs out.
War is outside now. War is a blindfold removed
with a chainsaw. I could be the wooden soldier
in the tomb of the unknown, so I’m telling you
I won’t pound that anvil of despair again.
My feet are in the dirt now, but
there are some things I won’t eat.
My neighbors are relatively uninhabited,
but then, so am I, and the birds don’t mind.
I have my work to keep me busy,
hauling sunlight around and changing it
into food. Undressing’s slower now that
I’m considered ancient, but I sleep like a log.
It’s inhuman what happens here, and I
like it that way. There’s a slow forgetful
fight for sunlight, but I’m already starting
to give mine to the darker children. I need
to tell you I made this up, not because you don’t
know, but because I don’t, and I live here often.
Can you forget you lied to me? Can you
forget to close the door that lets history out,
as in that moment when snow announces
with irritating purity that it’s never leaving?
Such friends are always welcome if they’re
cold and determined and, of course, wrong.
My boss wears a suit of moss to work
and always stays home. He doesn’t do
anything that hasn’t been done before.
I find that an amazing accomplishment.
Everyone has to live somewhere, and
they usually make the best of it although
they often don’t think that’s what they’ve done.
A lot of things get done again, as they should.
I don’t want to have to say, “Not this again,”
because I can’t hear the disaster coming. Maybe
you live in a tree, and you don’t want to
live in a tree, but I do. I don’t have to make
the best of it because it makes the best of me.
When you’re a soldier, it’s best not to do much.
My condition is serious, and I’m still a tooth. I think maybe
I can’t stop. I have five days left to find five days.
Sometimes I keep what I need in an empty jar beneath
my bed. Sometimes I’m inside with it. I’ll go there.
What does a window hear?
Have I said he was dead yet? Have I said soul or light-bulb or
watch-chain because the connection is always tangential?
What does a window do?
There’s a guy kneeling on his head. One guy. It’s impossible.
He’s laughing at himself. Gravelly hiccups won’t stop piercing his knee.
No, what does a window do?
You have to count backwards. You have to go on. Maybe I’m a bundle
of me falling in, unbroken please and terribly innocent.
It’s what you see holding still
that makes the most horrible noise.
How many windows do you have? No, I mean what does a window see?
It’s an envelope I live in.
Others have been sent.
I’m capable of breaking in again. I eat and I eat
and I eat some more. Lesser things happen.
Five days are waiting for me to find them.
I know my name is in the window, but what am I offering?
The foreign traveler can best describe where you live,
having no personal history to color the detail. Before sculpture
became a confession and began to walk, we had already
learned to paint people as experiences and touch them with clay.
And if the behavior of inanimate objects could not be seen
as indicative of the experience presenting itself, what then?
Truth doesn’t need our feelings. Indifferent to our desires,
it became physical and teased objects awake. Slept alone.
I’m standing in my body now and looking out
at the earth’s body undressing for the lovely cold.
My house was beautiful, and it was not tied down. There wasn’t
much else to say, except to say how easy it was not to say anything.
A window hears only what a window offers.
Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His book of days, Tunneling to the Moon, is currently being serialized with a work per day appearing for all of 2013 at http://silencedpress.com.
Q. For some reason, when I read “Still Waiting,” I had a flash memory of Winslow Homer’s “The Veteran in a New Field.” His feet, too, are in the dirt. As the writer of this powerful poem, do you have any thoughts on this painting?
A. Although I was not thinking of that painting specifically, it has much in common with the poem. I grew up in South Dakota among people with a very basic relationship to farming as suggested by the painting. The pleasure and suffering implicit in such physical labor haunts the poem, as does a sense of loss even in the rewards of harvesting. Currier and Ives painted “happier” versions of similar scenes though the hardships still remain clear, and yes, I am related to the latter, as well as to George Homer Ives, the first man to be hung by vigilantes in Montana, where I lived before moving to the Seattle area to teach writing.
Q. When you write, do you face a window, or a wall, or the open sky—and what do you see there?
A. I live in a log home, and I face an open doorway and a window with views of the forest and two small ponds. The birds come and go often and with great chatter and fluttering. There is an antelope skull on the wall and a tall Quaker-style adjustable wooden candle-holder that looks almost medieval in the corner.
Q. Tell us about Camano Island…
A. The island is nearly a peninsula, with only a small channel that separates it with salt water from the mainland on the north end of its length. It is accessible on that end by a bridge but extends more than twenty miles further to the south end of the island where I live. Much of the island is forested with a mix of both evergreen and deciduous trees, particularly maple.