Copyright ©2015 by Parker A. Towle
A long tense week of work
behind him, he was carefree, what the
hell. The ball was a little outside but broke
down and in toward the zone.
The bat had to have a special hot spot,
the planets their very best alignment.
He didn’t actually swing; rather, he
lashed at it, sizzling like
an ingot of steel splashing
in its vat of cold oil. The hit,
a line drive did not arc, it climbed,
rose over second base, still rose
in dead centerfield and whacked
off the brick wall of Ira Allen Chapel.
He sprinted in with a standup triple.
I was in high school, maybe halfway through.
It could have been late spring or early fall.
There was something on my mind; I may not
have known what, and there was no one
with whom I could discuss it. It dwells now
on the edges, just outside my ability to recall.
My grandfather was recently dead,
suddenly, without warning.
I don’t think that was it.
It was early evening, dinner over, the sun
well above the horizon but already
casting its sharp outlines of light and shadow
in the trees. I stuffed my well-worn
sleeping bag in a rucksack, told my mother
I was going to spend the night on Griff’s Hill
and would be back for breakfast.
I left through
The kitchen door out on the sloping
back porch and down the stairs
to the end of our dirt driveway. Around
behind the garage where I had often camped
in my younger years, I crossed over Mrs. Marsh’s
field out onto Walnut Street. A classmate’s
square two-story house was on my right.
Down by the Hammond place I left the pavement
and followed the barely apparent foot path into
the woods. Shortly, over an ancient wire fence
the graveyard appeared near our family plot.
One could step up on flat stone steps
laid by my other grandfather, who died
the year I was born, through evergreens to his
rough granite stone. By the circular plot on the left
where much later my parents’ ashes would be buried, I
left the cemetery on another foot path down a hill
through woods and over a trickle
of stream to Loring’s Pond. I had splashed
many days of summer there, alone
or with friends. Skirting it to my left, I
stepped up the path to the railroad tracks.
The sun was almost touching
the horizon. About a quarter mile down the tracks
Griff’s Hill rose up steeply on my left. Climbing
over a wire fence I bushwhacked through prickles
into a small grove of pine. Fallen needles
beneath were thick. I set the pack down, cleared
a spot and sat. I rolled out the sleeping bag.
I’d been there many times –
we’d climbed up and skied down for years.
Did I climb the hill to watch the sunset?
I don’t recall – maybe not this time. What
was on my mind? I’m guessing it was
love. I had a girl friend; she was luscious, soft
and pretty, but she wasn’t the kind to camp out
on the side of a hill. I may have been thinking of
another young woman, a few months older,
much more mysterious, unpredictable, athletic.
We had tobogganed on that hill the previous
winter completely alone, in the dark. She was
the one who lived in the square, two-story house.
It may have been the kiss in the car that night,
hardly the first for either of us, saying
goodnight. The kiss was not long, but it was
long enough. Neither of us had ever experienced
such a pull out of the earth, into the air. Neither
of us will ever experience it again...
I rolled up
the sleeping bag, walked home and had breakfast.
Nothing had been decided of which I am aware.
Two lives, the one of the slanting back porch
and that of the square two stories, were directed
from then in certain ways. We had no idea.
FROM THE SUMMIT
The black bear is out there even
if we don’t see him, a gift
to us, beyond price. Cry
in happiness for the gray stare
of the wolf, the cliff next to your foot
from which you do not fall.
Don’t get stuck clinging to a tree
or a room, be afraid,
Yesterday a flat cloud
capped South Kinsman peak.
This morning’s cumuli
are etched with a fine curved blade.
Sun strikes through large rents
of blue. In mother’s garden
the flowers glisten, and a thousand
greens bristle in the slightest
breeze that high up
stirs masses of mist,
a pulse of shadow and sun.
A woman and a man abide
alone together in their home,
the green vase, the pale blue,
and the violet flowing with flowers, and
above, strokes of azure and cloud.
REMEMBERING STAIR WORK
We hoisted boulders, quarter ton and more,
conveyed them with nylon straps, cables, pulleys and ropes
from the stream, glistening with light, to the steep
eroded bank, lodged them in with crowbars and picks,
one on another, steps that today, seven years later have not moved,
reside as if at home, as if done by the great glacier
in the age of ice.
Today I descend
to the large flat boulder where we sat
and lunched. I grasp two alder branches
dangling overhead, close my eyes...
Son, begin to build
something like these granite steps,
one at a time, indestructible.
As it always is after heavy rain
The trail through the Greens was treacherous slime.
He never once asked if I was OK.
We mounted hills, crossed splashing streams,
Maintained through slog the ridge’s spine.
He held a steady pace behind me.
The packs grew heavy as the day wore away,
My legs cramped up on every climb.
He never once asked if I was OK.
Begun at dawn, by dusk my feet
Dragged in tiny steps. Mile
After mile he held the pace behind me.
After sixteen miles of Vermont’s Long Trail,
We might need a head lamp’s light
By the end – did he wonder if I was OK?
By then my broken blisters were bleeding,
The shelter loomed as black as night.
His steady pace held up behind me.
My grandson gave me what I needed that day:
Fortitude, respect, not sympathy.
He never once asked if I was OK,
Just held a steady pace behind me.
BESIDE THE SACO RIVER: AN ELEGY
Here beside the Saco where
Nancy Stream comes in, fierce mosquitoes
bore through Ben’s Bug Dope. You were the great
walrus, once, churning up icy water around
your soaped skin after some climb or other,
gassing out huge lungs of bubbles.
Now tears swell my eyes.
I can’t keep my cigar lit! Anger
dries the tears. Alone,
we’re only fragments. It’s not
the hidden ponds or mountain tops
I miss, but the talk, or
standing together silently
in a grove of yellow pine, or
the books – Eliot, Dostoevsky, Joyce.
Life is passing fast as this
water welling over stones.
standing in a rush,
When I got a cramp in my foot
you told me, “Place your foot
on my foot, see, the pain
goes away.” I was not
there when the crush
came into your chest, I was
home in bed asleep, I
did not hear your cry to
grandmother, I didn’t
place my heart on your
heart, I failed to take
the digitalis tablet
out of the tiny envelope in your
oil-soaked wallet as you had
told me to do and give it
to you if you couldn’t do it
for yourself. In my boyish heart I
knew your need to live for us
grew, even as the pain
built to an intensity
that your great heart could not
endure and you
flew into me.
STARING AT THE SUN
Staring at sunrise out on the Gulf
creates a roiling blur-spot exactly
here where my pen tip touches the paper,
moves beneath its generating
orb like a white-hot
ingot of steel emerging from
a blast furnace guided by the black
silhouette of a man, masked and
gloved who rolls it to the rack
where it will cool into its strength,
to be drawn into rods then filaments,
like the sinews of his aging hands
tightening over years of mill-work.
The man is happy now – my father.
She steps into his arms after
a long wait on this earth.
She is happy again.
Closer to the summit we got our
second wind. As views enlarged,
haze cleared, especially to the
east where a chilling breeze rose,
exhilarating our skin, wet
and warm from the push upward.
We called you from the top. You were
shopping at the hardware store.
You were cheerful. I started to say
we had had fifty-seven great years
together but it caught in my throat
and all that came out was, “It’s great,”
almost in a shout. You agreed and then
I forced out, “It’s been a great fifty-seven
years!” and passed the cell phone to our
daughter and began to sob in happiness.
She signed off with you and held me
for a long time, the wind howling
around us, alone by the summit cairn.
I told her, “You’re a good girl,” several
times and told Dillon, her dog,
the same thing. We hoisted our packs
and began our descent. I thought for a while
over and over, then spoke out loud,
“Love is a powerful thing” –
I said it twice. We strode
down over an expanse of
low bush and peat moss puddles,
the arms of the world spread out below
and around us far to either side.
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