There is a house across the field.
From the other side where I started
it did not seem so far away.
I have been walking toward it a long time,
through mud, the turned ground,
and now this snow beginning to fall.
The house has grown
only slightly larger
and I think I see someone outside.
Yes, I am sure of it—
people, two or three, beside the house,
I am waving, suddenly waving,
but out so far in this openness of field
will not be seen or heard.
Faster, walk faster,
before they go inside
whoever they are, before they close the door
across the field
where nothing is growing,
the gray, flat horizon.
his window on the ward
I watch it puff from the hospital stack,
black and billowing,
vanishing far across the fields,
wonder is it coal or oil
thickening the thin fall air.
Five floors up, I’m glad for glass
and wind that blows the stench away
in the seasonless ether of this place
I crave the smell of burning leaves,
to sit again on the damp, raked grass
and watch my father cupping a match.
is kneeling to the leaves,
the reds, the yellows, the orange leaves,
the smoke in whispers first
soon full with the breath of fall.
rhythm of his arms and rake
ghostlike through the gray.
Then, in the swirling haze, he disappears,
slips away to circle back
I’m waiting there afraid,
searching the smoke for my father –
a hide-and-seek he liked to play
every fall the same, sneaking up behind me
where he was hiding,
coming back, always, like some kind of magic
a boy could believe, from nowhere,
like a promise he would never die.
BUILDING THE POND
the maples lean to the light
and fall to my saw
blue smoke, wine,
the rasp of clearing.
I sit by a stump,
the afternoon light
the silence of sawdust
drifting through air
as if through water,
oarlocks banging overhead,
the splash of a paddle.
is spring as I cast
where I’ve cut all day,
the bass on their nest.
From twelve feet down,
bubbles of trapped air.
sleep is to find
what lies on the bottom,
that lake you fished as a kid,
the log you snagged
in the deep water.
endless movement of stones,
how they work their way up,
surface each spring in the garden
as if out of breath.
others will sink,
slowly, over the ears, unnoticed,
like a man at peace
slipping off to sleep, or dying.
happens under our feet,
the tunneling of worms,
the loosening of earth
cold foreheads crowning like birth,
our footsteps each year
in its waking
remembers rain, grass,
the scent of flowers,
in its sleep
it dreams of ice,
of wind again
across the glacier
way we hear
travels for miles:
the scraping of stones;
through the thin air,
a father’s voice.
me this morning on the train,
in the early light made warm
through the window’s double-glass,
an old Amish man,
the rough of his beard gone white,
is singing to his wife, both of them
round and red-faced as apples
in their simple clothes, bonnet and hat,
their seat on the Amtrak
one of those looking south
as we head north to Chicago.
back against theirs,
I close my eyes to listen
but in the privacy of their language,
in the seclusion of their ways,
I can’t make out the words
and hear instead the rails,
their heartbeat like hooves
as he hums to her in the sun,
one hand I dream in hers — the other, the reins,
their buggy’s glass lamp swinging in time
toward their farm in Arthur.
awake, suddenly alive,
feeling suddenly happier than I have in months,
I want to call them you and me,
to sing to you in words
some guy going to a meeting in the city
And oh, if I could hold your hand
just like that,
no one else on the train,
just the two of us in our buggy,
in March: our daughter’s birthday, somehow now twenty
as the crocus uncurl in their black beds, everywhere
yellow, yellow, a whole week
of weather yellow as her hair –
the bug light on the north porch
where a moth this birthday evening, back too soon,
flaps against the glass flower,
the dust of its wings on the yellow bloom.
the mild of this scented night, so fragile,
we walk her to her car and back to college:
seat belt on, doors locked, half a carrot cake
in a box beside her and leaning against it the vase
found and filled with twenty daffodils
to brighten the table tonight yellow, yellow,
yellow the petals from its delicate neck
like wishes we’d given light to, gone in a breath.
Amanda Litteken, 1975-1995