Autumn, the Lake Brushed with Color

Wind is lifeless; late-afternoon sun palettes lemon light
onto the canvas of fir and balsam. A young boy sculls
his canoe into the cove; his practiced strokes, soundless.
He fishes for lake trout, lassos the crisp air with wide,
whipped circles of line that he lays down near the edges
of submerged trees, then retrieves back into his hand.
Over and over, a dance of the subtle, the line’s ghost-like
hovering before it falls, the feathered lure seductively
floating on the water; the slack drawn back slowly
into his skillful hands. Without warning, the fabric
of the lake splits open with shards of light, at its center
a huge fish, an ancient fish. It throws its body against
the arc of the rod, plunges down into the black water
towards reeds, submerged limbs, the places of hiding,
only to be drawn up again towards the surface, hook deep
in his mouth. Blood descends behind the trees; the cove
turns scarlet, a fresco melting away from cathedral walls.
The boy reaches for his net, canoe spinning like the second
hand of a clock; the fish stares into the sealed darkness.

In the Quiet

Fishermen load their skiffs, take off into the early rise
of morning, engines breaking the silence, bows separating
the mist, only to have it close again in their wakes, the warm
lake and cold autumn air in concert.

September and the lake has begun its slow turn towards winter,
months having fallen away, its shoulders now rich with yellows
and reds, swamp maple and birch leading the march of time’s
uncontested patterns. The first leaves have started to give way,

even in the windless air, they twist and glide, some cascading,
others throwing themselves to the ground, as if in a rush to finish.
This morning I try to decipher the sound as they scuffle across
the porch floor or land on the ground near my feet. Perhaps

it’s a grandmother’s kiss, a quiet press of lips on a child’s soft cheek
or a mouse who has found his way to our forbidden treats and crackled
his way to pleasure or perhaps it is the memory of summer’s desires,
fallen from the trees where feet might find them again and remember.

Frost in the Fields

Sojourner, run your fingertips along the stem,
see if the splinters cut the thin puffs of your skin.
Maybe that is all one needs to do,

to waste death from its devotion and calling,
its reverence for itself. See how the magenta leaves
hang spent, their tissues thin and soft,

the silver fuzz of demise like the beard of a young soldier
fallen in the field, resigned to the future. How striking
the solemnity of endings, when all we know

points us towards what is unknown, like a chaplain
in the field who caresses the face of a soldier,
as if touch might change what is already finished.

The Visitor

A woman clothed in black, carries a rosary in her hand.
She walks the graveyard, worries her fingers across the beads,
each the face of a lost one, an abacus that measures time.

She kneels at every stone, touches the inscription, as if the caress
might make her recall more clearly. Faces move through
her memory; she struggles for names, but age has withered them away.
Soon she will dissolve with the others; no one will be left.

A stone Jesus overlooks the flowerless garden, face peeling
from age, head crowned with firethorn, its crimson berries
spill on the cold November ground.

After Twilight

On the wall, pale yellow sun
gone oblique; the shadow of a cross,
and photo of a young girl who holds
a stringer of bluegills—
such a sweet, adolescent smile on her face.

Sunlight falls across Saint Mary’s calendar,
not turned forward to its proper month,
behind by two. All are gone,

light, opaque shadows, an old woman’s
wish that she should not die alone.
I sit abandoned in the dark room
and hear ghostly voices, translate the sun
gone shallow and to its grave.

2 thoughts on “Gladys Henderson

  1. I have been a fan of Gladys Henderson’s poetry for many years and these are wonderful.

Comments are closed.