After first light my windows blur with the crosshatch of an early snow. The muffled beating of stiff laundry drifts in from the line, a man calling out in his sleep. By now my mother would be up, making coffee, sorting the wash. In the stove, a fire just catching hold. If she thinks of anything, it’s how little it’s changed, her life of rising early, alone, her work repeated like the hundred sparrows bickering above dead rye fields. And she’d pull the knit cap hard around my ears, tell me if I loved her to go out in the hard morning, do my part. I was the man of the house. But in my strangeness I grew away, living in the pasture where I’d feed the dray horse, its large head floating toward my hand inside clouds of its own breath. In cumulus sparrows are hovering this morning above the house. They veer in from the east, familiar as old worries. I feel the troubling emptiness of this house and remember that my mother never spoke to me of her loneliness. She would stand in a tile of light next to window, saying nothing as I went out fat with coats to gather the hard frozen clothes, missing my father, his shadow taken by the sparrows, and I’d bury my face deep in the shirts’ whiskered frost.
Without fanfare, it showed up when neither of us was looking. My grandfather, shoes off, coughed up his day, cigarette smoke braiding above our silence. He’d fish with his glance for my presence on the steps, and we’d make dusk authentic: just us, a skein of shadows, and the yawns of moving rockers. When the cool began its forgiveness in the boxwoods I’d feel the dark lift from some piece of our history. And in the haze stars would come out, familiar bodies, knowledge seeming so close, though we sat far apart, sleepy, and hardly speaking.
Dreaming Of My Mother
Wake up cold. Drape the tartan blanket around my shoulders and watch the early sky heal away the stars. In the secondary growth the leaves of young elms have completely turned. They blow in the wind like a tree of yellow butterflies. Winter always brings death. If I went back now I’d find the dry fields plowed under, sown with rye and oats, the shirts on the clothesline stunned by cold. My mother was small and all her life she grew smaller. Tonight I saw her in a dream, a white body rising from water like a surprised bird. From her sickbed she heard her own children singing . . . and when she died I was far from her, far from myself wandering in a dream. I drove my car down every street I knew, the pale sky drilled with stars.
Near Pleasant Church, Berrien County, Georgia
Around me cornstalks began to stir, asking for elbow-room. I thought of you dead, and for the first time wondered how the soil would mix you. Would your body be subject to light winds? What I understood, also for the first time, was that you were valid, a division of long and slow passions, like mine. In the corn, in the heat, I stood there tinkering with the stubborn valves of grief.
1. We have the examples of saints in matters concerning sacrifice. But here in the dark when I think of giving it up for the night, I look out instead at the distant lightning as it makes unbelievable leaps of faith. 2. I remember that history includes everything we hate and covet, all the objects we lost scratched with signatures and the code-names of ardor. What I hear now is a slow cracking, something changing, not weather but the end of an old bereavement.
These poems are from Hard Weather, a beautiful and haunting new book by Roger Sauls (The Bench Press, 1355 Raintree Drive, Columbia, SC 29210).