Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Month: September, 2011

Sketch of a Window, Norfolk

I look up from bed

and see birds falling.

At home they drew circles, endless circles–
I wish a day could be drawn without time.

They twist insanely diving like I want to,
through air, into lakes, touching mud.

Sometimes they spin upwards,
never higher than the treetops.

England, nothing so big
it can be seen from the sky.

Ferre

I

see a swan on the lake from my window. It is real, white, feathered,
brisk early morning, Norfolk. Then the past, I’m riding my bike
along the pond with always the same swan in it. The man sitting on
the bench, not moving for years, turns out to be made of wood. It is

early, but I decide to walk down to the lake. The swan is standing free
of the water. Strange to begin with. The swan I know from my pond never
came or went, never broke its seal with the surface. It was a fixture;

the pond itself. This one is so big, naked there, obscene in its
beauty, stretching out its neck with unnatural grace. Nothing could be
but this. I follow it around the lake. When it begins to fly I’m behind
bushes, so I hear it first, impossible sound, the whole body of a swan

not floating indefinitely but rising, leaving. If I had gone into that
pond just one time as a kid and tried touching it, I would have known
if my swan was made of wood. It never flew like this one, goose-like,
huge and heavy, a cloud with substance, body, and wings

I

see a swan on the lake from my window. It is real, white and feathered,
early morning, Norfolk. Then warm, the air, yellow; I’m not too far
from home and riding my bike by always the same pond,

the same swan always floating in it. The man sitting on the bench
nearby, who didn’t move for years, turns out to be made of wood.
It is early, but I decide to leave the building and walk down to the lake.

The swan stands out of the water. The bottom half of its body
reminds me of a vulture’s the way the thought of water
burning and choking me appears if I reflect on the opposite,

a deep breath, the smooth filling up of air. The swan, memory,
never stood up, never came or went, never broke its seal with the
surface. It was fixation; the pond itself. This one is much bigger,

naked, obscene in its beauty, stretching a neck with unnatural grace.
Nothing could be but this. I follow it around, running on the shore
when I lose it, white sun reflecting off the lake. When it begins to

fly I’m behind the trees but I hear it, impossible sound, the whole
body of a swan not floating indefinitely but rising, leaving. I want to
be thirteen and jump into that pond, watch the swan screech and squawk

and fly away, not float silently, hollow thing, wood and paint.
But it never flew, goose-like, huge and heavy, cloud with substance,
body, and wings barely big enough, carrying it away from me.

Silence the Silence

It was supposed to rain here every day.
Instead I wake up and occasionally,
it’s just this static through the windows.
It appears and disappears, the air
opens and closes briefly, giving way.

Static turns into steam, a colder season.
The lake runs from itself into vapor,
and wisps, drifting, visible only against
the dark cracks of hands, concrete walls,
a seagull in the fog, defending itself.

The white wall outside my window
wakes me up to it. Rain solidified.
I blink blink my eyes, black, white,
black, white. I open it up.
Just a crack– just enough–

Trees …from A Portrait of a Bird

Everywhere he looked, something had changed. The angles of the trees fallen over the stream looked unfamiliar. He could barely recognize this part of the woods. When he had gotten home a few days earlier, his parents had already gone five days without power.

The stream was low, barely running over the rocks. The water would be freezing if he touched it. He flexed his toes in his boots and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants. He looked again at the oddness of the trees, paused, then did not walk down the stream as he had planned.

He stepped out of the woods onto the newly paved driveway. He avoided walking on the asphalt, instead stepping as much as he could in the gravel along its edges. When he reached the end of the driveway he looked to the left. The road curved away, down the hill and out of sight.

He put his hand on the tree next to the driveway which split into two trunks. One had been chopped through completely, leaving a smooth stump at about chest height. He looked up the length of tree that remained, up through to the white sky. It was like a used wishbone. He ran his palm along the stump where the bark lipped over. The scar was almost the same grey-brown as the bark. There had been a car crash, then eventually an electrical fire. He pulled himself up onto the slanted surface and crouched awkwardly. He thought he must look like a wood gargoyle.

He tried to remember standing in the insurance office, his mother high above him. She described the deer that had jumped out in front of the car, her defensive swerve. She was sweating, he was sweating. The insurance man nodded, looking down at something. “We get a lot of these this time of year. They get very aggressive during mating season.” She agreed. No big deal.

He slid off the tree and started walking back along the gravel. Of course it hadn’t been a deer. He didn’t remember the rest. She had probably explained it to him.

He smiled strangely as he cut back into the woods, feeling his tongue with his teeth. He thought about bones he had found out here. Sometimes turtle shells with the tiny spine still inside. Sometimes small bird bones, or just empty circles of feathers. Sometimes fur, once so much it covered a whole clearing. Coyotes, he had thought, but did not really know. One time he found a whole deer skull, broken in places. He had stood over the skull in silence, debating whether or not he wanted to touch it, whether he wanted to bring it home. His parents told him there were germs on bones. It was always best to leave them where you found them.

As the house and yard came into view he thought about the tree again. For years after they had taken it down he found stacks of logs all around the woods. He would arrange them in the fireplace. They ignited instantly. Now they would all be rotting or fused together with ice, and he would walk past them without noticing. Eventually, they would disappear on their own.

Windows …from A Portrait of a Bird

The ceiling was perfectly flat. The corners were exact, no paint misplaced, nothing visibly wrong. He rolled his head to the left. Underneath the fridge there were silhouettes of dirt, balls of dust, lost food. Maybe the floor was imperfect. What had been wrong? When he had been standing there a moment before something had been off. He had gotten to his knees and rubbed his thumb against the floor tile. That hadn’t helped. He had remembered the technique his mother had taught him for finding small things. With his cheek pressed against the cold white surface he still hadn’t been able to see anything. He was glad he had laid down.

“Where are you?” Her voice came out of the bedroom. There was some kind of shuffling, she must be getting dressed. “Someone called you.”

He leaned his head back. He could see the sky even though the window shade was mostly down. It looked warm and blue but he knew it would be freezing. She walked through the door zipping up the side of her dress. “Where are you?”

“Who called?”

“Jesus Christ,” Her face seemed to burst then almost instantly close; lines formed in between her eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Did you pick it up or did it go to voicemail?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

He nodded, approving. “There’s something weird about the kitchen. Are you going out?”

“I’m going to Midtown. Are you just going to stay there? I need to get something.”

He shuffled to the side and she stepped over him. As she reached up and began rifling through the cabinet her heels lifted off the floor, the veins in her ankles visible and thick through the skin. He almost reached out and grabbed them.

“Here we go.” She stepped down and walked into the bathroom, not bothering to turn the light on. He could hear the water running. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

She came out of the bathroom and stood over him. “I’m going down to Midtown, is there anything you need? There’s your phone again.” It was buzzing in the bedroom. She handed it to him.

“Okay, I’m going, you don’t need anything?” He shook his head, holding the buzzing phone. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, give me a call if you think of anything.” He heard the door close.

He laid there for a minute. The phone was still buzzing. He had been clasping it over his chest the entire time. After awhile it stopped. He put it down on the tile next to the fridge.

He brought up his knees and groaned. Most of his backside had fallen asleep. He used the counter to pull himself up. He stood there for a second, getting his bearings. The room was worse now than it had been earlier. It was tilted, as if he had just been dizzy. He went over to the window. The problem was no different outside, the streets looked like they slanted strangely away. A familiar flock of birds, probably pigeons, flew by. They dipped and looped by the window in the exact same way at least once every day. He always caught it out of the corner of his eye. They never changed. The same flock, the same swoop. Maybe they flew all around the city in this pattern and everyone else always saw them out of their own windows, flying in the exact same way. Stuck in a loop. He rapped his fingertips on the glass, bitten fingernails making an unsatisfying thumping sound. There were millions of windows in New York City. More windows than there were people. At any given moment, were more windows being seen into, or out of? Most windows must not be seen at all. Might as well just be walls.

Blue Hole

When I come home I hear it—
quiet. Crows gone for the winter,
a hole in the screen porch.

Driving home from the train Dad tells me,
“That hawk dive-bombed the window.
It flapped around and died on the dinner table.

I thought about doing something with it
but decided to get rid of it.” I think of garbage,
the door where we throw away our bones.

I walk down to the edge of the woods;
we have no power so I can’t use the toilet.
I think about the hollow feeling of our ground.

Generations of: Dads seeding grass,
grubs eating roots, Dads poisoning grubs.
Nothing dies, just hollows out.

I look at the broken glass of a window
we would have put into our tree house,
grown into the ground, bits of sky

reflected as in lakes seen from falling planes
I imagined while reading survival novels.
The boy crashes into the water, catches fish

and makes fire with an ax his mother gave him.
He gets lost in the mountains
and trains a falcon to hunt for him.

At my friend’s house, living there, doing laundry,
I tell him how I sat outside and played ukulele
and the hawk flew from tree to tree, cawing at me.

I had imagined its eggs.
Did it find a mate in between
my powerless house and the road?

I come back a year later
and a hawk cries against the sky.
I wonder how old it was.

If the hawk could change, it might
go away. If it could speak,
I think it would never speak again.