Because the evidence they leave
for us to stumble upon in daylight—
bright claw-scrape on the shed door,
compost pile deconstructed,
fresh scat next to divots emptied
of their doomed crocus bulbs—
none of this is enough for us;
it stokes an uneasy need
to see for ourselves
the creatures who’ve been here.
Because their occasional 2AM noises—
the bear’s hoot and garumph,
the coyote pack’s collective liquid caterwaul,
the fisher cat’s awful slaughtered baby cry—
these only remind us of what we miss
by being inside, upstairs, in bed, asleep.
So we strap the wildlife camera—
motion-sensor and night-vision—
to one of the pines at the edge
of our territory,
but even when we see
in grainy black and white
the young bear ambling past,
the hind end of a fast moose,
it is, of course, still not enough.
No proof can be made
to bridge that distance;
no envelope of incriminating photographs
neatly solve the mystery
of what we can’t even imagine
is going on out there.
*** ** ***
WHY I PLAY POKER
Even after a long winter evening
at the borrowed card tables
wedged into the home of a good friend,
taking and losing tricks lickety-split,
I still don’t really understand Euchre,
though I appreciate, from the tourist’s distance,
the colloquial lingo, the mnemonic admonishment
of “refuse the bower, lose for an hour,”
and all the other words of the grandmothers
of those who’ve gathered to play this game
of their long-ago Midwestern childhoods,
one I’d never played before tonight.
One of many—canasta, bridge, rummy—
pastimes I imagine linked to places, to regions,
to the kind of history that teaches children
the games of cigar-chewing uncles
and tut-tutting aunts, whose moves
they watched and mimicked as they grew.
Everything about those imagined tableaux
feels exotic to me, Navy brat daughter
of a Navy brat son, spawn of a family so small
it has no business referring to any part of itself
I have found some kind of home in poker, though,
which seems to welcome all comers
with its flashy potential, its secular romance, it global reach,
its basic math. At the kitchen table, or on casino felt,
it’s a game not so bound up in childhood; rather,
one we must come to as adults
with a grown-up’s understanding of gambling, of odds;
pockets full enough of something we know we could lose.
*** ** ***
I INVENTED THIS RAIN
It’s nothing new, how the world
grinds on after your death,
with its interstates and snowflakes
and poems and advertisements;
nothing new in my noticing this
brutal continuity, nothing new
in my thinking nothing can be new again.
In this way I get to thinking
about how nothing was ever
new, how what we thought
we found, what we thought
we discovered was already there,
already known, like the Wampanoag,
or gravity, or gold, or death.
I think humans are expert
at confusing discovery
with invention. Like I think
I invented this rain, I imagine
I’m pulling it down across the roof,
I imagine it’s a language
I’ll translate into these lines,
these secondhand lines,
these sweater-heavy pantomimes
I can’t shrug myself out of.
*** ** ***
WASHING THE MONEY
Not laundering–though the loot’s been stashed
in the basement for months–yard sale profits,
singles to make change–this cash
is legit–and clearly not enough
to be dangerous or ill-gotten–but enough of it
edged in creepy yellow-orange mold
that I’m going to have to wash it off,
bill by sullied bill.
The internet is not able to show me
with certainty which strain of mold this might be–
and all their long Latin names
sound equally deadly–so I plunge ahead,
devise my own standards & process.
But let’s pause to note: how lucky I am
to be able to “forget” nearly three hundred dollars
in an envelope, in a cardboard box–
to abandon it to the cryptic alchemy
of air and spore and just one microscopic sip of wet–
How lucky, my filthy lucre,
rediscovered and submerged, bill
by peeled away bill, in boiling water–
once, twice–then rinsed and pressed
between two least favored towels.
How lucky, until it maybe kills me,
–have I provoked it by disturbing it?
–have I brewed it into a fatal broth
with bath after bath and noxious steam rising?
It smells like the time
a friend’s hot water pipes burst–
smells like wet drywall, wet insulation, wet dust–
like a flooded bookstore, like a hole
in the middle of your house, like disaster–
It smells like a lesson
about keeping the money moving,
not hoarding or coveting;
a lesson about one more way to die
from holding on to the wrong thing for too long.
*** ** ***
First it was just a grey blur among the trees
as I drove past, only half-noticing; then I decided
it was a burr swelling like a tumor
on one of the oaks. Only when I stopped,
parked, strode across the abandoned lot,
my footfalls driving hoards of shiny black crickets
from the tall grass, did I truly see:
buzzing bald-faced hornet’s nest–
overinflated rugby ball,
fat paper-mache teardrop,
sadistic piñata dangling
from an impossibly thin limb.
The hurricane that washed out the road
didn’t knock it down;
the more patient rains since then
haven’t dissolved it back into pulp.
Legend says that if they build their nests this high in the trees,
we’re in for a bitterly cold and snowy winter.
I don’t know if this means the hornets know
anything. I only know the leaves
that shaded this ashen balloon a month ago
are thinning out, are tinged with crimson;
that each day I drive past, twice, I take account of it,
check the weather of it, as if I am its keeper,
as if someone might ask for a status update,
as if paying attention will make a difference,
and it is still suspended, improbably,
a pendulum at rest, seething with promises.
*** ** ***
“I scarcely dared to look / to see what it was I was.”
–Elizabeth Bishop, “In the Waiting Room”
Six foot seas churned us from all sides
as the captain aimed the island-bound ferry
toward the secret places between the iron waves
where we’d get the least knocked around.
For over an hour, the engines alternately
growled full-throated against the Atlantic, the aftermath
of a speedy, early Nor’easter, and fell silent
to let momentum and gravity and water
catch the hull in their impossibly intertwined arms.
The neon painted lobster buoys seemed
to ride the swells as well,
but were anchored by their deep cages.
I rode astern, on a bench just outside the cabin,
and stared the whole trip at an orange life ring
with my name stenciled on it in black.
Not because I thought we’d capsize, but
because out in it at least a little ways,
the spray in my face, the slosh of water at my ankles,
it slapped me awake into such a stupid happiness—
myself, my name, the pitch and roll of the boat,
my body on the boat, a-tilt but still floating,
my stomach sometimes in my throat, until
the island finally rose like the back of a whale
from behind the last of the biggest waves.
Heading home, hours later, calmer seas. I rode
on the bench beneath my namesake life ring
instead of across from it. Wore it like a halo.
Wore the coat of my boat, my body, like salt.
Still awake, aching from hiking to the seaward cliffs
and back, I faced the island again and watched
as the ocean slowly drew it down
and away. Home’s harbor crept up behind me
and, beneath the seagulls’ tickertape, took
every syllable of me in among the mussel-crusted pilings.
Liz Ahl is the author of three poetry collections: Talking About the Weather (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), Luck (Pecan Grove Press, 2010), and A Thirst That’s Partly Mine, which won the 2008 Slapering Hol chapbook prize. A fourth chapbook, Home Economics, is forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press in summer 2016. Her poems have also appeared in dozens of literary journals and anthologies, most recently in Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, Bloom, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She has been awarded residencies at the Playa Artist Residency Program, the Vermont Studio Center, the Jentel Artist Residency Program, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. In 2015, she was awarded the Moondancer Fellowship (for writing about nature/the environment) by the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. She teaches writing at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. You can learn more about Liz and read more of her work at https://lizahl.wordpress.com. She tweets at @SurlyAcres.
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