Over fifty scraps lie scattered across from the mission
and Salvation Army in Raleigh’s Moore Square. A cop
on horseback does not pick up. A skinny man heads
west on Person, his shoulder bag is a red square around
a black square. The nautical flag for hurricanes comes to
mind, as Mrs. Miller’s fourth grade runs a Frisbee relay, ten
yards removed from the daily horrors of homelessness. Now
Norm, purple-shirted attendant, starts to sweep trash, dump
trash, and greet the park’s residents with a cheery “good morning.”
It’s 40 ounces, a Newport pack, toothpaste boxes, Styrofoam
cups. “It’s messier than usual today,” he gimps on his way to
another litter zone. Miller’s museum magnet kids are already
back inside when three empty school busses and an empty
trolley motor past. This reminds you of the sixty busses you saw
parked under water in New Orleans, and the white cops who
wouldn’t let black residents flee Katrina’s flood, and the
traumatic gait Norm still succumbs to while picking up trash,
and the four-year-old boy holding the bottle that feeds his baby
sister, and the sign at Denny’s offering a chance to contribute to
the hurricane fund, and the caterpillar currently crawling up your
leg, just needing a friend. You remove another caterpillar, the wind
gusts, and another man in purple walks through Oak’s mud, backpack
full to brimming, striding quickly, nowhere to go. Brown caterpillar returns
for a third visit. “What makes you so special?” you think, rising to leave.
#2: Cedar Pass
Here, where absurd harp arpeggios plucked on
baby poplars scare younger dear, and winter
exposes nests, catching squirrels mid-nut-crunch,
the last brave blue chrysalis wings on frozen wind.
Contrasting grays, poo-pooed by teenage purists,
offset sturdy dark brown leaves that hang on as
December chills bones, ground, clouds, equally.
Turkey buzzards pick at road kill, while mallards
float flute melodies on ponds overfull from fall’s
monsoon. Reynard twitches as his son-in-law
scrapes pebbles back onto Cedar Pass, a dirt road
older than its name, path to beavers, opossum, raccoons:
all cold today, until, somehow, the Schwa Stradivarius,
seventeen – fourteen, ambles up, played by Itzhak Pearlman,
carried Asian-style by four willing Rabbis, to this place
of peace, in time for one last concert surrounded by nature.
#3: Carolina Wren
This time a solitary wren perches on
power lines that divide purple-blue sky,
slicing rhombi, diamonds, thin rectangles,
pushing geometry into a regular autumn
morning. This makes you wonder how birds
keep their feet warm in countries with no
power, or how people survive on a hundred
bucks a year, or where refugees go when war
hits. Our wren flies, a speck, ever smaller
as she finds her way. Given our superior
brain capacity, how is it we cause misery
across the planet while creatures so small
live, content to take their share peacefully?
#4: Tang Quest
Red morning wind kicks
leaves over vegetable cage.
Felled white oak patiently
absorbs blade after blade.
Chunked wood magically
stacks upon self, against mud.
Sawdust darkens. Winter rain
slows work, allows love time.
Pond refills, frightened turtle
relaxes. Cool December water
welcomes geese and herons
to rolling clay-built hills.
Man and woman join; new
child cries, coos, sleeps.
Six point buck stops, observes,
moves slowly out of view.
Fog lifts, sun creeps past
logs, warms three thousand
trees, sixty moons past white
buffalo’s birth. Bonus time.
Colorful turkeys gather
under lit moon; feathers
diffract beams to cedars
lined, two rows; historical
trees whose dead branches
dangle predictions at pond’s
edge. Three run to flight,
circle, drop back, contrive,
spread; anticipate coming of
spring. Winter rain cuts fog.
Hilltop oaks sparkle when
wind pushes limbs through
ethereal mist sent down to
visit this New year’s Eve.
stands. Dainty tied-foot
girl spreads parasol.
Protrusion emerges from
hair; pillow placed,
fantasy or farm boy
hovers, slogs. Heavy
mud slows progress.
Results equal effort:
parasol quivers, wind
stiffens, girl rolls, wakes
inner spirit, follows
to pastoral life.
Respected grandfather ties
green maple branches,
nails joints, rakes
leaves onto compost,
works tools vigorously,
reads after dinner,
speaks less than one
paragraph per day.
He is bent over:
translating, teaching, gardening.
Happiness, not out of reach,
but produced by
tuning to zen movement,
could transform one
First he must learn to
separate men’s and women’s
tasks, no easy lesson
for western man.
Fourteen thousand eight hundred seventy two
leaves pile in this one section of the wooded
yard. Why rake? Such good compost, but we
rake anyway, and bundle the leaves up to pile
onto kitchen scraps, in layers with clay, in order
to turn the clay into better soil to grow vegetables.
The vegetable garden is surrounded by wooden
cages built by my 78-year-old father-in-law. He
is bent over, barely walks, but spends eight-hour days
sawing, nailing, constructing, then planting, watering,
eating from the garden. His meals are at eight, noon
and six. By seven he reads. By eight asleep. Up at five.