Gary L. McDowell

Rio, WI

We drive on County A until it becomes
      County Z until it becomes County B,
            and like the Wisconsin highways themselves—

their road-side forests, cheese huts and brat stops,
      and level, rarely travelled back roads—
            we sink into a complacency that slows

everything down, that spins our radio dial
       to jazz, something softer, unhurried,
            and then she's in front of us, a great doe,

stooped, unsure. Everything is silent
       is perfect again. We're still in our seats,
             the engine idling. She doesn't flinch,

is waxen is possumed on four legs.
      I want to remember her forever.
            A car horn behind us, and she lifts

her head and her legs like springs
      like pistons like an eternal geyser (but
            her body, flexless, smoothed, unrippled)

and she's gone and we're left with talk radio,
      a sleeping baby, our held breaths, a shuttle
            to the moon if we could just remember our names.


While Reading Hawthorne

Hell, even the Puritans knew better than to tempt
                                                                                    perfection, than to venture
too deeply into the woods alone—fallen trunks as the harborers of old boot-soles

or devils gone awry, swamped patches of grass as the why-nots
of sinners and their accomplishments
                                                                      (if the devil is in Nature, then what
can be found outside oneself worth celebrating? what is the devil's
role in snowfall and hurricanes?
                                                       in random acts of kindness
and poems-for-poems-sake?)—

In the winter-woods are left-over bits of church-wood,
food for termites and loners alike—

bare-twigged trees a February wind can't shake,
their limbs wet-dark in the snow, are ghostly, are arithmetic,
are what simple people fear most:
                                                                       we gather in our palms, like so much ash,
all that's left to gather.


Every Time I Teach Triggering Town

things drop from me:
whole countries of time and lemons,
lists of lists, and silent movies

about lakes. What I love about lakes
I love because, like baseball or syntax—
Hugo said, truth must conform to music,

and that's true, but what he meant
to say was: it's okay to be hungry,
just don't eat the dog or the celery.