Tag: youth

at Sleepy Eye

days stretched out so long, they toppled
off the end of the weathered dock
into the spring-fed cold at Sleepy Eye

among the shadows between the pilings
swam the uncatchable ghost of a walleye
(suitably fish-tale-sized)
someone years past had called Walter

every summer we saw him jump,
breaking the lake at dusk, just offshore
where the small-flies gathered
in their short-lived, tiny-winged hordes

at the splash “it’s Walter!”
we’d gasp and sit properly awed
while we envisioned the sort of net
that might finally nab him

the “growed-up” me is somewhat relieved
Walter’s remained a fish-ish myth,
dodging all the efforts and lures
of the great northern fisherman

this way, he’s stayed a childhood tale –
of firefly nights among hundred-year pines
and the hollow sound of wooden oars
striking the sides of a kid-captained boat

© Sarah Whiteley

a different sort of genealogy

my father’s father kept the accounts
for a coal mine in eastern Pennsylvania
until one Valentine’s Day his heart quit
on him and birthed a widow in its stead

driving through the corrugated remains
of a Poconos coal town it’s unsettling
to think how the experiences of others
will invariably influence our own

and I wonder how that suddenly empty seat
might have turned the course of that
twelve-year old boy who would in forty years
be my father and was he as hollowed out

as the empty mines that gutted the hills,
or as that old miner’s shack crouched
at the base of the rocks weeping rust
and coal dust for thirty years and more

earlier that morning I’d been snailing along
in the car lost in the sudden morning fog
of November in the Alleghenies with every turn
and curve a ‘poke at fate’ in near-zero visibility

when God or Providence or what-have-you
sent succor in the hulking form of a Kenmore truck
whose keeper leaned his elbows on my window
and said it’s ok, just follow me

I was drawn in by the confidence of his long
experience and followed the red trail
of his hazards to the next town,
where I turned off with a double-honk of thanks

now trawling through the landscape of my father’s youth
I wonder how it was he found his way through the fog
with no light to follow but miners’ lamps disappearing
into dark shafts, and no one to say just follow me

© Sarah Whiteley

sobaka

the old woman laughs
and leans, with no small effort,
to gleefully scratch the dogs
there, behind the ears,
as if she’s known them always
sobaka, she croons, gap-toothed,
all wisps and grins
sobaka in Russia, she says to me
this tiny woman of fading gray
of tattered blue scarves
and little English
so out of place
and yet somehow not
under the scattering pink petals
of the cherry trees
is teaching me the word for ‘dog’
sobaka, I say smiling
her joy is infectious and full
as if in this moment
eighty years have pulled themselves
away from brittle skin
and the toll of toils
I will never know
to show the wiry girl of old
and all the love she holds
for a stranger’s dogs
this at least, I think,
we have in common
weeks later I see her
after the pink petals have gone
sobaka, I say
as she grins gapingly,
suddenly less wispy and gray,
and says dog

© Sarah Whiteley

The woman in the poem above is real. She is the sweetest, tiniest slip of a Russian grandmother and I want nothing more than to adopt her and call her Babushka. The joy she gets from petting Freyja and Angus is so real and so unbearably sweet, I inevitably find myself smiling as widely as she. We should all be so lucky to find such joy in something so simple.

The tax deadlines are over, and I am on the road back to feeling more human than machine. No more fourteen-hour days now until I get to do this all again in September. I’ll be catching up on some blog reading in the coming days – I’ve very much missed having the time to read so many of you.

the little house in August…

the little house nestles
in the yellow grass
ringed round in whirs of songs
of endless summer insects
sits waiting silent in the soughs
quiet in the sweet airs
as they kiss their August songs
against the eaves
around the trees
and all along the stillness
of the white and wondering sills

the little house nestles
in the yellow grass
soft-rimmed in spires
and clamoring climbs
of creamy frothing roses
watches waiting in the hush
the dervish dances
of the dust-winged moths
in the faint radiance
of tumbling summer stars
around the trembling trellis
above the trees
beside the fence
and down the longing traces
of the brown and empty path

the little house nestles
in the yellow grass
watch-guarded by the pines
enshrined in vines
entwined in laurels greener
than the turning arc of spring
who flings her leaves upon the limbs
sits still and mute among the hills
rests soft beneath the dwindling sky
with thoughts of things like wistful wings
whose feathered fingers
brush the eaves
rush up the waiting steps
to sigh entreaties at a door
closed firm upon it all –

the little house nestles
in the yellow grass
sits closed upon the stillness,
and the singing summer sounds
of thrilling trilling insects,
sits closed to dancing moths,
to watching trees and wandering me
who stands in waiting
belating miles away
from the bending yellow grasses
with a pang that even August
will not mend

© Sarah Whiteley

I would I could

I would
I could stay
in those days
of skinned knees,
firefly-lit trees,
and the cool stretch
of evenings
the moon tipped all
her sweetness into
and in the far fields
chase the years
yet to come
up the grass-wrapped rise
where the stars
that held my eyes
touch and hold still
that spray of youth
when green, green
spread unending
and the honeysuckle hung
beneath the sour apple tree,
bare feet dangling
down below the boughs
without a care
for things like thistles,
or neighbors, or propriety
dear me,
I would
I could stay
in those days
where we played
evenings along the creek
so cold it crushed
the breath from our
fledgling frames,
thin as new foals
but spry as goats,
we plucked berries
as fresh as you can get
and as wild as the orphans
our mother called us
then grass was meant
for rolling down
and words like winter
and worry
were still
so very far away
I would
I could stay

© Sarah Whiteley

fireflies of summer

bare-footed imps,
we dashed
through grass
skinny leaping legs
and blasts of laughter
hounding phantom trails
flashes of fire
beneath the trees
shrill got one!
bright bulbs
tap the glass
of those summer jars
while crickets
scratched applause
giddy grins
and scraped shins
and the small triumph
of catching hold
of fire
gleefully unknowing
those warm nights
would be fleeting
like moths that ghost
the stars
and not like fireflies
trapped in jars

© Sarah Whiteley