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December 13, 2020 45 min

Design

1

We have a secret place

my daughters and I where

an old creek

has run empty

 

The sky above that hill

pushes fast past the swaying tips

of pines

but the birch, oak

and ironwoods have not yet

leaves enough to dance

 

No dry winter

no drought emptied our creek

the water turned aside

some years ago for other

work and my oldest

stares at the smooth stones

sunk into soil

When will the water

come back?

 

My youngest has hands

delicate as birch twigs and

burrows pebbles

from the bank

like a busy mole

carries one at a time

to the mound of larger rock

we are shaping into

a ring for our campfire

 

She chooses a spot

for each

and believing in some master design

believing I would know it asks,

Should I put it here?

Or here?

 

There, that looks good

right there, but that's really

the question, isn't it

 

and I think of the water's

working years and centuries

into polished stones

forever setting and re-setting each

here in our creek bed

to be abandoned

 

2

I cannot tell

how my knees bend

how my fingers

inside these leather gloves

swing on their hinges

 

I know only the digging and the

occasional sun

on my neck

 

I cannot read the seasons

burned into the grain

of this handle

or tell what secrets if any

the hills keep

 

but here, another shovel-full

for a moment visible

mixing with air

thrown toward the sun

 

3

The deep soil

reclaims each stone we leave

unturned, swallowing her

wayward children

 

around us, the trees

are smoldering

with an inner fire

relaxing into the dirt

that grew them

flaking open with each rain

skeletons all of ribs marking

the ground

with bright stripes

of greener grass

 

The air darkens

as rain enters the ravine

like a lost fawn:

one step there, here

hesitant behind us

other side of the tree, there

again, over the rise

and suddenly certain

almost purposeful

all around us

the leafy floor comes alive

with movement

 

we flee our unfinished altar

rain drenching

stones, wood, dirt

rivulets refilling the creek bed

and back in the car

we decide, tomorrow

to build a bridge

 

 

TARAXACUM OFFICINALE

 

You're lying

in the darkened bedroom

spent from an hour of choosing

which of our bills to pay which

to let slide.

 

But you'll be glad to know

our girls are helping

as they can:

picking dandelions

collecting their tithes to us

in two piles on the picnic table one

mine, one yours.

 

I want to know

what makes a thing

dig in

under five months of ice

and at the first touch of spring

push past packed earth

survive herbicide

to spite dreams of solid green

with gold summer

again and again in each of its

hundred heads.

 

Our debt is to our children:

we owe it to them

to accept the gold they offer.

 

 

on cherry hill with my martin backpacking guitar

 

1

three years ago

Martin began making them--

cut-down, sawn-off

easy to carry anywhere

I know an executive

Chris at the music store told me

who takes his to the office. This is a

big seller for men

30 to 45

 

half mandolin, half banjo

mellow and light so you can

feel it hum, pressed

against your ribs--

start your whole insides

to singing with one

strum

 

2

the first time I came out to Cherry Hill

a crack in the old

stone bridge

revealed yellowed photos torn

from Penthouse and Playboy,

sent our 8-yr-old stomachs

to our mouths--

threatened to pull us

inside-out, crotch first

 

why "Cherry Hill?" I asked

and Kirk told me he'd heard

all the high school girls

had lost their cherries here

we were so young

we looked for them

 

3

coming out here alone

with my guitar

I have developed a new

religion

or maybe an old one

the long grass on the hill

contains the spirits

of all little boys

who giggle here

and later find the world

mortared with more flesh

than any centerfold

 

the Spirits Temporal

graze as lost sheep

until I return, an older David

with my harp, singing

Absalom Absalom!

releasing them into the Eternal

 

in this ritual of adult

perspective

you must be

grass level, facing Heaven and

playing the chords to

Gone to Carolina in My Mind

 

4

I went walking with my 5-year-old daughter

and our feet led us

to Cherry Hill;

she wanted to stand on the

stone bridge

I'd told her about

see herself in the still creek below

she ran

here and there, collecting bits of

trash, old pop cans

oil jugs, asking, Can we

recycle this? and Why

do people want to trash

this place?

 

I wanted to tell her

want is too strong a word

but all I said was, Don't touch --

it's dirty. Someone else will get it.

of course, no one else would but at

least she never found

any photos

 

going home she asked,

Why do they call it "Cherry Hill?" I didn't

see any cherry trees.

and I had a thought

that today was a good day

for planting some

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