Poems for a summer afternoon
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 13, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
We'll begin at the beginning.
and the coonhound
at the new house
serenades the slow decline
of the sun.
After a cold, wet week,
we have pulled out
a fullblown summer’s day.
In the Small Rain
There is a cow
standing with her nose up,
all the other cows
stand or lie with their heads down,
the small rain making them sleepy and stupid,
but she, the cow with her nose up,
has caught the scent of something
and she moves back and forth a bit,
testing the tiny drift of air,
too light to be called a breeze.
It is probably food. Her life is built
around food and sex and birth.
Perhaps a clover has shaken out
a new leaf, or a timothy head
sprinkled fresh pollen across her path.
She stands for a moment more
and then shakes like a large, cumbersome dog,
her head back down, nosing the barnyard gravel,
scent and memory fading in the small rain.
This farm has taught me much.
Hobblebush baneberry jimsonweed carrion flower
Sometimes I hated you,
teaching me to want you dead,
feeding me bitterness and thwarted lives
with old horehound and sour lemon drops.
Death angel nightshade toad stool doll’s eyes
I’d head for the woods,
but you’d be there, limping along a cow path
watching gravity pull down your dreams,
hunch your back, leaving you with ruins and gall.
Pig weed purslane sheep sorrel golden rod
you wanted me to pay
as you had, to earn every stalk and branch,
to pay in years, the pain of waiting, my youth gone,
my dreams, you wanted me to know as no one else had.
Heal-all boneset vervain Joe-Pye weed
But I learned patience, fought bitterness with
small hopes fulfilled, hard work found new marks met,
stone by stone it all came to me in your life.
You refused to see it, refused to know my joy.
Musk mallow jewel weed pussy toes meadowsweet
I have mourned you, and know what you
might have had, what could have come to you here.
This farm is balm, a quietness in my spirit,
your bitterness come sweet, rest you easy.
An Old Song
The geese, with their new flight feathers
go over for the first time in weeks.
They give the little pond
a quick buzz, fly on
to the bigger pond over the hill.
The flock has grown from five
early in spring, to twelve.
They call the whole way over.
Under the geese, the sparrows
chirp, under the sparrows
the crickets tune
in their late summer search for an old song,
under the crickets my heart
finds an older rhythm.
The sun rises above the wood
and filters through nut trees in the side yard.
It's a year for strange weather, wet and cool in the east.
If I were to walk out now,
open the door and step into rain
falling straight and solid,
it would be like walking underwater,
my bowing poppies and baby’s breath
become sea flowers, the daisies
starfish moving in the current.
I would learn to use gills
long abandoned, and make my hands
act as fins, pulling me across
this new sea’s floor,
swimming through rain falling
from clouds piled 40,000 feet high.
To walk out now would require
this sea change,
Hot and dry in other parts of the country.
In a Dry Season
The rain is a ghost
that haunts us.
It whispers a melody
through the high branches
of the tallest trees, and moves on.
Field and flower wilt in its passing,
and the days pile up,
like thunderheads to the west.
Thunder and wind
blow in from the northwest
fog clears suddenly
scatters across the yard,
a near miss
with a storm centered north of us.
Our clouds break and run
in a breeze suddenly cool
Twenty years ago,
in another dry summer,
“In the Bible it says
it rains on the just and the unjust.
What do you suppose that makes us?”
I can still hear her laugh
if I listen closely.
I think even God smiled.
Summer often takes a turn at the end of July.
Waiting for August
July crickets are pale
and silent, they hide
among the stones, waiting
when they become
sleek and black,
laying down the back beat
for the ants.
August’s Bitter Gold
If a tree fall in the wood
in August’s bitter gold,
does it make the sound
of crack and kick out,
slow tear and fall,
muffled thud and sigh
of brush and branch?
And if I,
alone in that stillness
do hear all of it,
from first tender break
to last hollow crashing,
must I say
it was all for me
that the sound welled
across the pond’s calm?
End of Time
Late August heat,
before the dregs
of a Gulf hurricane
drags its rain
and a chill Canadian breeze
has the crickets singing
end of time songs.
This article completes a cycle that brought you poems from each of the four seasons and the bits in between. I hope you've found them enjoyable.
All poems are the property of Kathleen M. Tenpas and used with permission of the author.
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