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Light pours in through a hole
in a shelf of heavy clouds. Mottled leaves flutter solo –
adding to the pile of rot.
Fences lean. No brooding dogs
or blundering flies – just us –
pacing away from home
on dusty mares with blankets.
Perhaps for perspective: for a wandering
high-prairie prayer to emerge
praising the unoccupied; for a tired
sun to slip from a rim of cloud
and amaze us with a field of steers
that seems unvaried after years.
Tails slap at the sun’s sudden heat.
A black bull with white teeth
chews, lumbers toward the fence, lifts
his silver-rimmed eyes, scowls at our packs
and bur-flecked calves. An opening flashes;
our horses snort, idle for a moment, un-perplexed.
Heedless, we crest the worn hill
to see more, to reabsorb the pulse
of the land. In hipbones we remember
our grandmothers and mothers.
A span of ridges rises over our thighs.
To what end do we roam?
Just this, stored behind our eyes.
While wicker chairs overwintered
on the porch, and the color of spruce
seeped through the woods –
the elk gathered and lay down
like a fall of winter snow.
They drifted in moonlight
as if they were weightless
though the blank spaces they inscribed
smelled of musk and dried blood,
reminiscent of other high places.
Such dark creatures –
routine messengers of survival –
congregated like fugitive thoughts
around our amber windows before migrating on.
By dawn, nearly thirty elk were gone
though they were beyond
recollection or numbers – legs unfolding,
steam rising from ancient backs –the sight –
something immaculate to pass on.
They chose where to repose:
our helpless house blocking the winds.
Sometimes this happens when we are not home –
before ever we arrive. Then we are the visitors
to the inscrutable elders of Watson Divide.
With no door opened,
no camera seized,
no gun reached for,
that was I who was
not watching you
to see whether you are there
who waited and did not forget
our truce of falling snow.
Autumn Morning, Hoary Bees
Three or four hoary bees
were silent this morning --
too old to swarm, too cold
to strike with summer’s blazing
bite. Abandoning flight --
they crawled toward my warmer window,
huddled together – brown and yellow
as turning leaves. From that same pane,
I spied a black-billed magpie, stylishly hot
in black and white, uttering cries –
announcing what it is it forgot.
Hovering over my leaf-spattered deck,
it rent a windblown, honeycombed hive –
dislodged a small thing over and over, flew
away, back again -- sweeping its queenly
iridescent tail. Intent, eerily quiet, its bill
tapped, probed, raided this heavy, fallen
perforated world -- raised its stolen
paper castle from my whitewashed planks –
back to a splintering sky. That’s no impulse.
Bird and bee – and me in late bathrobe,
just wakened, forced out from shadows --
we have an eye for comfort when autumn calls,
when autumn falls, circling our pale house,
gathering silence, one on the other, on the other.
Poems by Jane Shaffer
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