Over the Hills

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series Ridge and Valley: an exchange of poems


Dear Todd,

I was taking the broom for a slow shuffle
around the dining room when I heard
the fluting of wild swans & rushed out,
scanning the sky till I spotted the long wedge
high above the hollow, heading north.
They were as dark against the sky
as we must be to them against the ground,
pausing in our Sunday labors, mouths open
as the swans pass over the train tracks
& the river, over the interstate & the quarry’s
enormous silent megaphone,
over a cardinal singing in a barberry hedge,
over junker cars & houses sheathed
in fading asphalt shingles,
over old carpets left out in the yard
to kill the grass where a vegetable garden will go,
over the burrows of amorous woodchucks
and the leaf nests of squirrels,
over sheets & long johns flapping on the line.
The swans seemed tireless. Their one refrain
might as well have been “Over the Hills
& Far Away,” as in the Burl Ives song
about the piper’s son. They’d keep it up
long past the last tree, I knew — until
the land cleared of almost all clutter,
there where the darkness disappears for months.
I went back to my sweeping,
assembled the dust from every corner,
then opened the door & ushered
that small blue hill into the wind.

I also shot a mediocre video of a flock of tundra swans this morning. You can watch it here.

Series Navigation← Forgive MeLetter to Dave from the Karen Noonan Center on the Chesapeake Bay →

9 Replies to “Over the Hills”

    1. Thanks, Marja-Leena (and thanks for catching that typo). I tried to make a video poem with this, but somehow it just didn’t work out. I think my standards for videoetry have gotten too high as a result of working on the Moving Poems site.

  1. Beggar’s Opera long before Burl Ives, and older than that. The little ‘I would gladly with thee stray/over the hills and far away…’ phrase is my mobile ringtone, which sounds pretty naff I know, but I got Tom to compose it using the compser mode, so no one else has one like it.

    I love the thought of those swans, and this poem in general.

    Also your ‘glyphs of wild onions’, calligraphic natural things always beguile!

    1. Evidently it was a Led Zeppelin song, too — that one even has its own Wikipedia entry. I tend to avoid googling things that are really more about what I remember, because my memory is quite often inaccurate and learning the truth would tempt me to adjust my memory. The Burl Ives’ song I remember was self-referential, refering to (another?) song called “Over the Hills and Far Away”:

      Tom he was the piper’s son
      Learned to play when he was young
      and the only tune that he could play
      Was Over the Hills and Far Away…

      The Wikipedia however says that the proper title of that song is “Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son” — and that it’s really a nursery rhyme. Hmm.

  2. I can’t think of anything critical to say here. I like what seems to me to be a parallel between the land’s eventual clearing of clutter and the broomswept small blue hill. Lovely poem, and I enjoyed listening and watching also.

    1. Thanks, Laura. I had hoped that parallel would be apparent without seeming over-drawn. The main criticisms I have about this poem are the sort that would occur to any author: Why isn’t it more x, why doesn’t it have more y? But I guess it succeeds at what it sets out to do.

  3. What a completely eerie cry they have — sort of a balance to the sub-bass tones of the Tibetan monks that I heard on NPR this morning. I like the list, the contrast of the quarry’s megaphone with the cardinal’s song etc, the picture it draws of the clutter of rural poverty.

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