We watched the clouds build,
waiting. What was left
of snowmelt in the mountains
was sweat on skin. We wrung ourselves
like dishrags. Then
something changed the balance
of atmosphere, recharging
air. Wind and
the whole house lit up.
Electric hot-sticks every window
Thank goodness for the lightning-
rod. If we lived
to tell, what was the transmission,
what radio, what spirit-
The flat was such hard walking,
soil undermined by critter tunnels and
the occasional rusty can,
the kind you punch holes in the lid
for drinking, and one clear
glass bottle empty, almost buried,
cradled into meadow grass.
Forest on the other side
of creek—a channel slit into the land,
its life-blood. We couldn’t
cross it, we were bound
in loose dry dirt.
But look. Wild strawberry
on the march, webbing itself every-
where underfoot. And skunk
in their spiky purses; three kinds
of lupine. Green retaking
the whole wrecked flat. Pick one
berry, prick your finger,
it still runs blood. Tart-sweet inside.
METAL LACE FABLE
through the wrought-iron lacework
of a courtyard doorway or a garden gate.
A twilight breeze passes through
with its unfamiliar fragrances catching
in forged curlicues and twinings
meant to keep inside and outside not quite
apart: each with its own-life’s
language only partly understood.
But this is no romance.
A front-door grille once reinforced
by glass—all that separates a house-cat,
never allowed into the wild,
from six sheep banished from a world
Inside, our dogs are restless;
a daypack waits on the step. Blink the cat
reaches a black paw through the grate,
touches Sophie on her sheep-nose.
Freckles inches closer. Adri, unshorn lamb,
stands non-committal watching.
The door remains latched
as they’re drawn together by evening-
shadow light of eyes.
A nagging breeze shifts shadows
on the wall—branches of those trees
that blossomed and then
contracted, folding their leaves
The hilltop holds their silhouettes.
Why, for all our nurture,
did they die? We wonder about
toxic soil, that snake
serpentine. The trees say nothing,
bare branches signing
a language we don’t understand.
LIFE AND DEATH IN THE KITCHEN
You come back from putting ground-squirrel
bait in the garden, and hand me a nice zucchini,
just right for stuffing, except for rodent teeth-
marks. You tell me, every cucumber blossom’s
nipped off. Why isn’t the poison working?
I’m baking dog-biscuits. I leave out the garlic;
our vet just informed us garlic, like onion,
is highly toxic to canines. Generations of our
dogs have loved their long lives with garlic.
What shall I do? Who can say what kills us?
THE BOTALLACK MINE
for Elihu Burritt, 1864
This Cornwall mine hangs on the very sea-cliff,
under-tunneling for a quarter-mile the sea:
beneath fishing grounds and the path of great ships
and whales. You stop to see how things
are done here: miners digging underground
by candlelight, day and night in all seasons.
Conveyed to the surface, the ore is beaten
to a powder. Sieves and strainers, revolving disks
separate the precious tin from iron and copper.
A dozen different processes “manifold
and ingenious” wash it almost as thoroughly
as the sea herself might do. Through pits, pools,
tubs, vats, and troughs, the ore changes color:
pale as ash, then red as dried blood. At last,
sluicing water runs back into the sea, turning
the tide red all around. You sink your hands
into each vat, a blacksmith feeling out
the goodness of metal in its strange new form.
You’re about to thrust your hands into a pan
of pure, fresh water; wash off the industrial
dust. Just in time, the foreman stops
you. “That’s vitriol!” Who knows
what waits in the tubs of Progress?
Be careful what you touch.
There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can't think without metaphors.
—Mary Catherine Bateson
—Medusa, thanking Taylor Graham for today's thoughts about toxicity (our Seed of the Week) and other things, and reminding you to check out the "Submit, I Say!" listings in the green column at the right of this for what's going on—including the Voices of Lincoln Contest deadline coming up this Sunday!