I pitched a tent atop the Niagra Escarpment,
over Lake Winnebago in March, two days
before St. Patrick’s feast; two nights stayed,
alone in those woods where the effigies lay,
for a thousand years with the dead.
The floor of the forest, a carpet of snow,
glowed dim neon blue in the moonlight, full;
long shadows of trees drawn Westward, low,
toward the cliff’s edge, old-aged and worn dull
at the seam of some glacial bed.
At a silent, but scuttling pace, arrived
frost and stayed; compressed the aura warm
of glow-red lumber in final employment, pitched
against in battle the cold, unseen storm
advancing in Spring-weather’s stead.
The trees conversed in a language strange,
click-like fondling each others’ naked twigs -
perhaps on the fates of their elders’ remains,
consumed in the graves that campfires dig,
long years since their marrow’s bled.
Tending the fire that kept my blood warm
kept me from poring through Ishmael’s tome.
My whale, I imagined: the bludgeoning cold;
the campfire: ship (‘mid a snow-sea) my home;
the prospect of freezing: my dread.
Drawn hour by hour through smoke-stinging eyes,
fixed deep in my mind the visage of flame,
that, but for the full moon blue-lighting the floor,
would have me blind when oft’ the time came
to find tinder for keeping it fed.
Then a great wave of rushing from the far East end
swept over the treetops, rolling hard West;
crashed a wall of ice-air that disfigured the orb,
washed flame away, I mused, at the forest’s behest,
leaving embers, white and red.
Whose ancient spirits alighted these woods,
watching over the dust of their forgotten mould;
I pondered while kindling the flickering flame,
and wondered what stories their effigies told;
of their names, since, no more said?