Five miles through woods crept up to eight, then ten,
and the sun had made its turn past vertical,
descended to leaf-level and set the green flickering
when the path dead-ended in river mud, ebb tide, no abbey.
The way unwound like a dropped scarf, blackberry-tatted.
In fallen-away fields the gorse burned yellow
around the unpanicked legs of cows. I closed my ears
against hordes of nettles muttering go back
and knelt over the map: a paper bird I’d found
at the bus station that morning, hatched roughly
in the knapsack, blue wings creased with use,
its thin cry unconvincing
next to the book that shared its nest, the cover worn velvet,
the folded page I held in my palm
like a compass, no glimpse of Tintern yet, but that
would come, wouldn’t it? All paths lead back to builders;
and so on through the deep and deeper forest
I paid out bravery like twine, knotted it, clutched
at its dwindling weight in my hip pocket,
until at the river’s sluggish edge I pulled its feathered end
into my hand.
They say the ruins are lavender in this light.
Are stone and slingshot. I’m down to my last apple.
The river opens up a skyroad for monkish bees that stumble
homeward from their flowers, the world’s sweetness
a burden almost too much for them to bear. Yet up they buck.
Over eons they’ll pack a blissful gold
in six-sided cells their bodies spend all to form.
But I am no alchemist. I have only prayer.
The rosary of footprints I’ve laid down winds up and back
in sodden chalk. Nothing but steady effort with which to beg
whatever god was cast out here or comes to summer rough
to make of me, as the day goes down, an offering,
something cored more finely than the hiker
I set out as, in a far more crowded country.
O setting sun! Strike a match against my hair
and kindle on the sodden riverbank what’s left of me
into a blaze the likes of which this valley has not seen
since men first cleared the land for their ships of stone,
a blaze such as the ancients used to navigate by—
for I am lost, I am lost, at last freely I confess it—
like the sacrificial beasts that in late summer
wander these high fields crackling with gorse,
their legs alight, their bodies never burning.
A Year in Poems: February Entry
[Author’s note: this is a “longline poem” assignment I started for a poetry class I took with John Shoptaw at Berkeley. The WordPress format doesn’t capture the shape I was trying to create with each pair of lines. If you’re interested, the intended formatting is maintained in this Word doc.]