After Seamus Heaney’s, Postscript

This was inspired by Seamus Heaney’s, Postscript. I’ve been working outside a lot this summer (as usual). It’s been hot and humid. Another world entirely from spring and fall.

Reading Heaney’s poem caused me to think about how even though summer in Iowa is so much different than fall in Ireland there is a presence to it, too.

Photo by Ruben Engel on Unsplash

After Seamus Heaney’s, Postscript

And sometime take the time to walk up the hill, beyond
the still oaks that look over the valley. Go on farther,
into the old field now filled with goldenrod and Indian grass.
Do this in June or July when the sun is high, as the
last drenching rains are drawn up by the green and
exhaled into the air; when even the dragonflies pause
to rest on glistening stems of grass. Not a breath of wind
up here. The sun and the humid air press you into the ground
until your legs no longer move. Stand still, then, that’s all
that remains. Draw a breath and feel the steamy air enter
your lungs, feel your feet planted on the earth, and
the sweat trickle down your back. Know that all around you,
all that moves stands still, waiting, and all that stands still
stretches upward toward the heavy sun. And for a moment,
you might feel the convenient lines that separate plant
from animal, animate from inanimate, the quick from the dead
shimmer and blur.

– Steve Peterson

Digging a Grave in the Rain

Yesterday I buried an old dog, a friend for the last 10 years. I read Mary Oliver’s, At Blackwater Pond, to myself during the day, then to her soul as I lowered her body into the grave. I placed the poem over her heart.

photo by steve peterson

Digging a Grave in the Rain

She sleeps on her bed. Restless,
waiting for the vet to arrive,
I take up my shovel
and walk out into the rain
to find a spot in the tall
grass, the goldenrod,
a place to plunge the blade
into the earth. I peel back
the sod, then work to remove the clay,
heavy on the shovel.
Water drips off the brim
of my hat into the growing hole.
I know there are worse tragedies
than this; even just today
children scream for
their parents from inside
their border cages;
others starve in Yemen.
So much heavy clay.
Rain soaks through
to my skin.

– Steve Peterson

Deer in the Headlights

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This poem is about an event that happened a couple years ago, one I’ve been trying to understand. What does it mean? That chance events mark a place where futures diverge? Something about the nature of tragedy? How responsibility is real, but whose edges are sometimes not clear?

Deer in the Headlights

Returning from a friend’s house late at night,
the car’s headlights are needles
that poke a hole in the darkness.
The motor’s hum. A blur of dark trees
in the side windows. The crackle of
gravel under the tires.

Cresting the hill, I head down
into the valley, the road narrows
and winds. Around a curve
my headlights suddenly
pin a shape to the road. I crunch
to a stop. A fawn stands still.
Ears erect, eyes open, unblinking.
Frozen in the light.
Long seconds pass.
It begins to move.

And then I notice:
with front legs straining,
she drags her useless
hind quarters behind, crushed
by a car like mine that
crested the hill, late at night,
to collide with her first journey
into the night.

She makes her way slowly across
the pool of light, like
an actor on stage, and
disappears into the dark ditch.
I open the car door and
step onto the road —
out the door and under the silent stars,
into the verdant smell of May.

– Steve Peterson

Inner Beauty Can Fade, Too

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

“Inner beauty can fade, too.”
– Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments

Remind me: the heart’s inner rooms
can contain exquisite beauty, carried within them over
the year’s long haul; can nourish and shelter, too — yet, do still need
tending for it can fade like a
radiant tapestry set too close to the sun’s bright light.

– Steve Peterson

Here I’m playing around with the golden shovel poetry form as inspired by Mary Lee Hahn’s #NationalPoetryMonth project at Poetrepository.

In my case because of the subject matter, I placed the words of honor on the inside of the poem.

Left Behind

Have you ever gone into the house of someone who has recently died? Their life lays out there before you. The profound. The mundane. A jumble of unfinished business.

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

Left Behind

What do you leave behind
when you die? Strange,
little things, once
beneath notice, stand still
as if the blur of this life
was, say, paused by the
TV remote you had placed near
the newspaper crossword puzzle,
partly completed.

A tube of toothpaste
lies by the bathroom sink,
squeezed and rolled
neatly from the bottom.
How did I not know this
about you? The collection
of Gorilla Tape in the
drawer? So many colors!
Neat files of bills labeled
in your last shaky handwriting.
My own desk is a mess. Toothpaste
crumpled, its top lost. A hole
in my heart. What do you
leave behind when
you die?

– Steve Peterson

Lean Times

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Lean Times

Early robins visit
the shriveled apples —
leftovers,
too high
in the branches to pick
last fall.
So, I left them
to the winter’s
cold wind
and
a tree full of
desperate,
crafty birds.

–Steve Peterson