Thursday, February 3, 2011




Early morning climb to the roof
Cold dew on pebbled tar, taste of
Galvanized nails in your mouth
Work — nail shingle to shingle tight —
Each hammer pound echoes another
Pound in the hills, enough to wonder
Where it ends and who hears it then


Scrag is what they call her
A woman who has been on the river
Longer than anyone of us —
Long white hair braided and pinned up,
Yellow slicker, old pants and a squint.
Once a week she rides down the road
Real slow to the Massachusetts border,
Looks in on everyone’s place,
Then turns around and coming back
Does the same.
Her son doesn’t live out here anymore —
When Clayton did, he lost his wife for it.
Lived with his son and the small farm
For as many years as it takes to get
Sick of it, then moved closer to town
And worked for the state park.
Now his own son is doing the same —
With a wife and a baby and the job
In a wood factory, near Vernon,
Where the power plant burns into the sky.

That leaves Scrag.
I heard that name first from a young hunter
Who would never hunt, half what she has,
And he knows it.
She’s tiny, body gripped like a hickory,
She’ll tend the farm all the men have left —
Mend fence and draw water and shovel shit,
Make sure the pigs don’t get loose.
When Clayton comes to sugar at mud-time
She hangs the buckets with him,
Pulls a tractor along the side of the road.
Her hair’s long and white and probably beautiful.
In this raw wind it blows apart like late summer


I’m running and dodging mud holes
And ice, a human wind slamming out of
The woodshed and into the moonlight,
Where we have lain and waited the
Return of the raccoon. I was thinking
Of grabbing a coal shovel, the axe,
Even a stick on my way out the door,
But my voice seemed to do the trick —
Frightening him off tin sheets of
The duck pen and into the darkness of
His mask. I’m crushing through soft snow
And somewhere ahead he’s scurrying it
Seems in a half-circle, until my war cry
Has gripped him claws and bark up a
Tall ash tree between the house and pond —
Maybe 20 feet — until he has regained
Himself in the crotch; where under the
Wizard cap of stars I poke a flashlight
Into the first night of spring, and with
A disgusted look in the eye, he turns his
Ears back and waits a bullet I can’t hear.


To Everett everything
He had meant to do was
Termed “been gonna” —
So when you view his
Unfinished farm built on top
Of old farms of the
Past, including the burned
Down house his was above,
And the barn once torched,
Never mind the wrecked cars
Over the river bank and
Sculptures of rusted farm
Machinery pulled into one
Corner of the pasture, and
The sugarhouse built on a
Slipping log sill, and the
Barbed wire fence line
Fallen in the brook, you’re
Looking at a lot of been gonna.


Where you stand

They just about

Touch your lips


Standing midriver
Sunlight already
In the waves, long
Before any sound or
Movement beyond her
Own or my own —
Out of my clothes into
The water, looking up
I see her then, eyes
Meeting in the current
No sound I say, even as
She lifts her muzzle and
Rears her spotted hide
The stare lasts for years


We’ve waited all year
And traveled all morning
Just to arrive like this —
In the very same place
We were a year ago today.
And you are just as beautiful,
Your long skirt blowing in sand,
And we walk for miles along
The edge of the leaving tide
Picking up seashells and stone
That we’ll select more carefully
The longer we are here —
Which is no place with a name,
Except someplace in our heart.
Where on that day, unlike any other,
You found excitedly a sand dollar
Washed in during the night,
Left in a tidal pool, and
Kneeling while taking it up,
Placed it home in my hand.


===========for Janine Pommy Vega

Without a sound
I made myself walk
A day in the sun
The thin pale grass breeze
An axe along to trim dead limbs

Moving beneath pines
I stopped when I saw its wings
Spread straight for me and
Grips itself 10 yards away
With no idea we were face to face

Black water of the eyes opening and seeing
Spotting easily what wasn’t right

In a skiff of wind
She dropped and floated
Low to the ground
Lost my eye in blending flight
With feathers like the woodland


All my life
Lived under the stars,
Walked with them night after
Night, and I’m still
Learning how they move
Through the seasons.
And you help — point your
Gloved hand this winter
Evening almost over our heads
To Cassiopeia and then arc
To the North Star in the
Little of the dippers. It’s
Easy once you know, once you
Are shown, once you have
Someone to see with.

© Bob Arnold
from Where Rivers Meet
(Mad River Press)

photos © bob arnold

Bob Arnold's

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Look at the cat

Look at the lantern

Listen to the rain —

None can tell me

What day it is