Sweetgums & Indiantown Barns.jpg
from Orion Magazine
Place Where You Live

Indiantown Farm near Centreville, Maryland

The morning dewdrops on a thousand spiderwebs hung in the meadow and the river like glass, fog obliterating its far shore. It’s a salt-tanged river that winds into the Chesapeake Bay. It flows by our house which is my grandmother’s house, built on a shell midden left by centuries of indigenous people come to gather oysters in summer to eat and to smoke for the months ahead.

In my own childhood summers, I learned to swim off the old steamboat wharf that stretches out to deep water, deep enough for a keeled sailboat to tie up. Uncles helped us aboard and handed picnic baskets across. Strapped into orange life preservers, our trio of cousins, Harry, Gray, and I, would perch on the bow to squeal and hold on for dear life when the sloop heeled and spray flew all about us. Then come evening, back on land but feeling the boat still rocking, back in our many-windowed house, Grandma, all comfort and love, would come with a steaming platter of sweet corn picked that very day right here on our own farm.

For three and a half centuries, my family lived here. The ancestors came on ships and cleared the forest, along with the native people, who went off to subsist somehow in marshy places. We still find their arrowheads and shards of corncob-printed pottery and hence our farm is called “Indiantown.” The ancestors built a fine brick house, that is, no doubt, their slaves did, and at first with slaves, then with day laborers, they planted and harvested and worried their way through the hazards of British rule, the Civil War, droughts, and the great peach blight, just as we worry now about Roundup-ready crops, sea level rise, and ever-hotter summers.

On long walks with my cousins, we find flurries of bees and butterflies around the blossoming milkweed in June and sweetgum saplings flaring scarlet in late October. But in winter, I walk alone through snow-dusted corn stubble and watch as a fox streaks away then stops and turns to pierce me through with its fire-bright eyes.

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from Gargoyle

Shelter

 

I have a small blanket

handwoven in warm brown plaid in the Shetland Islands

where the cold wind never ceases,

handed down from my great aunt

who could still turn cartwheels when she was sixty

and didn’t drink but died of cirrhosis of the liver.

I draw it round me now

for shelter,

for comfort.

It’s no really cold.

It’s spring.

But the wind blows too hard

and the numbers in the news climb too fast.

Too much news.

Too much disruption.

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from Bay to Ocean Journal 2021

It’s a serious business

 

loving the water so much,

tracking the tides,

wading the beach,

dipping the paddle,

raising the sail.

 

It’s a serious business

loving the water

that calls to our hearts,

that eats up the shoreline,

that seeps up the edges of the green lawn,

that sashays its way closer and closer

toward our many-windowed house.

 

And each sunny afternoon,

the water tosses such pretty gifts,

reflections dancing in many-patterned brilliance

across the ceiling of the dear old living room.

And how long will it be

until the water, teasing up the red brick steps

and through the welcoming front door,

comes like a lover to claim its own?

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from Bay to Ocean Journal 2021

Rising Water

 

I wander into the woods

and find the marsh coming out to meet me.

Must it be one or the other?

Creeping under the trees,

stealing in with a fecund mucky reek,

it meets me

with viscous mud where solid ground should be.

I wander under the trees

and through the winter-pale phragmites,

boots squelching in the coffee-black ooze,

and I follow a slender deer path printed with twinned clefts,

into a horizontal confusion of tall trees’ trunks

scattered across the spongy ground,

as if great giants had left a game of pickup sticks.

A decade ago, they wore a heron rookery in their branches,

but now they require me to be lithe,

to zigzag and clamber and climb

till I freeze for a moment

caught by the biting eyes of a fox beyond a waist-high fallen log,

icy accusation of trespass,

icy allegation of blame.

Then she’s gone,

leaving a hover of red amid the chaos of spring green and dead wood

before I can tell her I’m losing my home, too.

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from Iceland

Time’s Story

Slice soul open and find no fiery core

only darkness brimful of light,

mystery of unity, ache of love,

ache of time gone and gone.

What mother was there?

What father?

What kin to fill the heart and sing

together

a song of no sound, all sound?

Ache and sorrow,

joy of breath,

hold me close and set me free,

embrace and empty

far from phenomena and familiarity.

I ache for touch and sweet sensation.

Rock like razors,

layer on layer,

rock like downy pillows,

egg and seed of revelation.

Speak not a word

but envelope me in your secret everlasting song.

Time and substance lost and found

in crystal wave

and sunlight too clear to look upon.

Save me from ecstasy

but give it to me, too.

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from The Turning Year

Marsh, the Word

Marsh, the word, I mean,

derives from the old English “mersc,”

which derives from “mer,” the sea,

with the addition of “sh,”

which I take to be

the shushing of the wind

through the tall-bladed marsh grasses

and the shimmering of the always-moving water

percolating through

the marsh’s spongy soil

so intricately networked with roots.

 

And yes,

our own marsh does derive from the sea,

the sea to the bay to the river.

Or rather,

following the flow,

the sea derives

from our own marsh,

our very own.

Corn Seedlings-L-shaped Field L1340222.j
from The Turning Year

Roundup Ready

 

A sweeping pass of spray

and a hundred thousand hopeful seedlings

perish from the intricate interacting exchange

of slow decay, nematodes and nurtured soil.

 

Reduced labor, surety of yield.

 

Sweet soil,

earth,

mystery where carbon sleeps

and life awakens,

you are holy bread.

 

Denuded, starved, what can you now sustain?

 

Swift baptism of chemical mist

insinuated into every acre,

in air and plant and animal,

in water,

and our vulnerable human cells.

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from Here/Not Here, Art and Poetry of Place
Salisbury University Art Galleries

Late August

 

and the heat has settled on the tired land

and the corn is tall and thinking about turning brown

and the old house is peeling paint

that won’t ever be scraped and sanded

and painted over fresh again.

The heavy air speaks thunderstorms

and worse.

The vine-heavy trees at the shoreline

edging the wide flat field

are already leaning,

branches strained,

roots eroded

by the rising water.

Another hurricane breeds

down south,

the bay broods in anticipation.

The waves overreached the dock last time.

It’s hotter now,

and the tide rides higher up its pilings.

We’re already on the brink.