A Little History

Watching the river in flood,
each exhale huffing over the one before,
its red, swollen reality waking imagination.

Dismembered tree limbs,
water logged, sodden, submerging,
re-emerging for encores of helplessness,

tumbling in the roiling flow.
A tire, worn and wet, rolling in the current,
upright, overturning, swerving

in free-fall downstream,
to a fate I can’t see.
From my perch, I read

my family history, part native American
forcibly removed removed from their homeland
in a torrent of movement,

and sitting apart–, part White
settled here from somewhere else,
each an immigrant trying

to swim amid the flotsam
in a swirl of meanings
jostled by the flood

each with a history as I pass through
like a ghost as I live my own,
that teeters on being swept away

in this torrent of time, events,
each iteration combining
into a larger one, gaining

a force of meaning, emotion—
what will I remember
from this pause on my walk?
Will this be one focused moment
in a series of unplumbed events,
swept away with other debris,

or will I glean new insight, leaving
with the memory of sun lighting
a storm’s watery aftermath,

the power in this most fluid element,
my synapses sparking as I watch,
seeing branches, trash bags, silt anew,

as they course by, submerged,
like my ancestors to different degrees
in the turgid flow, some afloat,

some drowning as I watch, none
I can save from the churning river—
the willow on the bank, caught in the flow,

clinging by roots as the scourging flood
scours the soil, the willow still grasping,
with each billow less able to stand—

leaning, so that even if it holds
amid the change, it is changed,
and will not remain unchanged.

This Icy In-Between

This evening, during the blizzard, on my way
to check on you, while snow blew in streaks,

horizontal and quick, driven by wind
in utter fidelity to the current, blurring my view

of the dirt road I drove slowly down—
guided by a solitary out light on a hill’s low crest.

The light shone like an outpost, its dome
illuminating in blue light the snow, each flake

not specific, but in mass, a slur glittering
in their hurry, as the CD I played,

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings,
reached the long crescendo, violins

moving up the register without interruption,
voicing my emptiness, leaving me

gapped and torn, edging along a precipice,
in a blizzard of unspoken words.

But I can’t say that was all.
I can’t say it was only snow,

I can’t say if it was longing
or the adagio I felt,

my car slipping on unseen ice, that I
must navigate, turning the steering wheel

counter to my slide, but carefully,
the crescendo ongoing, the precipice

threatening, or tempting. Snowflake
of my soul, coursing on currents.

I’ve blown through money and time;
borrowed prayers, faith, gestures,

glances, and some blues I’ve sung.
Aren’t I both subject and object

on this road, the crescendo
cascading now, descending

to one more sorrowful resolution,
the snow still blowing, scouring

the icy road, some piling in the ditch,
some blown to field

beyond the blue of my sight,
like souls I’ve seen but not touched,

while you wait, knowing
I’m in this icy in-between,

that I strive while you wait anxiously,
you sitting in your chair,

phone, remote, Bible at hand.
O, prayer of my heart,

let my spoken and unspoken words
be enough, my arrival in a blizzard

saying everything necessary, offering
a slippery concept, what I call me.

Home Ground

The ground rises before me,
fallow and open, ghosted

by my ancestors, both Native
and White , last year’s stalks,

dirt-spattered and weathered
by snow, by frost,

corn husks once luscious and florid,
that rose in summer sun,

prone, picked over
by birds, like readers

seeking stray kernels
in the scribbled margins

of second-hand books.
The wind ribbons through,

fecund, bearing pollen, spores,
humid enlightenments,

the expectation of rain.
A lone car passes, heading to town,

whose far warrens
of urban entertainments

of the body and mind,
hold no attraction for me.

Hoe in hand, I seek a soulful way.
As the car crosses over the next hill,

rolling dust over the empty plains,
I can’t say that I am more than breath,

as I scrape metal against pliable earth,
sensing the always-feeling-an-absence

present, the sehnsucht,
despite the presence of so much:

dust, roots, spores, humidity—
I stand at field’s edge,

gawping as if a ghostly pageant
passed by, the wind persisting,

shuddering the dry stalks,
this dust, this solitude,

my angle of repose,
this odd jealously rising,

my ancestors immigrants too,
never close enough to the land—

It is an other, it is other,
as I carve furrows

in this land I stand on,
whose grit collects on me,

as I attempt to translate
the wind’s soulful whispering

to earth, which seems
to understand in ways I can’t.

The Joining

Listening to the piano, each note
joining the next, precise, and expanding,

soothing with melody, lifting us,
while she played Appalachian Spring,

in this widening illusion. I watched her
from half way back, playing

without sheet music,
song filling the sanctuary, her fingers

flawlessly striking keys, sharps, flats,
following Copeland’s score,

but adding her own supple emphases,
softnesses, delays—she leaned

into the keys, then swayed back,
eyes closed as if in prayer,

pouring herself like champagne
into the music—no,

the sunlit music effervesced
through her, thrilling our ears,

resonating through pews,
notes rising, falling like breath,

the notes rising, falling like breath,
singing me so thoroughly, I didn’t see

the others waiting for the wedding to start,
listening to her impromptu performance,

the notes continuing, gaining,
then losing intensity.

I lean my head back, my silent voice
reaching to meet her. Can’t I be

both subject and object—nuances
and lilts—chances taken,

or fates. Notes lofting, then
losing intensity. How can I deliver

my self from my individual will,
from outside this moment, free of need?

Each note in its little jacket of tone,
a mix of script and impromptu play,

my eyes on her, her eyes still closed,
head back, but leaning into the piano,

not one note lost, the music wafting
and waning—and henceforth,

wafting—my body turned medium,
the music lifting me,

lifting me as if my redemption
depends on it—

Dale Cottingham has published poems and reviews of poetry collections in many journals. He won the 2019 New Millennium Award for Poem of the Year.  The poems in Midwest Hymns are consistently at a high level of thought, insight and clarity. The poems probe longing and mortality in a uncaring land. The author live in Edmond, Oklahoma.