One crane in search of his one crane along this braided river
Joins the myriad of cranes in grain along this braided river.
They eat in paradise beneath both sun and clouds as shadows
Race and, flickering, gild the plain along this braided river.
The cooing throat, a murmuring flute, now herds the scattered flock,
Strewn, earthbound, milling in the rain along this braided river.
They meet and wheel and dance on earth. They leap and slowly fall
With epoch joy, and in refrain along this braided river
Sing among the broken stalks to quell their fiery heads,
As trying seeds of doubt remain along this braided river—
Reconciliation with the soul’s true love is arduous.
But dusk alleviates the strain along this braided river:
Behind night’s veil, each pairing binds together that one truth
That all their wings and hearts contain along this braided river.
Cranes in blue-dark water marshal for the journey strength
And brace for parting and more pain along this braided river.
At dawn, they rise, and with tremendous booming will, they go.
The husk of sound and need remain along this braided river.
Go, pilgrim, with the cranes, and with their light and feathers fly.
Leave behind your body-brain along this braided river.
Rain that fell so hard at dusk is lighter
In the darkness now yet falls still, steadily,
With will, as if to make this night eternal,
Turning me to letters to unlock
Some higher meaning, finding I’m unable
To escape the thoughts of earthly things.
His field. The smell of hay, all wet, so pungent. . . .
Such digressions. I should strive for words
About a saint, a convert, the betrayer,
How they suffered on their plains of doubt
And taught me faith beyond myself. Instead,
I watched the farmer watch the sky and then
Begin to bale his hay that lay in windrows,
Trying to outwork the coming storm. . . .
Or maybe I should write of running through
The pouring rain out to a chasm’s edge,
Of falling, linen then enshrouding me,
My body being lain in soft, green grass
Beside the sandaled feet of rose-crowned marble
Mary white against a pure blue sky.
He failed at last as rain began to fall.
He left his field, his chore undone—I felt
His human anguish at that dusky moment. . . .
I sit distracted by the rain, and by
The questions: Could I farm this late in life?
Plant and gather with the hope of finding
Answers in the sureness of the seasons?
Tonight, his failure courses through me still.
Who am I in this mysterious world?
I suppose that I am who I am, working
Rows of ink to simple, measured lines, like
Soon the sun will rise and dry the earth.
And let them lift above the earth enough
That they might whisper intimations
As the hay half-harvested conveys:
That all of us will someday fall again
Beneath the scythe of love and leave behind
The rain, the toil, and this infernal night.
ONCE MORE BRIEFLY WHOLE
It’s dawn again and you with earthly senses
Make your way across this lonesome prairie,
Dodging eyes and slipping under fences,
Loping on with backward glances, wary.
Or are you looking for your ardent past
When you, encircled by the face of Moon,
Felt bound and loved? By day, you merely cast
A pale companion through the afternoon.
Some solace comes when in relief the walls
Of mesas stand a darker black than night,
And Moon in all her phases rises, falls,
With you in thrall to her ephemeral light.
And in those moments, once more briefly whole,
You howl the O of your soon sundered soul.
Sedna, Inuit fertility goddess of the sea, is twice betrayed by male figures: first, by a seabird-spirit disguised as a suitor who lures her to his craggy island where he mistreats her; and then by her father who, while rescuing her, is attacked by the indignant seabird’s clan. To save himself, he throws Sedna out of his kayak, cutting off her fingers when she tries to climb back in. Defeated, Sedna retreats to the bottom of the sea. Though with reason to be misanthropic, she instead chooses to be benevolent to humankind.
Her wounds are earth’s fatal wounds;
No more cat’s cradle to fix the sun.
Yet something true lives in the half-lit
World in fading autumn blue
Among twisted trees and willow twigs
Thin and black, and in the seas
That teem always at the cold top
Of the world turning gray and old.
Fertile crimson-green sweeps the air,
The untangling of braided hair.
Her wails have ended.
Her thumbs, the great bow whales, appear
In the leads and wait for us there.
Her fingers swim and fill our nets
To the brim in oblique sunlight.
Walrus, breath steaming, come
Streaming to land, with tusks that hold
The draping linen sky, and so
Conceals that fearful gaping void.
We hunt, they bleed red on the ice
And feed us in the semi-dark.
With face in mangled palms, once hands
Now gnarled knobs of flesh, she stands
Crying as the wild shaman-combing
Of her hair sends sparks flying.
They form the circumpolar Bear
Who with his siblings of the air
Fills the vast, long-lingering night,
Bright children she will never bear;
She swallowed raw, false words of one
Perfidious pelagic bird.
Still, she remembers
Us. Her embers float in the sky
And warm this turning, twilit world
While she, self-exiled, sits alone
At the dark bottom of the sea.
Though pack ice, turgid, bends and moans
And rivers, frozen, crack like bones,
In sun or mist, and when it snows,
In open water, on the floes,
Everything lives; for, as she chooses,
Despite her useless hands, she gives
They float in yards, in fields, and in wild places, too,
The pipe-notes, all day long, and just within our earshot;
Lyrics are the air, wood, water, rocks, and rain.
In scores, set free, they mingle in the shade of peach,
Beneath the osier, rose, and beech; and some rise sunward
Over foxes trotting through fresh-fallen snow,
And when we’re close to sleep, they come to light on us.
We touch our fingertips so sure that vague impressions
From those ancient instruments still linger there.
We are bound—not mired in ash piles at our feet—
To follow life to shady green remembered sounds;
Lyrics are the air, wood, water, rocks, and rain.