He was a good ole boy, and when he died his friends carried out
his final wish—the body was cremated and the ashes stuffed
into shotgun shells. They walked through the woods he loved
and fired aimlessly into the trees—he came down everywhere
in a powdery rain, a pollen of ashes that once was the memory
of a boy walking under trees showering him with leaves.
Night in Day
The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light’s great
triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun—
we break open the watermelon and spit out
black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.
Homage to the Black Walnut in Downtown Santa Cruz
Late afternoon, trudging from the bank to the bookstore,
I stop and look up at the black walnut on Cedar Street,
into its green canopy of leaves and immense curving limbs.
A tree is a place, not an object, it’s an island in the air
where our sight may live awhile, unburdened
and free from this heavy, earthen body.
The deer turns his head away from me and casually
continues along the ridge not even glancing back
to where I stand, to where I begin to walk across
a field of snow inside my body and lose myself
as a white ash drifts from the sky filling my tracks
and there is no way to find my way back.
And I Raised My Hand in Return
Every morning for two weeks on my walk into the village
I would see the young goat on the grassy slope above the stream.
It belonged to the Gypsies who lived in the plaza below the castle.
One day on my walk back to the mill house I saw the little goat
hanging from a tree by its hind legs, and a Gypsy was pulling
the skin off with a pair of pliers which he waved to me in greeting.
He Told Me to Come Back and See
I returned to the farmhouse where twenty years ago I watched
as Pete ground a walnut into the earth with his boot.
He smiled at me then, as if he knew some important secret.
And sure enough, in that spot there’s now a large walnut tree.
Pete’s been dead ten years. Back then I knew little about love,
of choices, or the great limbs that live inside the seed.
I put the shell down and wait for the snail
to emerge. I have much to learn of patience.
I no longer wonder where did love go,
or why the nights are so long. Issa says
the words will find a way across the page,
they will make a path into morning.
The perezoso, slow bear, what we call the sloth,
who hangs from limbs upside down and never moves
for days, its long fur dangling with moss, and when
at last it turns its slow head to peer at you, you’ve already
given away everything you own, you’ve planted yourself,
arms becoming limbs, your spirit unsheathing in leaves.
Joseph Stroud is the author of six books of poetry, among them Of This World: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press), recipient of the San Francisco Poetry Center Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN Literary Award USA and the Commonwealth California Book of the Year. His other awards include a Pushcart Prize, the Witter Bynner Fellowship in Poetry from the Library of Congress, the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in Literature.
These poems were originally published in Of This World: New and Selected Poems, and are reprinted by permission of the poet.