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

Into the Open

an empty space is still data
my phone reminds me

no space is truly empty
a falling leaf reminds me

the time of long shadows
has come ‘round again

cedar waxwings whistle
through bare branches

the low sun catches on wings
in lieu of leaves

rests in a red oak
undressing in the wind

and flickers like an angel
resisting temptation

to follow the leaves down
spinning spiralling

or rocking back and forth
like a cradle

if only i could sleep
and leaf out when i wake

clinging to hope makes us
as empty as the future

let the earth take
its own sweet time

let this glory
be enough

Forestry

morning of soft sun
and old gold

with the distant yelping
of trucks going backwards

the sound of limestone
being ground down

and a silent jay
going from oak to oak

throat pouch filled with acorns
it flies off east

i follow animal paths
into the afternoon

*

a gray squirrel buries an acorn
under a laurel bush

sees me watching
and digs it up again

silk threads scintillate
wherever i look toward the sun

each lowbush blueberry
bound to the next

as if the whole forest
lay under a spell

a chipmunk rushes past
i change hats

*

low sun in the tops
of the Norway spruces

where golden-crowned kinglets
whistle while they glean

a raven’s hoarse
ark ark ark

and me pondering questions
of macroeconomics

puffball ragged as
a faceless old doll’s head

what fertile words of smoke
would you have me spread

*

when the leaves fall
there’s always some disillusionment

how much lower
all the ridgelines

how much farther
the shell of a moon

but i’ve been tallying
the mountain’s sugar maples

pale as columns of breath
moss-lipped

ringed by drifts
of glowing jetsam

Poem Beginning with a Line by Farough Farrokhzad

let us believe in the ruined
gardens of imagination

even in autumn rain
there’s still such radiance

leaves underfoot whisper
my wishbone song

really just a rhythm imposed
on the slow fires of decay

but now church bells
make for a glistening listen

the dead have nothing
and everything to do

with the emptiness
of numbers

their carnival is upon us
scarlet oaks glowing

on a mountainside
of charred pine stumps

witch hazels dangling
sun-colored sex flags

and a woodpecker sounding
like a clown on amphetamines

my phone can find
the bleakest news in seconds

a shaggy mane mushroom
dissolves into ink

End Times

i am not ready for
a light-filled forest

still half aflame
i struggle to recognize it

with thinning hair
comes the chill of loss

i finger a nickel
that slaveowner’s face

riding in my pocket
like i’m lewis and clark

under red and scarlet oaks
the music of falling acorns

tick-tocking but only
at random moments

i clock in at several
caught breaths an hour

a forest can turn to coal
in the fullness of time

and those who believe in hell
can dig it up and burn it

with faith all things
acquire an airbrushed glow

but when mountains move
there’s a detachment fault

beneath which other rocks
go their own way

i sit watching
the treetops glow

in sun that they can
no longer taste

Bell’s Gap

a woodpecker’s
speckled woods

weathering novemberly
down to embers

in the soothills
of the alleghenies

where victorians went
on elegant excursions

railroad logging a hundred
summers in a day

now free to go
fluttering

muttering off
earthward

warm
worm
words

Deep Structure

day breaks
like a wishbone
how lucky

that the longer portion
remains with us
in darkness

under the interstate
in that dull
interminable thunder

a school of salmon-
colored leaves
stream down

from trees given
scraps of now-
worthless land

a cylindrical concrete pier
is tree enough
for virginia creeper

its forked tendrils
its scarlet molt
a bit of fox grape

and now for
a fish crow’s
falsetto caw

Way Back

glimpsed in passing
at seventy miles an hour

dark eyes in a pale
heart-shaped face

no longer playing
possum

and later when
i measure myself

against a massive
mossy boulder

i feel my fragility
a winter wren tut-tuts

but one helicopter breaks
a whole mountain’s silence

i get out my phone camera
still hungry to possess

a young pine caught
in a dead oak’s embrace

leaves in mid-air against
a wild tangle of limbs

clouds furthering the end-
lessness of mountains

i find the stone-walled spring
dry for the first time

descending an eroded path
deep in fallen leaves

i walk like a drunk
to avoid injury

loose-limbed and slow
resolutely unsteady

and manage to hold
the ground at bay

stiltgrass encroaches
like a bad combover

the seeds having hitchhiked in
on shoes and bike tires

the trail leads under
a fallen tree

why is it so difficult
to bow my head

and then i’m on my knees
among baby porcupines

american chestnut husks
spiny and golden

from not one but two trees
beside the trail

canopy-height and twice
as thick as my neck

with no sign of blight
no earlier dead sprouts

i take pictures to challenge
my own disbelief

amid the drama
of changing seasons

and the unreadable
gestures of aging oaks

in the silence of the mountain
i can hear my own pulse

a faint but steady
drip of water

somewhere in a hollow
under the rocks

Shingletown Gap

an idyll of falling
drifting unmoored

from growing inlets
of October sky

must include the un-
remastered original

bright blue lightly
frosted weather

and a village nestled
against a mountain

the newly resurfaced road
that dead-ends at a trailhead

so the dog-walkers
can drive to the woods

so a canine snout can track
each falling leaf

while its human puzzles
over arborglyphs on a snag

where larvae came of age
and left the tree as beetles

after completing
their masterpieces

yes of course the foliage
in every shade of flame

sic transit gloria mundi
on a Tuesday afternoon

where death is life
for the leaf duff

a universe with
its own laws

inhabited by iron worms
and crescent moon millipedes

woodland jumping mice
and the shy timber rattler

basking in the middle
of a multi-use trail

its dark velvet scales
its electric buzz

covering for
a quiet getaway

through dry leaves in which
the wind also rustles

as if it were already
gray November

and dogs had noses
only for frozen gut piles

but already the deer
are hounded by lust

scrape away fallen leaves
in an agony of longing

until even the soil
speaks their name

a lexicon of scents
to which the pines contribute

losing hands
of five needles

for even evergreens
yellow with age

and the wind has
such a discriminating touch

while the oaks of course
take their sweet time

drop acorns before turning
in a depth of sky

not seen since April flowers
began spewing pollen

but if nature’s last green
is also gold

hasn’t the whole summer
been a false flag operation

and how can true colors
not intoxicate

whether burgundy or rosé
pale ale or amber

let blue jays steal the cry
of a red-tailed hawk

who’s otherwise occupied
wallowing in black and white

feathers of
an answered prayer

Tussey Mountain: a walking poem

day breaks
into increments of gold

a falling leaf flits back and forth
like a doomed moth

acorns gestate
in the throat pouch of a jay

the breeze is spicy with rot
i take deep lungfuls

nuclear armageddon
is trending on twitter

the bluestone road
seduces me again

*

each of my feet aches
in its own way

the left to take wing
the right to take root

they take me where hemlocks
pry open the rocks

and vultures drift past
without flapping

a section of trail famous
for being hard on boots

it is difficult says the guidebook
to get any rhythm going

as you step from rock
to rock

but this is the music
i grew up with

a grouse cups his wings and drums
on the skin of the air

*

distant booms
a shooting range perhaps

the sun goes in but
the yellow keeps glowing

chickadees announce my presence
in unflattering terms

to a mixed flock feeding
on mountain ash berries

a rock shifts under me
i shift with it

at a trail intersection someone
has dug a hole in the rocks

revealing the water table
its serving of birch leaves

farther along the hemlock
burnt from below

by an untended camp fire
that turned roots to charcoal

two years later it’s dead
but for one last limb

stripped down to the skeleton
for a sky burial

*

descending the flank of the ridge
i find a proper spring

yellow coral mushrooms
extend crossed fingers

the mountain can punish
moments of inattention

but i am a bad student
i walk in two places at once

a place of wings
and a place of roots

that night the moon flies
through prismatic clouds

at its brightest
and most manic

stained by the dark
beds of seas