When they found Emeline, a nail
held her sack dress together
at the neck. She lived by gathering herbs
to sell for curing leather from the land
her people held since they took it from the Cherokee,
quilted mountainsides in Appalachia
where they hewed walnut into rocking chairs,
and sang the stony country’s blessings be,
and ballads carried in their ears from Scotland.
From my grandmother, her granddaughter,
I have one word in her dialect: stime.
Long-ah, half-rhyme with steam, its meaning: not enough.
As, there’s nary stime of tea nor sugar nar.
They took apart her house to save the boards.
Off a dirt road, in iron light, in the mountain graveyard
her clan’s settler stones grow up with moss
thick as the harmonies in shape-note tune.
Among mushrooms, ivy, rhododendron
are tracings, the shadowy foundations
of the cabin where she persevered and died.
AGNI Online18th CENTURY REMAINS
A wooded ridge a mile from Monticello.
A pit cut deeper than the plough-line.
Archaeologists unearthed this site by scanning
plantation land mapped field
for roughage, ash, the smear of human dwelling.
We stood amid blown cypresses.
Inheritors of absences, we peered
into the 10 by 12 foot ledge
shifting some to see the unearthed shards:
two pipe stems, seeds, three greening buttons.
The centuries-old hearthstones were still charred,
as if the fire was only lately gone.
“Did they collect these buttons to adorn?” But no one knew.
“Did they trade them, use them for barter?”
How light, each delicate pipe stem,
the something someone smoked at last
against the sill-log wall that did for home,
a place where someone else collected
wedges of cast-off British willowware.
Between vines, a tenuous cocoon.
The grassy berm that was a road.
A swaying clue,
faint as relief at finding something left
of lives held here that now vanish off
like blue smoke plumes I suddenly imagined--
which were not, will not, cannot be enough.
SONG FOR EL CERRITO
I used to hate its working-class bungalows, grid planning,
power-lines sawing hillsides. It ashamed me
the way my parents did for not making more money.
Now it looks like a Diebenkorn.
Now I want even the bad wood siding
in our living room, and my mother’s aging books
on modern Indian thought. Her tanpura
resting in sunlight. Fox-weed in railway trestles,
endangered frogs in our gully.
I want a lemon tree.
On San Pablo, polyester collectibles, a folk-song store,
the “All-Button Emporium: Open 10-4 only Saturday’s.”
How did love lodge in these?
forgives even the traffic islands.
December only yellows gingkoes and reddens the maples.
A stream smells rich under our house.
For Christmas, my sister and I steal
persimmons from neighbors’ yards.
Ten years on, I discover
how I keep falling in love here
among pickups and blackberry brambles.
Tonight it happened again:
We drove a bad car to the beach.
At dusk, a lone scrub pine--
clear, like a Japanese print. In the real sky, the moon
slid through clouds that were cinder-colored.
WORLD’S END: NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO
At the continent’s end, fortifications
linger for the end of the world. They greet
each California morning, these barracks in the fog.
Below, the lagoon is gunmetal, or mercury poured.
I saw a river otter, lithe as compacted water
arch through the tule basin. A heron.
A poker-faced coyote loping in chaparral.
The pelicans, ancient Christian emblem of charity,
dove, hard spears mining water.
I know and they do not how they are Renaissance symbols.
How here hummingbirds are Miwok gods.
II. Ghost Town
At the Nike Missile site, one curated missile
rises for tourists on Wednesdays.
Other days, it is guarded by a mannequin
who sits in barbed wire, his enclosure
lost in thickets and foxtails.
Hikers spelunk through each bunker.
Battery Wallace: Battery Alexander: Battery Townsley.
Labor cemented these hills. 1907. 1938.
They are almost Roman, these ruins
guarding outpost California.
Each gun could have destroyed this world.
Now conquest is going on elsewhere.
At dusk we watch hill-shapes waver in the lagoon.
Imperfect reflections. Tree forms obscured.
Out to sea, through the Golden Gate,
I see the Hanjin Sea Princess
sail west, west, towards China.
As a girl I named the plants here. As a pioneer
I crossed prairies by train: My life delivered me
at this mouth of the Pacific. I learned the plant-names in English.
Miwok gods fed at the bottlebrush in our backyard.
At home I discovered the East
through 19th century novels and movies about New York.
The East was the past: My family came a long time ago.
After lunch, I crest the ridgeline,
thinking about what we drag behind us,
inadequacies of language to place.
I think nothing, too, examining fur in coyote scat.
Ochre in fault-line sandstone, in jarred, upended plates.
I am running on a sea floor sedimented 600 million years.
I am running on willow thickets the Spanish called saucelito.
The fog is a bridal veil, but ghostful.
The foghorn sounds perfect fourths.
Below, latticework fields, the chartreuse
mustard flowers. Plum trees from Portuguese farms
wild back into the hills.
On a serpentine outcrop, a crow rasps. His call
ripens off towards the ridgeline.
Poison oak glints among sticky monkey.
I stand on a crumbling fortress making bouquets of thistles.
ROUTE 1 NORTH WOOLWICH MAINE
Beside the shut lobster cart, the Dairy Queen,
cracked enamel tubs, a sled, torn screens
that joggle in the wind.
One cockamamie fork up on a ledge.
A forage-house, a crazed assemblage:
an oil-smeared curtain bellying in rain.
Even this junk shop claims to be for sale.
Even this junk shop comes apart. It splays
at lopsided angles where the sills
of the two half-farmhouses that formed it
separate. The porch buckles. Moldings sag.
The whole becomes components.
For sale for who?
No proper summer people will come paw.
The maples are already turning red.
Still, of each thing here someone has thought:
Don’t throw it yet. Someone might want it.
Someone might extract a value from the wreck.
Some artist, maybe.
In real life who’s got time to patch worn screens?
For rescue anyway? But if someone comes
needing this smattered curtain, bless him.
May someone find a window in this wind.
If the bathtub holds water, let someone
reuse it as a planter for geraniums.
May anyone who likes to mend, come mend.