One Day in Early May
The house before dawn was quiet,
sky above still private.
No furnace fan running warmth,
no bright eye in blue sky.
The old woman waited,
still as stone, before her glass.
Then the oriole woke, blurted
his scandalous song.
And the old woman laughed—once for heat,
twice for remembered recklessness.
The wind wrapped
around the town— first gently, then
switching, waxing violent,
crueler than a man’s hard hand.
The wind quaked for a little while—
it was almost diffident,
unable to make a statement,
like a leaf wishing to fall but
unable to leave, like a man
who wants to be good, but can’t.
The God She Wanted
She had always wanted a god—
not her own, individual god—
no, she was willing to share a deity
with all, willing to gut herself,
dress for the table like a roasted pullet.
She gave herself over to men,
their hairy arms, squinting eyes;
hands cupping her breasts;
even that tall part they called essence.
But all she really wanted
was trees, leaves, a clean counter.
She wanted to knock at a door
that never opened. That would suffice.
You could say he’s barely dead, body partly
covered by parti-colored leaves, corpse not yet stiff,
stippled fur breezed up this brisk autumn dawn.
No marks—the dog must have pummeled
him, as on that day she yanked the woodchuck
from its hole, killed it in one minute flat.
The creature’s teeth are saw-toothed—strange blades,
a cartoon figure’s, or monster’s—narrow mouth agape,
pale pink tongue flushed out the side.
He was stopped at the third step. On the stone table,
the reason he climbed the porch—the pears I left out—
one nibbled, morsels messed over rime, as if he,
thief, connoisseur, tried some, spit out some frosted bits.
I slide the cardboard under the animal’s bulk,
then let the long gray shape slide the poor pallet, slip
into the gunny sack, rat tail hooking the threaded edge.
Part of him not finished yet? Part petitioning a stay?
Never mind. Here’s a primal death—crime or lie
fittingly punished—on a notably blue day.
Go away, I say to the blameless dog. It’s done.
I stood among the green ash’s branches—
yellow now, in October’s dying light.
I wandered to the hackberry; yellow
too, but a brighter hue, and with fragments
of light migrating the serrated margins.
I wept at the corner of the orchard,
grieved among the globed red fruit. And then I
remembered you yet could not remember
you—at most your twilight eyes, grinning mouth.
You, Cheshire Cat of my dreams; yours, the smile,
the look behind yellowing leaves falling
down the sun. And nothing beyond the smile.
Bertha Rogers is a poet, teaching artist, and founding director of Bright Hill Press and Literary Center in New York’s Catskill Mountain Region. Her most recent poetry collection, Heart Turned Back, was published by Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2010. Her translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf was published in 2000; and her translation of the Anglo-Saxon Riddle-Poems, Uncommon Creatures, Singing Things, will be out in 2012.