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Ice on barbed wire fence

Three Poems by Joseph Powell

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Fresh Snow, February

Waking to seven inches of new snow
covering the wreckage
of burnt barn flood-scattered
across the next field,
curved tee-posts like tails
of a giant burrowing rat
resting under snow,
barbed fences like sheet music
whiskered in ice-crystals,
the thin still-falling snow
piling, the cold clamping down
the lids of still water, the creek itself
finding a narrow channel between rocks,
sliding under white skin like the pulse
of a hibernating thing.
White contours unmarked by hoof or claw
or miniscule pads like dim spots
on a white domino.
The feeling of words before they arrive.
Oh, unprinted world, blank sheet,
unbooted, unwheeled, unsung,
wait an hour like this
cold, inhospitable
not a dot or blot of red anywhere.

 

 

Breitenbush Hot Springs

Beside the river, the hot springs are elemental,
heated by earthfire; mist falls
softly as insects and spreads dime-sized drops
to pattern the surface among reflections
of cedar bows, naked ash branches,
ravens drifting through a mountain of snow.

The cloud-swirl, the heat inside you, switches on.
Under earth’s lamp, your mortal limbs
are exposed to all else mortal and flying,
the earth itself a-spin like a swung bucket,
a thousand miles per hour, and outwardly moving
sixty-seven thousand toward deep space.
You are caught inside flesh’s webbing,
feeling that tug towards the center,
as everything in the universe turns and expands
flinging itself outward, into the swirl.

You are flying with the wings of the raven
towards a mountain of snow,
but the lull, the pool, the heat
are of this stalled moment,
this hushed contentment, rippling.

 

 

Wild Orchards 

In arid brushy corners of the valley
old pear and apple orchards, sometimes plums,
wildly gone to seed, speak of an earlier era.
Their dead limbs stick out like gray cowlicks,
brambling growth keeping the fruit small.

How nourished and nourishing they once were—
the seedlings traveling in homestead wagons
to affirm the law that roots are roots,
and sweat an equity that made the apples shine.
Homesteaders packed water from the creek,
pruned for pies and cider, fermented liquor.

The land around them too dry and rocky
to be bulldozed into farms.
When they left or died no one followed,
cabins falling slowly, elderberry or hawthorn
growing out the kitchen windows,
the logs themselves re-entering the rocky ground.

Over a hundred years, now, these trees
tightly hold each dry season,
still bloom in that lean, abandoned way,
for no one, like books about a life
and labor gone by, turning their one purpose,
page by page, into little knots of sweetness
for those who come after and see
what succeeds of passing time.

 

 

 

Joseph PowellJoseph Powell has published seven full-length collections of poetry, including The Slow Subtraction: A.L.S. (MoonPath Press, 2019). Others include Holding Nothing Back (2019), Preamble to the Afterlife (2013), and Hard Earth (2010). He co-wrote a textbook on meter called Accent on Meter (2004). His book of short stories, Fish Grooming & Other Stories, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and he won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2009. He is an emeritus distinguished professor of English at Central Washington University.

Read additional poetry by Joseph Powell appearing in Terrain.org: one poem and two poems.

Header photo by ElkeS Photographic Design, courtesy Shutterstock.

 

Terrain.org is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.