Traces

That man standing there, who is he
His path lost in the thicket…
James Wright, “Three Stanzas from Goethe”

 
1.

Mottle of snow all through the woods, rabbit prints
soon to vanish, saplings grown up between old tire tracks.

This way, that way? Scotch pine and sycamore.
In the hummocky, waterlogged meadow a slouched

black dog… dead? No, plastic. A real black dog
sniffs for traces, a hundred yards away. A line

of orange flags along the tree line, as if we couldn’t
tell where the trees are, and a thin yellow wire.

The black dog and a white dog start to bark,
not at me. I’m almost disappointed.

 
2.

On such a day, in a January thaw, how to walk
is one problem, how to read this world another.

What to notice, to record, to imagine. There are paths
and tracks, some full of icy water. Open spaces

between the trees. A few brown leaves quiver
when all else is still. Long ago I read the claim

that our souls are larger than our bodies, and when
I pause, look up, around, something begins

to swirl and echo. It does not end at my skin.

 
3.

James Wright was drunk and mostly miserable
when he wrote his best poems.

Correlation is not causation.
Thank God for that.

 
4.

How to be smart enough to write a simple poem?
How much does the snow matter? The plastic bucket,

the rotted steel drum, the rusty wheelbarrow in the weeds?
The desire to turn for home. The desire to see more.

 
5.

The forty-foot fallen tree makes a very long bench.
Just beyond, the creek whispers over a lost limb.

All the branches break someday, Jim,
but they’ll outlast both of us.

You knew that. It’s all in the moments
we find, the moments we’re given.

Last summer a one-legged jay hung around
our redbud tree for months, splashing

in the birdbath, sneaking up to the feeders
as though I might shoot him through the window.

Here, now, what spills from a culvert
made an ice sculpture like organ pipes,

like muscles rippling. Tomorrow
it will be water, and both of us gone.

 

 

 

Jeff GundyJeff Gundy’s seven books of poems include Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog, 2015) and Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga, 2014), for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year. His most recent prose book is Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace (Cascadia, 2013). Recent essays and poems are in The Sun, The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Forklift, Ohio, Christian Century, Image, and The Cincinnati Review. He teaches at Bluffton University in Ohio.

Read three poems by Jeff Gundy previously appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo by Paul Aniszewski, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Jeff Gundy by Bill Walker.

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