A Poetry Sporadical of Repeating Forms

Walking Paths

“[Deborah] Digges, who in 1996 won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award for her collection of poems "Rough Music," was found unconscious Friday afternoon outside the football stadium at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Lacrosse players practicing on the field had seen a woman at the top of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, according to university police.”—The Boston Globe, April 15, 2009

by Susanna Lang

When I step off the road onto the shaded path,
half a dozen blue butterflies and one yellow
rise from where they were feeding on dung to circle
my feet, and the creek sings on the right.
This is not my place but I can stay awhile.
Listen to what rushes through the woods, careful
not to be seen. It is cool here, quiet,
a quilt spread on soil
. Some notes
are beyond my range—I cannot reach
as high or as low. But when a skink
back-and-forths across the path,
I know to walk softly; and when the light
falls just so on the rhododendron, I know
to pause and take a breath before going on.

Pause and take a breath before you go on:
from here the trail climbs steep and narrow,
twisting around tree roots. On the right
there is nothing, or only the slip of your foot,
the incomprehensible creek still singing
faintly below. Above, the Gothic reach
of the branches, light filtered as if
through colored glass, and the vines thick
as your arm and as intentional, curving out
and in like buttresses. The blue shadow
of the mountain. Look at the shadows
brimming light
. Look at the abandoned
spring house, one stone clinging to the next,
no reason in physics it should not fall.

No reason in physics you should not fall
from the highest point of this stadium
where young women practiced lacrosse
on the day you reached the end of what
you were willing to live without. Something
for me
, you wrote, some small extinction.
Your brother dead, your husband, your son
turning away and away. You climbed each step,
knowing you could still turn back but climbing on,
each next step chosen, the distance growing
between yes and no until it carved a deep gorge,
the water running sweetly far below, too far
to hear the music, almost too far to see the glint
of sun on water weaving around the rocks.

No sun on the water weaving around the rocks
at this spot where the sign suggests I should turn
off the road to look, the falls no more than
a thickening of the mist that crowds the path,
cutting off all space beyond the path. Don’t step
so far out, don’t take that turn, don’t turn so
fast that I lose all sense of where I started.
Was it here I crossed the stream, where
the stones are slick with moss, or farther on?
Are these the mushrooms that made me think
of a story read in childhood? And could that
be an owl calling at mid-day? Did I read
that she spoke back to birds in their public voices?
The owl’s voice the only one to reach me here.

Her voice the only one to reach me here
in this small house at the end of a gravel
road where no one comes but myself. The door
unlocked. I saw a deer rush by, disturbed
when I stepped outside a moment, and heard
that a black bear circled from the front door
to the screen door, searching a way in; but not
while I was here. I haven’t cooked, no smells
to lure him closer. At dusk and dawn I hear birds’
voices but I do not know which birds. No
other voice that speaks in words. Some things I say
are prayers and others poems
, and neither she
nor anyone else can tell which one is which.
But perhaps if I tried to listen closely—

Perhaps if I tried to listen closely
I could tell the black-throated blue
warbler, zoo zoo zoo zoo zee, from
the zee zee zee zoozee of the black-
throated green warbler, or match one
little round bird, brown-backed, with
its call to cher teacher, teacher, cher
. At night the dark moths clinging
to the curtains
that move in and out
with the breeze as fireflies drift in,
their green light coming and going, a rhythm
I can’t quite catch. In the morning the deck
is littered with the wings of moths, striated,
lucid, stripped of their purpose.

Lucid, stripped of all but this purpose,
you climbed slowly up the steps, each step
a word added to the book you’d tried to finish
while the girls called to urge each other
on, past the defender: Send it in! Their voices
sheer as water with the glint of sun in a gorge
farther and farther below. They might have
called you back down to the field—didn’t
you often watch their practice on the afternoon
before a game, inhabiting for an hour
these bodies that ran with such heat and light—
or maybe not. In the end you found a way
to sleep a while, wake clear and wander
step off the road onto the shaded path.

Susanna Lang’s first collection of poems, Even Now, was published in 2008 by The Backwaters Press. A chapbook, Two by Two, was released in October 2011 from Finishing Line Press. She has published original poems and essays, and translations from the French, in such journals as New Letters, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Baltimore Review, Kalliope, and Jubilat. Book publications include translations of Words in Stone and The Origin of Language, both by Yves Bonnefoy. She lives with her husband and son in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.


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