copyright © 2014 by Jane D’Arista
Finding a Field
She had never walked that road before.
It turned in an arc around a field
fenced with posts and loose strands of barbed wire –
for cows, she thought, no longer there –
just a faint dirt track through scrubby pine
near her great-aunt Ida’s house in Callahan
where the families that farmed raised chickens,
kept a hog, a cow and a patch of corn.
The field’s freshness seemed out of place –
tall grass of a different green
flecked with buttercups, daisies
and Queen Anne’s lace. Small insects
rode up and down on a breeze.
Their flat song – a steady beat
where the flowers swayed – seemed to say:
This is the way a field should be.
She grew, moved away, never went back –
never knew if the field survived
the lava-like spread of the city.
The way it had been remained in her mind –
possessed even when forgotten –
part of what she saved and took with her.
The Overgrown Copse
It is as if you have entered
the shade of an overgrown copse
at the edge of a sun-baked field –
the contrast seems so great from then to now.
Once there, the bird you hear singing
is the sound of your own voice, rising
to a note you had not known you had.
Your eyes move like fingers tracing the contours
of a face – fingers extend for the latching of hands.
Beauty is there to astonish: you see another
and feel you, too, are seen.
You did not know one could enter Eden
but know now it’s where you are.
Eels. We crossed the road to see them
spill into the pool at the base
of the waterfall, to watch them writhe,
massed together until pushed by the current
toward the brackish cove beyond.
I told your sister they would head
to the warm Sargasso Sea to spawn and die –
that an embedded memory would bring
their young back to these cold waters
and link the beginning with the end of their lives.
Of course, that was more than you
could understand. You were only three.
But, curious to see the eels,
you bent too far and fell
head-first into roiling water.
Your father shouted, lunged, grabbed
your ankle and pulled you out. How
that dark plunge felt you felt
again in dreams – a recurring baptism
into the beginning of memory.
At Point Reyes
Looking across this dry basin
to the bay beyond, I try to imagine
what one would find below,
inside that cradle of power
we call the San Andreas Fault,
if one could go down to see it shrug,
groping for the right position before
lapsing into decades more of sleep.
After days living on this hillside,
the inner ground on which I thought
I stood begins to show fissures
of its own – cracked surfaces above,
unpredictable rumblings below –
signs of a shift that destroys as it moves
to renew, waiting out of sight
like the one here, hiding under the meadow.
I see a woman in a field somewhere,
in the only place she will ever know –
in a world so large her coming and going
leave fewer traces than melting snow.
She moves now and lifts her head. Hers
is not what is called a “plummet-measured face.”
She limps, favoring some wound, and has a wall-eye.
Crossing the field to the river, she kneels to drink.
Her bent body suddenly seems flawless,
its beauty drawn from the life it holds.
If the wild poppies in this field
were stirred by a breeze, would what I see
and smell be the same if I were she?
I cannot know. There’s a difference – a distance –
required for this tenderness I feel for her –
that I want felt for me.
My love, what once we imputed
each to the other – the same
grace and mystery, embodied
in selves that possessed and were possessed,
that secret languages expressed –
we bonded in flesh.
Pleasure with purpose,
that bond was made to last –
past the fragmented lives we made,
past death’s parting of our whole in half.
I still am one of two. And you,
memorialized by your own hand,
are yet the object of my eye.
Somehow, at the end of a mundane dream
about going here and there and doing
things not done, for no reason
suddenly, your face appeared.
You said nothing but the look in your eyes
sent a message that, waking, I still feel.
I know – I surely conjured this moment
to meet my need and needed how it came:
perfectly disguised as something given.
Even so, it could not have come
had I not seen that look before.
Swimming Near Sorrento
for Angie and Carla
Out from a rock-strewn, half-moon bay
below a terraced cliff, breathing
the pungent smell of oleander,
weightless, immersed in the warm element
of rebirth, we circle and tread, resuming
an endless familial conversation
that treats as one the living and those
already gone – retelling stories
that smooth the ragged edge of time.
But time breaks the spell,
casts shadows that rob heat from the sun.
Tired, hungry, we swim back
to gather clothes spread on the beach –
silent now, eyes cast down,
drained by laughter spilled out of love.
The European Room of My Memory
The European room of my memory
opens on a row of trees with peeling bark
and yellow leaves that fall on cobblestones
across a square. Alone there,
I move on to crowded streets where
I once lived – where I am a stranger again,
trespassing in places others own,
passing people who belong to their lives
in ways I seem not to belong to mine.
Lights flicker on and conversations quicken.
Doors open and shut, releasing the odors
and familiar sounds of evening – beginning a ritual
in which I take no part – a language
once heard as music that now sounds shrill.
I come back to this memory to find
a place I need to reclaim – an abandoned cloister
behind blank walls of solitude.
Inside, estrangement empties out the space
that waits for my return.
Message for Augustine
I was surprised you were here,
near the house where you sent me to stay,
walking with those who follow you now.
Always before I was told you were coming
and could hide. Now that you are known,
I am known – and know myself –
as Augustine’s abandoned concubine,
the fig they say you picked when ripe
and tossed aside to dry.
Believing you would think I sought you out,
I turned away – hiding from what you
could not help but show. Our life
is gone from your life – those days
we lived together so easily –
you – kissing my arm, tasting the salt
that excited you. Is that memory gone?
Will I never again see my face
cradled in the softness of your eye?
They say you are changed by love for God,
drained of self – dead to the life
I have had no wish to survive.
But isn’t it selfish to think the past
is yours alone? To assume that I,
like our son, have passed from this world?
As you see, I remain – one who wants only
to hear you say the name I sign.
Ashland in Moonlight
The moon gains power as she moves into darkness.
Here, she sits outside the urban ring of light,
softening the night.
A house in shadow,
a garden at rest from its work with the sun,
my hands immobile, marbled against the rail –
shapes blur, change their size, altered by eyes
that strain to recognize.
Like the wise virgin,
the moon times her watch. She rises, slowly
passing the slower stars. The world below,
disarmed by her subtle command, lets go
the urge to define, the effort to explain –
succumbs to her knowledge of being to become
what will remain.
And I – like many
before me, many more yet to come –
slip into her orbit, fall in with her pace,
standing on a porch in the moonlight.
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