Trees meditate remarkable acts — ascending to heaven, walking toward us to say we’re forgiven. Instead, they learn slowly, as we do, the magnificent strength of watching, staying, to reach downward, upward until the distance from root to uppermost leaf is the perfect air to let water flow up from earth to sky. Women of our tribe know how to keep secrets, so deep at times they die of their power. Every face can hide so much, sweetly feigning enough to get by. Love begins anyway, with the force of green shoots. In the moon, a new song no one hears but the crows. Joy travels softly, a creek in the woods no one visits until the day it rises in your hands. Linked hands hold us up, though we don’t think of it, community, help, the way everyone knew who’s sick, for miles. Hands of the old ones reach out, great-grandmothers we scarcely saw, distant on farms in dim-lighted rooms, storm-cellars, porches with yellow light bulbs, listening for the small lives we are in the distance. This water runs through everything I know.
I want to lie down all winter. Silence takes me to the day I was born, and the days before that. Darkness and cold have lived in this place so long none of my people remember a time before them. The light bulb is a small invention. Think of our fathers making fire, to keep us alive. Or the sun! People were not meant to crumble like potato chips, to flutter like plastic bags gasping at air in city streets. I draw quietness to my lap, or build a fire, a small life like mine in great winter.
The fire’s flickering helps my thoughts to mend. I know this darkness. In the long night, under blankets, my body stops crying. I watch, the true world comes near. I wait for the days of light, through the healing of weeks, months. The false world circles like wolves. When I was a child, we survived in cold by holding each other. No need for talk. My father roused me for hunting by touching my shoulder.
Wake as a listener. Go out. Listen with your body. See how deep listening can go. Hear the greatest speech. Watch snow, stars. Know which truth to keep. Over land and water without a track the silence travels. Under wings of snow voices of birds gather power. Listen to winter’s stone, the winds of darkness. Remember the sun.
Grapevine (at Murphy crossroads)
May the FINA station’s smug steel and cement, its Quik store blocking our view of the landmark Baptist Church, the iron bell, milk-blue stained glass waiting for sun, fall. Let the day come when its rubble is covered with flowers, glints of mica in dreaming grass. We’ll know it’s there but think about it less than the dirt. May the white frame grocery on the crossroad’s opposite corner rise in spring sun forever, and the grapevine on its east wall carry the river of what we might become up. Asleep in our ignorance, walking, we live while its veins reach the roots of grape-arbors near our grandmothers’ porches, their drowse, the grapes’ holy dust. May its branches, tough wood gray as ghosts, hold until the wall itself is gone. All of the walls we remember. Planted grapes, mark of our coming, work of our hands, endurance in this hard country. Wild grapes, too, muscadine, deep in the woods, mark of the richness of the land before we came. May they outlast us.
These poems originally appeared in Origins, a chapbook published by Firewheel Press, 4017 Bond Street, Rowlett, Texas 75088 ($3 paper).