after Livingston

that August in Livingston,
we meant just me
and the small dog tracing
the bends in the river
into the far edge of afternoon

one of us thinking of rolling
ourselves into the landscape
for keeps just for the peace,
the other enthralled
by sudden bursts of magpies

all these years after,
I never did find the right shade
to fade into and can’t shake
the sense of going the wrong
way against the river now

as if home had quietly
washed itself downstream
and settled on a sandbar –
lopsided and forsaken

© Sarah Whiteley

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the traveler, starting young

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I never was in so much trouble
as that time I vanished down the tracks,
losing sight of the afternoon,
small shoes balanced on the ties,
walking into evening between the rails

even at that age I could name goldenrod
and dog rose, Queen Anne’s lace and sumac –
could pick out moths from butterflies –
but had not yet discovered the word
for that unrelenting itch to wander

but mother knew the word and four miles later,
I was spanked all the harder
for the future loss of her daughter
who would disappear along the tracks
to find solace down some dusty road

© Sarah Whiteley

*

thinking of those days behind the wheel, cat stretched across the dash, exemption stretched out along straight, gray highways

trying now not to swallow that hook, though lately it seems the city hates me, shoves me toward her swilled-to-the-gill gutters

back then, there was the bag kept in the back and it didn’t matter that I had to crawl through the driver’s side window to get back behind the wheel

what mattered was the chance to get out of here, wherever “here” happened to be at that moment, and now it feels that “here” is now once more

and I miss that cat more than ever

© Sarah Whiteley

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losing my keys

livingston

keys lie nestled
in my right pocket
where they can remind
fingers that there
are roots to be had

connections that
cannot so easily
be pulled, no matter
the direction taken
by forgetting feet

which ride out strange
asphalts, and long
grasses, stretches
of sky so wide we
all lie swallowed by it

shadows in the valley
call out to the mountain,
where I’ll one day
just let these keys
slip out unnoticed

ah well! someone
will undoubtedly
find them and send
them on their way
back home again

© Sarah Whiteley

the magic of sand

a grackle with eyes the color of pale topaz
strolls across the tiles of the bungalow
and I let him make his own conclusions
about when to take his leave

every morning, he comes to the stone basin
where I rinse the sand from my feet
to drink his fill while I have my coffee
and fight the wind to hold the pages of my book

and now he seems to make an inspection
of the small trail of white sand
I’ve somehow managed to track inside,
merely curious without being accusatory

as if he too knows the magic of sand
and how it follows behind bare feet,
leaving glyphic clues to where we’ve been
regardless of how often we rinse or sweep

© Sarah Whiteley

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I wish I had managed to get a better picture of this guy – he was a constant presence during my trip to Mexico last year. I didn’t make it this year. I ended up canceling at the last minute (for very good, but still painful reasons) and I’ve been feeling the twinge today of missing that very special place. But I know I’ll go back and hopefully one day soon.

down east

it was late November
when I drove toward Maine

I still hear how the wind
tore across the highway,
rattling doors and nearly
blowing that tired red Buick
into the frozen ditch

I had second, third – hell
sixth thoughts on the other
side of the state line,
but I kept right on –

forward was the only
way left even though
the pines all pointed
back the other direction

a body ought to listen
to things like weather
and the wind and when
either one isn’t at your back,

it might be that’s a sign
you should turn right around
and that just maybe somewhere
down around western Mass

a right instead of that left
might not have inflicted the kinds
of change that would alter the slant
of a year’s share of wakeful nights

but winter’s nothing way up there
if not a lesson, and my toes
nearly froze during that storm
when I tried to find my way

five miles on foot up that hill
to somewhere never home
through fourteen inches of snow
in flimsy shoes with branches
dropping shrapnel all around –

a few other things nearly
froze over, trust included,
and it’s a wonder I thawed
out at all and can carry on

as if it was nothing more
than a freak nor’easter moving
through or a turn in the wrong
direction against the wind’s advice
two hundred or so miles back

down east was the only place
I’ve ever had to lie to live
or pick a lock to save my own skin
five degrees below zero –

twenty minutes spent just chipping
at that ice to use a bent hanger –
something I used to think only
worked in the movies but prayed
to God it could be otherwise

in the end hope won out
and I fled west with a new
appreciation for thick soles
and the warnings pine trees
and a good strong wind
might heap at a vagrant’s feet

but these are the things
I don’t speak of

and thank-the-lord don’t often
think of, save now and again
when a freezing wind
rattles at my windows –

some frenzied remnant
fighting to be let back in
and sometimes –
the old familiar ice still
finds a way beneath the sill

© Sarah Whiteley

Know this is outside of my norm, but have been wanting to clean the cobwebs out of this particular closet for a while now. Wrote this years ago and never posted it as it never felt “right” – but have reached the moment when I’ll tweak and peck it at no more. And in return, it will tweak and peck at ME no more!