BY CYNTHIA HOGUE
Beak full-tilt to the wind,
a crow caws nearby: magenta tulip
opens an inner dusty gold
to the January sun
whose colors over the sea
are the same hues washed on cirrus.
I hadn't noticed the bird
or flower braving winter until now,
nor the odor of boiling meat
pungent through the house,
broth for someone's soup.
For days I've listened to no music.
The wind insists, tireless and hollow
around these third floor rooms.
And the sea at the earth-wall,
trespasser by night. Maybe
it is this broth that
has me squeezing past the tulip
through the window ajar for air,
hair swept to feathers
before a gray weather front
that breaches shore.
THE WANDERING OF THE SOUL
It is when she is so quiet,
the moon waning to its crescent,
two arguments, almost a third,
and impulses curdled to self.
She's empty enough to leave
body and trudge out
though it started before snow.
The first stirrings, a glimpse
of cliff crags, viscous moors,
their lava flowing into stone,
and boulders gathered near mounds
where fish hang from scaffolds on the coast
to dry, fish heads in bundles
headed for Africa as delicacy.
Cold grayness . The shore of traces:
refuse from the Westman Islands, driftwood
from Siberia, stone foundlings of farm
and sheep pen, beheaded seal
she steps on, gingerly pressing
her foot down, up,
as if there's still breath in him.
She squats, looking for life in tide pools,
sand and kelp in muted drift-patterns.
Empty shells. The drive back
in a silence speckled with words.
First flakes hit the windshield,
no lights around the city up ahead.
She has waited for this element
that mutes even the road before her.
after an Icelandic folktale in which an elf child
is exchanged for a human one
Loftur. His name means air
and my cries
wend up to him
on the currents
of afterbirth, the veil
of second sight
still wrapped around his head.
You mean wind.
Husband, I know what I named him.
He witnessed his own birth;
it caught his breath
like a raven swooping to catch a berry
as it drops from the bush.
When a cold front moved off sea,
to the ring of mountains--
everything gave way to stillness
I could not escape.
His first impulse was flight
out from under this lid
toward another vision,
but was he blind to the one we have?
You mean storm, brewing around us,
had he waited to ride it out?
I mean this child left to me, without cowl,
breath gone from him,
no cry issued,
nothing for me to nurture.
By now he's back there,
knew where to go-
his hand extended to grasp
the forerunner's, and when they touch,
all the dark feathered beings will rivet
the air with their calls and I'll
shudder through root and stone.
You mean rain
will come soon.
This time, I will follow.
They are brothers now
someone else must raise.
TRACKS OF SOUND AND WATER
A boy spends seven years painting clouds,
learning to read what they tell.
Finally, his paintings become sky.
Here, a mist of sulfur
rises off the bay.
No trees to hide me
from the distant glacier,
the salmon sun
singeing horizon, the wind burning.
He spends seven years learning the uses
of plants-eucalyptus, chamomile, nettle-
names that he can hear the wind in,
as when he gathered them
from hills, desert, and woods.
Seven years healing
until he's alert
as a deer in open field.
Always he's preparing
for a dream someone else would have.
How long did I look,
at last calling myself back?
Through amber fumes steeping up,
the bay smoking, mountains in clouds.
An eagle tries to catch a dolphin
for so many years he understands at last
the creature's laughing.
The dreamer says, When you hear that
from one in human form
you'll see cloud leaf root water-
as sound-and the joy in that
will fool you.
I heard chants.
Five times at the mountain's foot
near the corpse-stones,
I was dipped in the well,
once for each note of the scale.
The dreamer's eyes narrow
until the boy sees only
black pupil, is thrown
to the ground.
There are three tasks left.
The first is to discover the other two.
When you know the second,
become the third.
I knew I was a dream as well,
not looking, through fine mist,
but there, with the wings
I had need of.
A raven starts from the bush,
flies up cawing.
The sound stays with the boy's body for years.
The dreamer says, I leave you with this:
When you've fulfilled the last,
it is fire, not air,
Where is there left to look?
And this evening, when the wind dies
and the sun drops from the clouds…
The boy cannot tell whether it's song
or the peal of laughter around and inside him.
The sound becomes a trail
he follows to the water's edge,
wades in, then swims out-
at times leaping airborn-
into the flickering tracks of light.
(AFTER AN ICELANDIC FOLKTALE)
Near the graves of the great dead,
Even the stones speak.
No one could control him,
the smallest of the clan.
The leaves shiver as we pass through
the hedge, out from shelter.
A branch snaps.
At school he was always up to something,
screwed a girl in the back room at 14,
then opened a door in the wall,
led her in, but his powers
couldn't keep the door open.
Years later her skeleton found
upright, the fetal bones poised inside.
No one asked questions.
The wind shoves
up into our jackets, whips scarf
against skin, and two horses in distance,
one riderless, the other becoming one
with his rider, gallop into sleet.
His power grown beyond the living,
he turned to the dead.
In the belfry, one by one
all the ancient practitioners
rose to his chant:
until one whose book,
buried with him, could open to the boy
the threshold he wanted to cross. And almost
he touched that fragile vellum.
Then birds startled from the tower,
bells chimed his dream until he saw
his hand reaching into dust-filled air. And whispered
near his head Doomed one, how you were close
to owning my book.
And how we pull and pull our limbs
through an oblivion of snow.
Midnight. A cold sweat past season.
By May, dawn breaks the dark continuum.
But not until four. Now is for swans
in flight, their calls a sonar telling
where they are, how they keep formation.
In the light from Northern House I see them
fly low past a stand of scrub birch
that bud a chartreuse easing into spring:
Like sleep's easy drift until tremors of sound
flecked the dark, and wide awake,
I saw a light
that shuttered the stars, the sky
split across and sprung
from its center wings
children make in snow.
Though what it was
was not snow, but like vapor exhaled, inhaled,
contracting. Gone then.
But my senses wring
from unsalvaged night--a swan's passage
down the wind. It's that journey I want now,
into fathomless white.
THE STRANGE LAND
…I asked about ruins…
'No stranger has seen them, and…nobody
tramps around without me knowing it.'
--From Helge Ingstad's conversation with the caretaker
on the site of the first Viking settlement in Vinland
There, sunlight in winter
was a pale wash for whose color
some child drew breath: the bearing
of blue to her lungs: her eyes
stared defiantly back.
She took great pains
training a crow to sit on her arm.
He has learned three words
but just as I listen hard
they garble: his claws
rake her skin and she curses
the doctor stitching
with his needle too soon.
But to the bird she calls
Here I am; where are you?
It's perched on a branch
by the window. From that spot,
my memory of willows
exactly the same and utterly different:
Take a beach, what was cleared to make it
grown up again, the landmarks,
invisible. What is abiding
is aberrant, a joke
grandmother told the child
who has her own version of how
the peasants of Thule
made a soup so thin
the peas called back and forth,
Here I am; where are you?
In another place. Not a lake.
Nor parched tongue of valley
below the Superstitions. Where I
compose myself again. Somewhere
that may last until peace
funnels through a rusty spiral
clear up to cumulus
which hold their breath
past the mountains
past summer and the climb
through early darkness in winter.
Who asked of excavations,
of ruin? Who came and left first
with a wind off the strange land?
WRITE OR DIE
She sees her breath before her.
If I could stir, she thinks
and she can. She rises
like a tall fir, green, blue
(there's a ghost-white
on white-hovering on periphery).
Write or die? Did someone
say, We rise again
from pain and love, to her?
Or is she not-self at the sea?
Water sputters with light
as snow speckles the dark,
autumn hills. Steely bars
mar sunset, scratched across
a salmony sky. The coast,
with its shagged, eroded cliffs and rock-
strewn crags, reminds her of something,
something she's lost words for.