Frankstown Branch

a river flows through the heart
of a nearby mountain

banks lined with sycamores
limbs luminous as moonlight

and the ghost of a canal
there just long enough

for Charles Dickens
to patronise it

now it’s a rail-trail
looked after by local farmers

and in the late autumn light
it can still transport

i watch a large black ball
float sedately downstream

mergansers flushed by a jogger
fly low over the water

under the outstretched
sycamore limbs

with their summer hunger for sun
to make more baubles

i pass an Amish man
dressed in blaze orange

taking his rifle
out for a stroll

among crumbling walls
the exuviae of bygone quarries

doorways open into
what’s left of the earth

soot-darkened soil
where Dickens saw

light gleaming off
from every thing

when he took a brisk walk
upon the towing-path

and after nightfall frowning hills
sullen with dark trees

which were sometimes angry
in one red burning spot high up

colliers turning those dark trees
into mounds of charcoal

to feed the iron furnace
its stone stack roaring

enough like a volcano
they named it Mt. Etna

so much radiance squandered
on an industrial revolution

one remnant section of canal
forms a backwater

floating leaves
still in their autumn red

suspended like memories
among reflections

i pass the former iron master’s mansion
just off the trail

its gorgeous stone work
its collapsed porch

behind me in the distance
a rifle speaks

the river runs slow
and green

***

Quotes are from Dickens’ American Notes

On the Far Side

getting unlost again
i leave the car at the overlook

follow the trail down
the far side of the mountain

where a flash flood preceded me
in the wee hours

scouring the steep parts
mounding up leaves on every flat

it’s the day after thanksgiving
and the day before deer season

a half-mile from the highway
i find a pair of black trousers

sprawled beside the trail
i fold them and put them back

the trail meets another trail
on boardwalks over a spring

passes three camp sites
on the shore of a long-gone pond

goes up over the front
porch of a cabin

and back into the forest
where oak and hemlock shadows

darken and fade as the sun
goes in and out of hiding

i leave the trail
bushwhack through mountain laurel

gape at a massive rock oak’s
full-throated silence

black birches perch
on exposed skeletons of roots

i follow forest roads
the second one gated

past what must be
a research plot

a large fenced enclosure
full of small flags

and much to my surprise find
the unblazed trail i’m looking for

back up the ridge
the forest on my right

facing off against pole
timber on my left

to the windy crest
its rocks and vertigo

gaps in the trees revealing
gaps in the clouds

patches of sun that cross
the next valley and vanish

while off to the south all
the mountains shine

here in the gloom pileated woodpeckers
are stripping bark off a tree

i pass three hikers discussing
the perils ahead

the clouds thin out
and the rocks begin to glow

sunset colors in mid afternoon
at a place called david’s vista

a young man appears
and climbs a ridgetop pine

in the bitter wind
makes himself comfortable

another david perhaps
hoping to be found

Thanksgiving Fisher

all around the great dead oak
as darkness falls

a fisher dances
hunting white-footed mice

a dark sine curve
against the snow

that is also somehow able
to freeze for long minutes

crouching pouncing
coming up empty

it is only i sitting across
the frozen pond

who leaves feeling
fuller than before

filled i suppose with seasonally
appropriate gratitude

for this beautiful small beast
with its wild blood-lust

for my encounter with it
once in a new moon

for the freedom it still enjoys
to disappear

Sinking Valley

the longer you gaze at the face
of a limestone cliff

the more beasts
begin to emerge

a puzzle of muzzles
a marl of snarls

don’t call them angelic
they’re not here for you

convening as if
to meditate on a corpse

where the creek makes a brief
above-ground appearance

oh white-breasted nuthatch
with your anxiety song

who’s to say what’s real
in a valley full of sinkholes

bare trees are brooms
for this bitter wind to ride

right into the earth
vibrating where they live

red cedars giving
shelter to juncos

a locust still ornately thorned
against mastodons

threadbare hemlocks
unaccustomed to so much sun

i follow the groundwater
back underground

and my glasses fog up
in less than 50 feet

the creek has gained
echoey voices

that may or may not
be cave divers

drowned in pursuit
of an inner space

hidden from the sun:
a grove of impossible trees

stems said to be slender
as drinking straws

having long ago met
their better halves

growing down
as they grew up

i emerge shivering
into the frigid sunlight

the cliff is empty
i come to no conclusions

at the next farm
a hundred goats

graze their pasture down
to the nubbins

Reflection

burning some old barn
beams for fuel

the 19th-century knots
pop like pistols

and my train of thought
goes off the rails

forlornly blowing
its figurative whistle

into a night bright
with fallen snow

we’re all fugitives
from the present moment

in our distracted states
of america

no wonder it takes gunshots
to wake us up

i hear footsteps
in the kitchen

and find myself
in the bathroom mirror

happy to dwell
in this icy stillness

it’s the future
i’d like to escape

a choose-your-own-
doom story

we picture as a shining city
on a hill which once

might have been more
like a mountain

Summer Postmortem

summer is dead
i found her green leaf body

at the foot of an oak
in the first snow

blanketing the valley
the smell of diesel

100 feet downridge
there’s a fallen nest

woven from strips of wild
gravevine bark

the trees are becoming
more and more vacant

though they shriek
and moan in the wind

i remember what jesus
said about new wine

and old wine skins
like this katydid lasting

long enough to be filled
with the unknown

like this spruce weeping
white beards of sap

from dozens of rows
of sapsucker-drilled wells

and all those wounds
somehow still open

summer is dead
they crucified her

two deer bound past
without seeing me

pursued as they are
by one with antlers

holding them high
almost shining

his rack as the hunters call it
his naked tree

Horizontal

it’s easy to stop seeing
what’s on the horizon

people in the valley
don’t really believe in it

what summer makes seem
no less than a mountain

winter shows as it is
no more than a hill

from my front porch
a sudden influx of sky

after the leaves fall
look it’s snowing

the flakes come to settle
in their multitudes

well into the evening
lightness piling up

between the trees
no more omnivorous earth

but a colony of the clouds
pale and puritanical

against which the individual
trunks stand out

an absent crowd
dreaming

together
underground

and after my own sleep
i rise and look again

on the underside
of a snowy limb

a gray squirrel is walking
upside-down

First snow

My camera took this photo today and I absolutely love it. I don’t know, it just feels like my digital equivalent of a Rothko or something.

I think it may have been a close-up of one of these blackberry leaves:

Yes, it was our first snowfall of the year. We got three more inches around dusk. Sleep-deprived as I was, it was wonderful to amble around the mountain watching winter lay down its first blank page.

One thing to be said for all that blankness: my photo files are smaller! Fewer leaves mean less data—in more ways than one, of course.

Winter days are strange in how quickly the magic can come and go. You have to be ready. The power went out midday when I was a mile and a half from the houses, watching the first flakes sift down through bare branches. Power cuts are common but there’s only one first snow of the season so I took my time getting back. Just as I was about to hook up jumper cables to Mom’s ailing generator, she hollered that the lights were on.

So back out I went, after making some hot chocolate and putting it in a thermos to have up in the memorial grove. Delightful to watch it snow from under the spruces. It was Dad who taught me how to make cocoa—one of his few culinary specialties apart from blueberry buckwheat buttermilk pancakes and soft-boiled eggs.

And then another slow wander through another portion of the forest. I justified part of it as walking the property line, a good thing to do during deer season. I only saw one set of deer prints, but that’s to be expected. They’re laying up. What kind of idiot goes out in a snowstorm?

The Remains of the Night

the moon falling into a well
and not coming out

an 18-wheeler on an exit ramp
gargling with compressed air

the owl’s open eye
the owl’s closed eye

the hypothetical fact of a fox
a rumor of a coyote

the skillet under two eggs
sunny side up

familiar recorded music
the bits that still surprise

my heel where i landed hard
on a sharp stone yesterday

snag of a hemlock
its roots becoming tunnels

groundwater feeding the stream
feeding the sewage plant

a patched railroad track’s
bright seam of weld

my attempt to see contrails too
as kintsugi

giving each other side-eye
at the polling place

the basket of black
ballpoint pens

hand-colored cards
feeding the machine

afterwards a storm drain cover’s
iron mandala

the condemned building
its quartzitic foundation stones

the shallow pits
where they were quarried

high on the mountainside
traffic roaring below

my lungs laboring
non-stop for 56 years

sap congealed in globs
on black cherry bark

seeming to have a taste
in the way good water does

remembering nothing of my dreams
i chew and chew

Time Lines

and the deer came
on long legs between the trees

and clashed antlers with a sound
old and dry as the wind

gnats danced as if
summer had returned

for one day only
everything must go

through a gray mist that may
have been in my head

i measured the mountain
with my body pacing it out

i walked among birches
nothing but blank pages

overtook milkweed
giving birth to clouds

looped past the wild gravevines
their convolutions laid bare

following the bed
of an old coal railroad

with the leaves mostly down
saw far below

the remains of a car wheels-up
among deer-tongue grass

abandoned halfway through
the age of fishes

when seas saved
the mud of ancestral mountains

for 62 million years
until a mass extinction

getting younger
as i climbed

into the age of amphibians
and giant dragonflies

pressed into rock by later layers
now sloughed off

and the horizon opened like a rose
on ever more mountains