My Grandfather Burning Cornfields
The only light at this hour
is the frost dusting
the flat December ground.
A shoal of thrushes
pours off the barn roof,
then banks east
into the dark of year’s end.
Sleepless, I leave my bed
and go out under the sycamores
into the pull of a grief
that often comes late at night.
Across my backyard, I feel
the cold as it deepens,
moving in like a close relative.
On nights like this my grandfather lived
in his cornfields, setting the fires
meant to purify earth for new plowing.
What a privacy he enclosed there.
He kept his fires small, whispery,
their aura no brighter than
the underside of a ground dove’s wing.
I recall one night watching
him, the fires underlighting his face
so that he looked like a woodcut.
I remember his breath hovering
before him like a song for which
he had no words. And my song,
which I make up tonight out of nothing,
I begin to hum as if it could
move me toward the light coming
on behind the lowest poplar trees,
the wind finally bearing away
the darkness that is
a flock of small birds.
Reconcilable Differences
We wake to economical
late winter light.
Beyond the window
we can just make out
a few odd details.
Dark parts of pine trees
holding up ladders
of snow. A freeze-frame
of three puritanical
crows flapping off
the pasture’s crust.
Nobody else out there.
How much of this
could we do without?
I put on my parka
and sweep snow
from the back porch.
You told me once
that on a certain day
in November the leaves
on gingko trees drop
all at once, the way,
in this clear air,
we’d like to be forgiven.
And when the pine boughs
let go their soft
snow pods, contradicting
our stillness, I
think again of turning
to you,
you brushing your hair,
you closing around me
like a cat.
Last Snow
It started in late afternoon,
falling a few hours
between rapt hardwoods,
graying them until, by supper,
they stood like Our Lady
holding out her hands
to the bare darkness.

                                             This morning
all I can see is a fine powder—
wind sifting through shallow troughs
looking for details of the self.
Overhead, a congregation of field thrushes
mills without purpose.

I recall last night’s worry—
my life falling in
like the roof of an old barn.
And now the sycamore’s shade
knitting and reknitting my body
on the hard ground,
never making it whole.

Out here in the yard,
the snow’s glare makes it impossible
to read; St. Augustine’s words
are transformed into light.
The holy, he says, casts no shadow.

When I look up I notice
a dozen cedar waxwings assembled
in the Lombardy poplar,
their inner lives shining.