Doubt Springs2013 String Poet First Prize
When gray and white, months old, begin to cede
their sway to warmer hues, our ice-fed greed
for green makes us aware of every tiny
addition to the palette: sparks of shiny
forsythia forecasting stronger sun,
a plucky purple crocus, maybe one
pink spray of phlox.
But there’s at least a week
or two or three when we’re afraid to speak
of winter’s end. Spring seems so tentative,
as if its predecessor will not give
away its power, loose its grip on air
and soil and psyches, and we hardly dare
to dream of lilacs.
Other seasons know
their power: winter strides in with its snow
and summer hammers us with humid heat
and fall asserts itself with indiscreet,
fire-breathing colors, dressing, then undressing
the unresisting trees.
But spring, not pressing
its case so vigorously, looks too pale;
some days it really seems that it might fail,
that winter might retain its smug control,
spring fleeing down an endless groundhog hole.
What new beginning doesn’t lead to doubt?
What new wife doesn’t think of walking out?
Your future’s much less certain than your past,
the first line that you write might be your last,
schedules can change, love sours at a glance,
and spring might quit its hesitant advance.
At My Mother-in-Law’s House
The bookshelves in her parlor, so well-stocked
they sagged, supplied excuses to suspend
strained chatter. I read some Thoreau, she rocked
and sniffed, we waited for the day to end.
Dinner was awkward. Though she’d done her best—
the roast well-seasoned, pie crust neatly crimped—
I felt too keenly that she’d never blessed
the tie that bound us; conversation limped.
But as I left, she gave me the Thoreau,
insisting gruffly that I keep the book.
How much that broken-spined gift meant to her
may have escaped me then, but now I know:
it’s clear each time I open it and look
at her dead husband’s fading signature.
The Fox in Winter
(after Winslow Homer’s painting, “Fox Hunt”)
As if already bloodied, his red fur
recalls or forecasts murder—but not whose.
He prowls through haunch-high snowdrifts that inter
all but some scrawny sprigs about to lose
their tiny berries; nothing else alive
pokes through the white. Mid-stride, he turns to gaze
at far-off roiling green, where finned things thrive
beyond his reach. Sleep tempts him on such days—
the hungry season lived as one long night—
but blood-lust keeps him moving, sometimes making
fine meals of mice or birds, who barely fight.
He pauses. Does he hear the wide wings raking
the air above? With talons poised to flay
his flesh, a murder of crows makes him the prey.