em a olsén – Two Poems
In quiet times, when past and present flow into one
Moment and melancholy dulls the senses and time ceases,
Memories steal me away to a place of tiny towns and meager farms
Worked by a few determined immigrants coaxing bounty from a dowry of hope;
A bundle of dreams wrapped in desert tan, banded by ribbons of white
And faded asphalt highways, dotted with corn stalks,
Grain shocks and monoliths to crude fortunes
That spill upon the land in clear pools
Or spout in unctuous streams.
I roam prairies where The West begins;
Where dust devils haunt wide-open spaces;
Where shimmering heat mirages join in gay dance,
Dodging prickly cactus and gnarly mesquite.
I wander pastures skirting clods of Angus,
Shielding my eyes from the livid sun
Punctuating a sky swept by mares’ tails
And little funnel clouds that spin around
The heavens but never touch down
Like the big ones do.
Awash in twilight stands a child,
Barefoot in the hard-scrabble dirt
At the edge of a cotton field,
Wearing a sun-faded dress
Handstitched from a cotton feedsack.
An ethereal landscape on a sepia canvas;
Where dusk brushes the sunset in smears
Of gold and purple and pink and mauve;
Where color drains into the horizon
With the sinking sun, applauded
By the throaty rumble of thunder
Chasing lightning through distant clouds
That only sometimes rain
But send breezes to winnow the dust
From the cool night air,
Where I shall sleep . . .
Under a canopy of stars.
No farther, unless I can swim . . . and I can’t.
I am at land’s end,
standing at the farthest point of paved road
in the continental United States: Anchor Point, Alaska.
On the brink
facing North by Northwest, staring at an icy tiara
of volcanoes born millennia ago: rocks of ages
that still hiss and rumble on a bad day across this ocean inlet.
At the end of the road,
waiting in this glacial upper room
ten days after I prayed your soul to keep
and laid you down to sleep beneath a meadow in Texas.