At the historic cemetery I study letters
of Swedish names chiseled into stone,
the groove and channel insects travel,
and sometimes a slender river of rain.
A rusted pump handle swings loose
in the shade of a narrow white church,
no longer draws water. I try
the sounds on my tongue of
Hannah, Carl, Swan and Bengta.
Names are slow to let go of stone
monuments leaning over
sagging rectangles of earth.
I kneel to the faint shade of a letter
licked clean by grass, a mere tendril.
One hundred and fifty years begin to release
a name, creeping out further and further
from the sound of itself until it drifts
with a yellow butterfly through yarrow,
the sweet fragrance and immense air
of all that is crumbling back to earth.
A hen pheasant drives her young into the ditch
along the road side early September,
and in town monarchs tumble
like blossoms through a rush of traffic.
Again, the long journey about to begin—
some will cross oceans; others, winter.
Last week a squadron of young geese
practicing flight formation were tipping
and turning so, I thought they were intoxicated.
Returning from Good Thunder with Faye's pheasants
raised for release, we carry the box
into the cedars at sunset. Hands brimming
with the bellies of young pheasant,
we let them go, one by one,
into the full wingspread of cedar trees.
For a few moments the brown light
of pheasant at rest on branches—
then gathering to a small fleet of seven,
they push off deeper into cedars.
I wish they were not peeping so loudly,
I say, thinking of coyote and owl.
That's what babies do, Tom says.
But I imagine their first night, and their fear,
their tender travel through a darkness
I could not prepare them for.
In October, 25 years ago, I gave birth to my daughter.
When we left the University of Minnesota hospital,
as we drove out into the traffic of Minneapolis,
my arms full of the wonder of new life,
I wept with exhaustion and the thought
of all I could not protect her from.
Still, I did not know then
the darkest place she must cross,
that wilderness of mother and daughter.
Tonight I walk out again,
watch for young pheasants.
I bless all the wild mothers,
and the lives they release into
this sweet and hungry earth.
An afternoon of wind and water, my feet
full of earth extend like statements in wild grass
licking the shore of Lake Lahore. Too busy thinking
about what I need to do with my life,
I have never really noticed them before.
Serene as doves they settle in
for the ending of another day.
My foot is my truest friend—it does not fly off
in anger, nor ache with questions. If I sit still
long enough I fill with the quiet contentment
of my feet.
I remember my Flemish grandmother. Her patience
complete as bread, her feet planted in black-eyed shoes,
she stood feeding corn cobs into the iron belly of
the green stove.
When my father was born in Beveren in a house
filled with German soldiers, my grandmother rose
from her bed and fled Belgium on foot
with my grandfather and three small children—
leaving all her possessions, she crossed the sea.
Why have I lived so long in my head?
I ought to trust my feet more. Dropped off
300 miles away, I know my feet could bring me home.
There is such comfort in this far end
of my body. The soles of my feet keep vigil
as the reds of the sunset spread along the edge
of the earth. Some day I will sail away
in the huge undistractable ship of my feet.
They were traveling in a pair,
a cloudy rumbling
through the grass
on a feeding spree.
A spray of foliage trailing
from the sides of its mouth,
the brown one did not so much
as glance our way. The black one
occasionally stopped to regard us,
her face wild as a flower
that opens out of itself.
A caravan of stopped cars and vans
we paced the edge of the road,
entering through binocular lens
eight, ten times our normal vision,
the immensity of bear,
the huge shoulders
pouring like water
over the hillside.
They stopped once to plunder
the feast of a rotting log,
great paws shoveling
into their dark faces.
We traveled slowly
that evening our parallel paths;
over the dense earth,
we glided through
the ancient landscape
of our brief passage.
What the bear saw in us
didn't hold her;
three times she looked up
and three times she denied
she'd ever known us.