Having been more lazy than usual lately, I decided on Wednesday evening to ask Sandi Hartling to give me five words I would try to write a poem with. She obliged with: fission, sleep, index, shore, length. I found fission especially daunting, so grinned and got at it.
In the silences of a winter night
Falling randomly between the long,
Wavering whistles of northwest winds
Through thin lines of jackpines forever
Twisting their trunks away and stooping
With bent, arthritic limbs along
The rusty capes and crumbling headlands,
The sleepless coyote cocks an ear
To other absences: the almost
Soundless hiss of air behind careful
Thrusts of a Barred owl’s wings above
A meadow sloping towards the strait
(An owl that’s likely hunting inland
Tonight, its offset ears searching
For the distant broken glass jangle
Of mice tunneling under snow);
Or the crash of waves along the white
Length of the shore subdued, for now,
By the dead weight of ice gathering
In slumps here from December to May.
It does not hear me either. I see
This landscape only in memory
Tonight. The sea ice has yet to form.
The owl still hoots deep in the woods.
It does not hear me as I stagger
With memory’s drunken walk in search
Of ways to index loss. But when it
Raises its nose to the deaf stars,
And the first short, shrill yip fissions
Into two and those into four more…
I hear each death I’ve known quaver
In the long question of its howl.