Judith McCombs

 

CONSIDER POPLAR POINT

These 110 acres of federal parkland along the Anacostia River
are D.C.’s last prime riverfront parcel—
Washington Post, April 8, 2007.


Consider the river,
forelimb of dragon, framed from the sky;
drainage uncoiling; belly of tides
and storm sewers gurgling; gorge swollen with litter.

Consider the parkland,
a hundred-odd acres, lying trashed and disused--
a city’s last chance for riverside views
rising like Oz, sleek towers on wasteland.

Consider the neighbors,
wary as snappers, weary of promises.
Consider the mayor, swelling with promises;
the see-saw of tax breaks, the floating of lures.

Consider the winds,
and the smallest of algae, and the osprey gliding;
the fish bellies, floaters, and tide surge rising;
and the dark man fishing all day with his kin.

Consider the access
to blossoms and pathways, to memories unhoused;
the sweep of the river, the seasons, the clouds.
Consider, citizen, whose parkland this is.

 

THE OBSERVERS

The glacier disappoints you:
it resembles (you observe,
through binoculars) not snow
but rather, soiled underwear.

How right you are,
I agree.
...............Strange,
how your underwear, discarded
(I later observe)
does not resemble
a glacier at all.

 

AFTERWARDS, YOU LEARN

Afterwards, you learn to say
you were lucky, the last-year's cubs
stayed safely behind her, breaking
the thickets for berries. Lucky
the wind from the darkening valley
turned cold, and your jacket was heavy,
and zipped to the neck. Lucky
you knew, too late for retreat
in that clearing of downfall and stone,
to drop and go fetal, arm
over neck, playing dead. Lucky
the backpack came off like an arm,
saving most of your arm, and kept her
busy till the grunting cubs
called her back to their feast.

Afterwards you learn to say
that the fault was yours: you were tired,
you were stubborn, making up for lost time
on that summer-growth trail through clearings
and thickets, the wind in your face,
not bothering to sing out or warn
what was there besides you, not waiting
for warnings to reach you.

But sometimes, in sleep, you go back
to that stonefall clearing, that edge
of safety where your scalp hair rises
like hackles for no reason you see,
and there is still enough time to go back
as that dark shape lifts upright
from its tangle of shadow, like a man
in a burly fur suit, peering out,
and you wake with the ghost hairs rising
like fur on your unscarred neck
and perfect right arm.


JoAnn Clayton Townsend
"Habit of Fire"
www.joannclayton.com



 

THE TABLE

It was a place where board-lengths do not exist,
where corners and walls do not exist,
a place where all angles gape stupidly open.
Waves pile upon wave, slippery, shifting,
too quick for the eye. The sand grains twist
their uncountable facets, the better to dazzle you.
At the edge of the dunes, driftwood and live wood
entangle, warping and blooming and rasping,
while their buried members subside in the sand.

Alone in this wilderness, I found a table,
full-scale, intact (having ridden what storms?),
washed up and laid on its side. Its squared
oak planks stood up like a target, rebutting
the amorphous winds. Its right-angled legs
held straight in the sand. In all that waste
it was the only made thing. I admired it, and knelt
to haul it upright on its own 4 legs,
like a table. I wanted the years to respect it,
the beetles and weeds to take shelter beneath.
It could say to the wilderness, Here is something not yours,
something still here and not broken.

But when I tried to lift it, by the bottommost edge,
the slanted oak planks shot apart in my hands,
dropped down, guillotines all, on my shins.
I couldn't gather a surface together.
So I left it there, its framework empty
and braces exposed, its planks splayed out
all ways, like slats on a ruined coop.
The small waves chuckled beside me, and the dune weeds
sighed at my back.
..................................Aristotle was right
(and my shins are learning): a thing is its usage:
and a table that is through with being a table
is not a table at all.


FRAGMENT

In this dream that is mine
............................................you are in your right body
red veins in your skin
......................................your heavy head lifted
sun on your face
.............................your worn blue shirt
soft at the sleeves, rolled up
.................................................your eyes
blue as mine
......................You are here, you are real
...................................................................Your face
turns towards me, you are smiling
...........................................................There is all the time left
We have all the time left in the world

 

 

Judith McCombs grew up in almost all the continental United States, in a geodetic surveyor's family. She has won a Neruda Award from Nimrod and a Poetry Prize from the Potomac Review, and has published in Calyx, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, and Sisters of the Earth, and recorded for the Library of Congress "The Poet and the Poem" and for VOA Indonesia. She has held NEH and Canadian Embassy Senior Fellowships, Maryland and Michigan Sate Arts Council Awards, and taught at Wayne State University, as a Creative Writer in the Schools, and as a Professor at Detroit's College of Art and Design. She is the founding editor of Moving Out, which survived three decades as a feminist literary magazine. She has published two books on Margaret Atwood's work. Her creative books are Sisters and Other Selves (Glass Bell Press) and Against Nature: Wilderness Poems (Dustbooks); plus two chapbooks, 20/20 Visionary Eclipse (Wineberry), and Territories (Mayapple). Her fifth book, The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New (The Word Works) was a finalist for the 2006 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. She teaches writing workshops at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, is an editor for The Word Works, and arranges a poetry series at Kensington Row Bookshop.

 

Published in Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 2008.

 

To read more by this author:
Judith McCombs: The Whitman Issue
Judith McCombs: The Wartime Issue