A Last Walk in the Quabbin
for Galway Kinnell
We went down the path between birches,
alder and white pine, stone walls
running off among them
into the leafy distance of abandoned fields.
A woodpecker beat larval delicacies
from a dead chestnut tree
lying among hundreds of others like dead soldiers
on a hillside.
Water blazed blue.
The clarinet crying of loons met us
to suggest the strangeness of the actual, its perfect
lastness which is like friendship
in the way one aches because of it
and we wondered if we were really there, if our shadows
could hear us or if they had somehow their own lives
and did not care.
You had decided our thoughts
were not what we were saying, that intention
was far behind us
showing its blank cards to a dreamer
who would laugh about it later and send obscure congratulations
to the wrong address.
Beside a tumbled foundation
we found an ancient well, lifted the capstone
and tasted the sweet, dark water
that had been listening
for the wish our shadows cast into its stillness,
a stillness like that of the world itself
when we should be through with it
or it through with us.
When they tore down the barn
they found bits of tack and harness
sleeping like messages from the kingdoms
of dirt and rust, shadows of ancient horses
smoking out of them like sadness
and blowing away.
When they ploughed up ground where the barn
had been, they found the grave
of a ’27 Ford pickup
surgically altered to serve out its days as a poor excuse
for a tractor.
They chopped down the orchard, dug
out the berry rows, flattened the greenhouse,
installed a paved lane and then a row
of double wide rentals.
When at last nothing remained
of the old place but the pit from which
they had extracted the Ford, they planted a few petunias
around it, imagine it might make a fine
fish pond, and went away
and forgot it.
Others came and built and stayed
and went away.
Rain continued in its season. Wind
made its choral remarks. The cloudy light
seemed to love nothing
but black branches and grass, once in awhile
a bright red leaf.
Among the logjams and flotsam north of Brown’s Landing, Negroes,
as black people were then called, fished for channel cat and crappie.
Poor whites, loners, and teenage boys came there as well and threw things in
or pulled them out or hid them in the flooded bushy inlets presumably
ignored by the constabulary. Sometimes night fishing there with lantern
and a box of horrible Marsh Wheeling crooks, dark forms rose near us
like submarines listening, mystified Germans, perhaps, trapped there since the war
and wondering if they should kill us or simply steal our catfish and cigars.
We never knew. We reached out with our flashlights and found the river
meditative, clueless, and unitary as the sky where the huge chandelier
of the universe turned and sputnik scored its winking caveat: “There’s more
up here than Heaven, boys. Breathe deep.” And so we did, while
below us, we were certain, more than fish circled and tugged at our lines
with dark or bright mouths, with the hunger of all unknown things.
Photo of birch and lake courtesy Shutterstock.