What History Has to Say

The words are odd for Faulkner, I have always thought—
economic yet sufficient on their own, without the wandering
prose of Absalom, to describe the disengagement of students:
“with bovine interest.” After these last days overlooking the
steep pasture lands and watching their movements, I question
his image at least with regard to the cattle. Because of how
they turn away from the sun, narrow their shadows in unison;
and then always come, as I approach, near the same corner of
the fence at the rim of the grassy plateau, as though to recover
year after year some familiar odor, truer than pheromone,
hidden deep within the layers of scent. This morning as they
moved to me, marvel settled in again and then the wondering—
if in their sensing they recalled the tilt of our heads, the lilt
of our voices as we spoke of them; if they remembered where
the shadows fell; if the sparrows crossed the path before us
that day; or if a sluicing wind made such a passing far too hard.
Or if that knot of them, kneeling in the cold pasture lined by old
cedars in the angling light, had seen what was between us then,
huddled behind clouds of breath too fine for the evening stillness
to distill. Now there seems nothing left, except to ask how you
became as Faulkner’s students, though such point of view belies
your passion for the region’s history. From your desk’s vantage,
so distant now from scent and field, can you find a way to
contemplate what history has to say about whose recollections
can claim the past’s closest hold?

— first appeared inSouth Carolina Review

Picture Postcard from VA — Winter Landscape

Poet to Painter

Thought you’d want to know that Nehemiah’s gone—moved, I have to trust,
to another farm. The cows and other calves are pastured now across the road,
and all of them are blonde (but more the color of buttermilk than the light of
your hair). As you’ve always said, nuances disappear in monochrome, so it is
still hard for me to tell these little ones apart. All in all, this early winter has
not been as welcoming as last, until today’s blowing snow. Under its brush
even the restless bull is stroked into a muslin silence, perplexed at how
quickly the drifts cover the plain umber of the farm’s underpainting and alter
his terrain. Or so it seems. I am not sure whether I favor the familiar
landscape or this one, or in which of the two I can more easily lose myself. . .
as I came here to do. That, and write, of course—for which I am primed. But
once again I am falling behind in my promises and wondering, as always,
just what you would make of it all.

— first appeared in Diner: A Literary Journal

Postcard from the Blue Ridge

Do you recall which of these was O’Keeffe’s mountain? I have been looking
out on them all week and am still not sure, perhaps because I am facing from
the south. But I do understand now why she kept coming back to paint here,
where from hour to hour they are never the same mountains—although they
constantly abide. And there’s no contradiction in it. Ridge after ridge grows
paler in the farther light so the eye is finally driven to the fine abstraction,
appearing almost as remembrance, (as fine as Keats’ excess, and maybe
that is the place where painter and poet meet) that the vista holds. After A.S.
or anyone and everyone else, for that matter, it must have been what she was
painting for: to find, as we have, what holds.

— first appeared in Diner: A Literary Journal

At the Memorial

After the embracing of his widow and children, the telling of stories,
the reading of the poem, the dedication of bench and tree, there in
the blued shadow of the high ridge’s own garden we sat down together
to eat, though some of us strangers, as friends, feasting once more
on the recollection of full-bellied joy he always served up silently
in mounds of fried chicken and deep-dished macaroni and cheese.
As if a sequitur his older sister pointed to the early thin shoots of golden
forsythia that rattled against the glass vase’s lip in the subtle breeze
and said “When these bloom it’s time to start cutting back the roses again.”
And I and the others, who knew nothing of that, nodded to the certain
gardener’s plain-spoken confidence of sequencing: plant, nurture, behold the
glory in the vivid bloom, prune, and then expect a fuller blossoming again.

–first appeared in Wisconsin Review