[This is the second part of a yearlong poem about moving from the city to the country. I’m posting it as I write it, in monthly installments; start by reading the prologue here. To read all posts in this series, click the “Beallsville Calendar” subject tag.]
THE BEALLSVILLE CALENDAR
An ancient shadow found shelter with us.
The gray constellation, the Laden Stranger,
Returns for a month to familiar havens,
But none of his fellowship knew him like this:
Where he strained to draw form out of five scattered stars,
Order emerges, moons convulse,
And ninth reigns first. We never discern
The load he shoulders, misshaping his frame,
Where city lights blind us to burden and toil.
Set free, he explodes into forty-four stars:
With half-read books in hand, he rises
Over the barns on the eastern slope
To delight in his work, tracing lines in the sky,
Turning word-weary stars into stories again.
In solemn triumph, he sinks in the west,
Spent but restless, and rouses the dawn.
In the chamber they share, she chooses rods
Engraved with verses to give to the wisps
That gather and whirl like gangly students
In the gorgeous blur before bells ring out
And the world shudders, awake and churning
And sopping and hot. Haloed spiders
Enshrined in the windows wait and say grace.
The rest of us waited in ways of our own.
When I was five, I often slept
With my face to the wall. One cold morning
A curtain stirred; I still wonder
If I kindled the hurricane that howled around me
Or the whisper whipped through when the winds reared up,
But something knew me. No sigh of judgment,
No clap of warning, no wilting rebuke,
Just a maelstrom shot through a mote in the air
For a pure second: it said my name.
I woke from the verge to a vision of nobody
Pinned in the air, an awful peace
Behind bright nothingness. That night, and afterwards,
I traded solace for sullen hope
And slept fitfully, facing the window.
Today my windows are wicked with life.
Motes gulp down motes; mounds of webbing
Mean ripening life, or life-giving death,
And worrying ends. Once I accepted
A world reborn just weeks before,
A mantis on the deck-railing deigned to see me.
Abdomen-up, like an emeraldine wick
He beamed, at ease in the open, and preened,
Boldly asserting his safety and faith.
A glutton for grace, I regarded his hindwings
With mean ambition and bowed to esteem him,
But he knew my mind, and made it plain.
“You are not here,” he huffed, “to verify,
To instruct yourself”—he stretched a stern
And spindly femur—“or inform curiosity
Or carry report.” Discouraged, I blinked:
Am I here to kneel? “No,” he grumbled,
“Just put your words in proper order.”
Again? For what purpose? He gazed into space
And ripped the gears from a wriggling stinkbug;
It twitched and sparked. I turned away
To face the page on the first full day
Of a blank calendar, cautious and lost.
For a few parched weeks, the world just gasps
As fields tilt skyward and flare with the hope
Of perpetual dawn. This deluge of flowers,
Blinding and wild, is a bitter mirage.
Stop at the furrows; stoop in the dirt
Where the sun has only seared to bursting
The glutted soy, turned golden in ruin.
On the path, a stranger approaches at dusk,
But look how his shadow looms from behind you,
And hear how he walks in wary silence
While his footfalls go echoing east through the trees.
And when you light his way, a line of saplings
Detonates—they sprout dappled sinews
And bolt through the gloom. Baffling reality
Mocks your delusions; to live in the woods
Is more than arranging a ring of trees
And retreating to feed the fire inside.
Your language has verses for lulling to sleep
But it lacks a word for a wake-up song;
Whatever you’re certain won’t sing to you now
Waits to be witness to one formal act:
Recite the things you see and hear
Freely, even if others brand it
Daft enchantment or a children’s song,
And start simple. The sense can wait:
“She swept the ash from the iron grate…”
“Sage and parsley in pots left behind…”
“Three white horses on a hillside farm…”