Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Living History

For better or for worse, I live
in a small, central chimney Cape
built by an early Scots immigrant
who felled trees, made fields,
lifted stones, and tossed them
into perimeter walls,
then anchored the summer beams
between the central chimney
and the outer walls of this house,
raised the roof, and, across the yard,
dug a root cellar.
I hear coyotes;
he heard packs of wolves in the dark.
He harvested pigeons and ate them.
Back then, storms of them darkened
the skies, before they were made
extinct. He had a wife whose skirt,
I’m hoping, did not catch fire
in the open fireplace and torch her
like a candle in a sconce.

Were he still alive, he might tell me
if the stone piles in the woods
near here are Indian graves,
as rumors of massacre have it.

Nearby, a dairy farm,
a turf farm, a casino.
Five miles away, the steeple
of an incinerator; thirty miles,
a nuclear power plant.
New York, two hours by car.
The prevailing wind brings
pollution from the Ohio and Michigan
steel mills, car manufacturers,
and tire factories, which merges
with the fertilizer smell of old farm fields
and an occasional sea breeze
from the southeastern Connecticut coast
just ten miles off.

And then, like a wolf tree in high wind,
the narrative cracks
alphabet or logic, I begin to howl.

Take me, the howling translates.
Take me, wind. Take me, fire.
Take me, flooded coast and city.
Take me, tornado. Take me,
eye of the needle.

All you statistics, take me.
Plague and parasite,
take me, wring me out.

My heart’s dry as beef jerky.

Take me, eat me, shit me out,
kick over me dirt and leaves.

Hide every trace of me.

Hide the cities yet to drown
in the oceans spilling over us
as the ice sheets melt
and the sky catches fire.

After, in the silence after howl
and outcry, just after
the mind empties
and stills,
there comes back
on its own, for who knows
how long,

a lover’s mind
flush with birdsong and berries.
A mind as passionate as sunrise,
as still as a shaded pond
whose water houses fish—

Ah, my dear, it whispers,
and I can’t describe the tone of this voice—

an ache that adds to regret and reprimand,

It’s an old, old love that whispers it.

Old love looks at death and ruin,
takes a hard look
and begins to remember
long-legged birds
blue dragon flies
wild iris
in the spillway of the pond.

It remembers the cry of a kingfisher.
It remembers rain,

and the taste of rain on skin.

Old love heals itself. And begins again.

For better or for worse, this house
was more than once
abandoned. The first farmer
moved west, also the second.
It was a debtor’s prison—
then settled into ruin as a den
for critters, its steeply slanted roof
caved-in by rain and snow.
Snakes in the cellar, a flourish
of trumpet vine on the roof
like a flash of fire.

Hobart Mitchell bought the ruin
with its acres of untold history
and second growth forest.
The house he built back;
the woods, he savored.

Restoration—I take that as my metaphor
for history that refuses to go extinct.

Years back, I came to this house
and married. I raised
a garden and my voice. I danced
in the kitchen, and, older,
let grief take me
down the well
and into an aquifer of the afterlife.
And I’m still here.

Moments ago, hearing
beyond the buffer of these woods
a rumble of distant traffic,
then the traffic noise broken by a nearby
coyote’s howls of hunger and duress,
I called back, a high-pitched
yip or two,
and a howl that translates,

I’m here, and I hear you. I do.

More than a ritual, that howl of mine—
it’s history, living history. And a vow.  

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