Issue: Spring 2017
When I Look at Radiance
The hunters are back, staked out on the neighbor’s land
that wraps around mine. Their presence forces me
to wear an orange vest, to whistle, talk aloud as I walk.
Their droppings: spent shell casings, spit-wads
of tobacco. They ruin cool mornings, blue-sky brilliant
afternoons, with guns’ BAM! and deer that stampede
terrified. I step in front of pick-ups, chase off the ones
who can’t say the neighbor’s name, introduce myself
to new friends and relatives, let them know what land is mine
and where they’ll likely find me: on my trails at any hour,
though I don’t mention I’ll be bent over a magnifying glass
admiring mushrooms popping orange as fallen sparks,
or staring up at oaks, imitating bird calls.
I tell myself to be pragmatic, know we’ve killed off
bear and bobcat, that deer herds decimate wild heuchera,
hearts-a-bustin’ that used to spangle autumn’s woods
with orange berries. Until I see two does grazing
the neighbor’s soybean field at dusk, half-grown fawns
in earshot of their mothers’ warning snorts. The same four
I’ve woken to all summer. Then I want to beg the hunters
not to creep into the woods at four a.m. in camouflage
clothes, exhaling into scarves to hide their breath-steam.
Not to fix their sights on the deer nipping the last leaves
from the beans. Plead with them to fall in love with the white tails
the deer lift to signal danger, the grace with which they flee.
To leave them alive, from slender leg to tender eye.
Twenty-First Century Pastoral
Ignore the white plastic bucket hung
upside-down on a fence post, faded blue tarp
flung over a pyramid of rusting oil drums,
towering hemlocks turned skeletal
by Asian woolly adelgids, and this could
be a field a hundred years ago, red oak, butternut,
shagbark hickory framing a mountain pasture,
grass grazed low, billows of wild white
asters, silken seedheads of native clematis
blanketing the lichened wooden fence.
Pretend not to see the Japanese stilt grass
seeding in the ditch, crowding out goldenrod,
purple lobelia, forget the beer cans,
cigarette butts littering the gravel road,
the mangy feral cats cowering in an abandoned
car, and it appears humans have done little
harm here, just carved out a plot for two cows,
a swaybacked horse, a small white house
with an eight-cord woodpile out back,
children that wade in the creek
on hot summer days.
Turn your back on the pick-up truck
in the distance, raising dust in another year
of record heat, record drought, and you bask
in a world in balance, where ferns share
the creek-bank with moss and rhododendron,
a hawk swoops down to snatch a mouse
from the field, not taking the rest.