SOUTH FORK, SECOND FORTY


(For Bill Steiger of Wisconsin, 1938-1978)



I.


Brown shoots, brown fields

their harvest lopped

blow into husks now,

blow to the west, where

flurries in the dust announce

the coming of first snow.

Beyond the dust balls, brute

and benign as sleeping teams

oceanic earth outrolls the eye,

clasps and uncoils its scalloped waves

to break upon the plains.


This was your land, not mine:

what do I know -- a city brat,

brassy with books and big-time dreams --

of roots and fly-times

space so huge

it hunkers down the mind,

the anvil hammers of the year

on stolid farmers German in their beds?


II.


Centrifugal air

whips past along these flats,

sandblasts my cheeks

and funnels its scarab buzz

beside my ears.

The path peters to burrs.

Though I walk it

like boys in berry time

each pocket packed with memories,

frost’s a poor blanket

for a dozing friend.


III.


Pass by.  New flakes sift,

gentle amnesiacs,

crowning each withered leaf with bells.

Your bright anticipating glance

the limber cadence of your clipped hello

that happy will, uncynical

as summer wheat, are gone

and life’s unstallioned.


IV.


We are time’s spume,

mere molecules in motion

turned translucent

where the light strikes,

mingling our selves as streams twine

in that running tide.


Hold to that: know

each Brownian being

though blind and disconnected

is runed with the prints of the past.


Consigned to rootlessness

and filigreed with spray and hope

we rise like Nereids

to a surface of choice chosen,

chance without accident,

our only course the one

Poseidon knew:


to learn

the serenity of random meetings,

saddle the full flood,

swing up, mount

and ride the white-necked horses

of that sea.



Wisconsin Review, 1980