Old as mankind in Eden
As solitary, too, she towers humbly
Over the slope of Fulufjället.
Only she knows how many times
She’s fallen to ice or wind or fire;
We only see her present crook
Some centuries in the making.
While men have idly warred and bred
For wont and fear of love
Across the forming continents,
Old Tjikko gained and held her footing
These ten thousand years in silence;
And stood when standing seemed impossible,
until it was. – But stood again,
Only she knows how many times.
How many limbs she must have let go
To millennia of Winter winds
And ice atop her mountain;
And to men, perhaps, as kindling or as clubs?
Old Tjikko only knows.
What would this quiet Nordic sage convey
Of geologic drifts and tides,
And oceans and since-vanished stars,
From before the spruce was Norway,
Could Old Tjikko only say?
Grip my hand, this is the way.
We’ll see her timid alight
East over the serrated mountains
That cling heavenward the sky
Morning, noon and night.
Walk closely by in the silent shadow
Of this hemisphere, at my side.
She’ll come, and lighten some
Our wending way, unwinding
I’ve been before.
Listen to our footfalls petting
The grassy hillside climbing,
While trees nearby are sighing
A welcome croon.
Speak no words a while
That will not say as much to nurture
Friendship’s subtle bond along this path
As does dear Nature by her own.
Hold – be still a moment. See –
Her crown grazes the horizon!
There’s the might of innocence
Whose light is not her own, and only
mildly reveals our weathered visage!
Stand close against my side;
We’ll watch her rise
Before we lay our bodies down
And cares away
To sleep and breathing.
I say “Christ!” and I do mean it!
That all that’s lovely to splitting nerves,
throbs them to a groaning pain
in the heights and apexes of their delight;
So, beauty follows the form of Love –
so rich and dense with heavy awe
yet floating lightly on a violent sea,
drawing out the soul to whimper at its might.
– But LOVES to whimper in the shadow
of a good thing so large looming!
A pitch and tone and scale and key,
will swoon my heart to weeping
at a thing so beautiful, it razes me.
There’s a wound, but a wound
of ecstasy, that words can’t say:
the lash of horsetail drawn against a string,
that bleeds the angels’ echoes
to spill upon my ears,
with sentiment that surpasses human words,
and drives or draws me to come undone,
to cease to be my center –
forget my flesh. My soul, it SINGS!
Whatever of, I sometimes think I know,
But so, so much greater than!
Here an unplucked bud, friskily curved,
whispers breathing in my attentive ear
to drink from the Euphrates, or the Amazon.
But drink fast, first a sea of rose, or gin,
To task with unbinding that prick within,
Of prying Spirit, wedged against the flesh.
Had Eden such a wall as this? Or vineyards
To supply the will to scale or raze it?
Unfurling petals play upon my cheek,
and undefine what’s strong or weak
Or wanted. The cosmos, in eternal stillness,
Agape, a void, awaits an answer to Venus’
Moaning, from afar across the chasm that
A sea of gin or rose cannot seem to brim,
Nor drown the prying Spirit’s hymn –
Oh Menace! that ‘twixt two immolations,
Sets so profound an opposition, when
In essence they are one! “The strongest
Oaths are straw to th’ fire i’ th’ blood.”
But ne’er an oath was taken by this bud
Unfurling at my breast; nor mine binding!
Sweet nectar, pressing on my skin,
Whose swoon-inducing taste is hinted
In this slaking proximity I inhale;
Arouses twin wills, and one must fail
Against the other. Whose fallow field
I’m pausing in, that wildflowers proffer
Soft beds to lie in? And prying Spirits
To shadow them, and will not cease,
Nor silence? That here cannot be peace
Among what’s right and wrong and wanted,
Keeps this flower’s slender stem
From tender plucking. Call it ‘Grace,’
That stalemate long denies the pleasure.
The title only veils my worth and measure.
Oh, how this pretty moon can pull
at a man’s heart, o’er here in Wisconsin;
as much as ebb the North Sea away
from the sandy shores of Holland,
and draw her back again, to a drowning!
That selfsame moon great-grandpa John
must have followed on the sea,
when he left the windmilled coast behind,
(and the Protestants) for lea, pulled
West to this Fox River Valley.
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?