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 Hope is a strange invention

                                                                               -Emily Dickinson #1392

Recently I wrote a poem that I didn’t understand.  Whatever was I trying to say? Not for the first time, I turned to Emily Dickinson whose genius for nuance and for expressing profoundly enigmatic feelings came to my rescue.
We are all experiencing the planet’s heedless destruction, our country’s brutal and chaotic leadership, the endless wars, and witnessing the millions of refugees who are
struggling to survive.  Yet, we hope….



Hope is a strange invention...

Sometimes it is a hemlock limb, bowing
with the weight of sodden snow and springing back anew.

Sometimes it is polishing a silver napkin ring,
the one possession with my original initials
engraved in lettering, sharp and bold.

Sometimes it is casually sifting pebbles
beside the porch of an old house
and choosing three of distinctly different size and shape
to build a monument on the kitchen shelf.

       I am reminded that some prisoners,
       in their one hour outside, surreptitiously pilfer
       tiny broken sticks and jagged shards of stone,
       each to defend with a child’s ferocity what he makes his own.

Sometime it is a persisting image
from a dream;  a chickadee bearing a burden in its beak,
hopping up and down and back and forth along the edge
of a plowed road.  Slush and gravel impede its route.
I see it tends a tiny turtle
who has received its random fatal wound.

      Reaching from its shattered carapace,
      the turtle’s intact  limbs still flail.




I barely knew Elizabeth
but it was she who led me into the deep and soggy wood
in search of moonwort ferns;  More common in folklore and fable
than ‘in person’, and ….”reputed to tilt
to avoid as much direct sunlight as possible.”
So my old guide book instructs.

Now she, with wings like angel’s wings, hovers
over us among all the others we’ve lost. Perhaps,
they too tilt themselves in heavenly light so as to remain unseen
but we sense their tenderness as they perceive our grief
and as they learn to weave their love into our fragile temporal lives.

And like the ferns who only seem to die, whose roots,
embedded in the earth, unfold green fronds each spring,
they are as tenacious in their promise
to give sustenance when we despair.


*Coob/Farnsworth/Lowe; Peterson Field Guide, FERNS; 2nd ed.


On Ancestral Lands

               We have no pact with anything.
                                                    Robert Finch*

Slender shadows sway on silt; listen— the grasses sing.
Silky rustlings as the corn stalks quiver as they have
for thousands of years.  A soft morning on the river plain
where natives and invaders shed each other’s blood—
their agonies long buried by the earth. Soon more men will come
to shoot the same tame pheasants that they bred.

Driving home, a raccoon has stretched himself
across the road’s midline—a peace resembling sleep.  He hides
his eviscerated underside from us.

Only yesterday we rode soft waves on Sheomet  Lake.  Clear water,  
blue sky, rolling clouds and the white blossoms of the slender arrowhead
conspired as though to bless. The lowering sun shone into the Hemlock wood
to reveal a glimpse of the lone birch tree— a light— a ghost—
as if to say, somewhere in these ancestral lands
a modicum of mercy may exist.

*Robert Finch; The Outer Beach