Here are three poems by three friends, Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, & Mary Shartle, all three part of “the Greenfield Crowd,” a disparate and rowdy group of writers, painters, cellists and cross-country skiers loosely based in Greenfield, NY (though Marilyn McCabe actually lives in Saratoga Springs). Laura Von Rosk and Naton Leslie, who have both appeared on these pages, are part of the group. These three women in particular have combined their talents since 1998 and have produced multiple chapbooks of poetry together, including Notes from the Fire Tower: Three Poets in the Adirondacks and Glacial Erratica: Three Poets in the Adirondacks, Part Two which won the Adirondack Center for Writing best poetry book award two years in a row. These poems come from their new collection Winterberry, Pine (30 Acre Woods Publications, 2010).
Marilyn McCabe is already familiar to NC readers. We published her Rilke translations earlier on these pages. She has published work in, among others, Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Hunger Mountain. Elaine Handley has published in, among others, Dos Passos Review and Connecticut River Review. And Mary Shartle has appeared in Blueline and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.
A Poem by Elaine Handley
Demeter sits at the kitchen window
chain smoking, staring at empty maple and birch.
She imagines the smoke as rage leaving her body.
Outside all that moves are chickadees at the feeder,
only color, winterberries like splatters of fresh blood
in the snarl of grapevines by the shed.
Her husband’s abandoned chamois shirt—frayed
at the cuffs, a hole in one elbow—
provides an odd, familiar comfort these days
so much like the last, the next,
full of his cold emptiness.
It’s been months since Persephone ran off,
stolen by a charming woodchuck, full of pipe
dreams, and she suspects, cruel ways.
“My queen” he called her daughter.
No email, no call, not even a text. The house
so quiet she can hear the little murmurs
of the sleeping cat.
Some like it hot, she tells herself, thinking
of her daughter, and then the cat,
who inexplicably sleeps under the sizzling woodstove.
On the Today Show that morning, Punxsutawney Phil
was paraded out, fussed over. “What an ass!”
she’d said out loud. What groundhog comes out
of hibernation early? Who would willingly give up
the sweet coma of sleep–and for what?
Food hard to find, too much snow, constant cold,
She pours a bourbon, neat. It’s her third this morning.
She stubs out the cigarette butt, lights another.
The scald in her throat feels right.
A little blaze flares up in her chest.
For a moment, it almost feels like love.
A Poem by Marilyn McCabe
Crow’s Call: March Song
One tree shatters
into crow fragments,
peppers the sky.
Some days the unspoken
is like this too.
I meet my own mind
in the unexpected motion.
I think such things
cause rain, but they don’t.
There’s no predicting
why a tree would act this way,
why such explosions
do not kill. Left behind:
elegant etch of limb,
a raucous cry, then quiet.
Something of loneliness now,
its edgy company,
the way it can hold the lungs just so,
so inhaling is aquatic,
exhaling no relief.
I’ve seen the tar rise in LA’s pits,
recognized its slow bubble as my own.
Watched a stream run wild under
frozen crust, and seen my face,
I know something of walking out
into the world cloaked in teeth,
trying to never come home.
Nothing is springing,
rising from its roots, but
unseen things are moving fast in me.
Against my great will
blood runs, the heart
pumps its torqued spasm,
the vessels receive,
membranes allow passage.
Against my will the wind
from the window’s cracks
enters my lungs and mingles
in me. Against my will,
there is a quickening. I taste
my inadvertent sap.
Under the flesh,
ice falls to crispy moss,
wet rock; mud time pulls
as gravity the moment of momentum. Bodies
remain in motion, nothing’s at rest:
nestlings urgent, mouthy
scattering of embattled starlings,
silent laugh of hawk. It’s all
here now: turtles rise slow
to pierce the dark surface and
skunk cabbage rules the swamp world
in its churlish curl. Shatter me, cracking:
my face a thousand pieces,
hurtling heavenly body, helpless to orbit.
Month of war, fierce desire against
the solid lines of what we know; our days
and hard-drilled concessions.
Once in March I ran a race
in pelting rain. Came up short,
panting, dripping, and walked off
the course to drink beer with some people
I used to know. That’s what March’s
battles are like: fools’ games of random momentum
and the sudden bottom of a pint.
March away from the thin veils, pale
gyrations and waltz, the beck
and call of blue-ice, snowpack,
naked branch and sky. March on
toward what’s blowsy and fragrant,
lush and plush with velvets, silk,
the sarabands of spring: crisp step
of the belly to the languid lure
of freeform and winking cakewalk.
March on, drunken reveler,
hat half off, coat sloped from a shoulder,
one glove gone.
Canted night, slide us
to the earlying day. Now
we are hungry for planting. We fall
to our knees in loosening grass,
damp and rooting. We crack the crust
to open earth’s egg. Mud
makes us gods again. We all
turn our heads,
A Poem by Mary Sanders Shartle
When Death Came To The Door – an arrhythmia
“The grand death, which each of us has inside…” Rilke
One long winter’s day of snow,
when Death came to the door. “Come,” said I,
“and warm yourself. You’ll catch your life, you know,
standing about outside like that. Come,
let me take your wrap. You look chilled to the bone.
I’ll make us a nice cup of tea, and we’ll ignore the phone,
and you’ll tell me about your day,
what accomplishments you’ve made, your
scything in the ripened fields of hay, of all and whom
you’ve harvested and reaped–the bargains struck,
old denials and curses heaped, and to what
honor I owe your presence here. You
should have called first, I would have made
a poppy seed cake and had it warm with scones, like
Nurse used to bake. And clotted cream
and peach preserves. O, my heart, how I miss hers.
She baked so well and died so much in pain. That was
very bad of you, such a good soul she was, too.
You are both cruel and vain.
But listen to me prattle on
It is my nature now to fill
such silence as the old house holds
with winter closing in and
daylight dying once again. The daffodils
long forgotten and the rose a shard of memory.
Look how the light has dwindled, and it
just four o’clock. The moon will rise
to blue the snow and soothe these tired eyes.
But sit here in the cushioned chair
and lay your, your implement aside if only for a while.
How long it’s been since we last met and
lingered in quiet over this or that hard box of
beloveds, friends and kin.
So glad you’ve wandered in. How long
it’s been, so long. I’ve thought much of you in
passing; wondered how you were getting on.
Drink your tea while we chat,
you and me, of things that might yet be,
of peace on earth, eternity,
how salmon leap, the weight of snow,
pins and ribbons, dark and light of all
we cannot voice and hesitate to know.
For instance, to illuminate
a memory, frame a phrase, punctuate
so that a page will keep in time, and oh, dear God, to
charm a rhyme or just as forward one moves
with dignity, one’s age reproves,
when I would keep on keeping on in love.
But now, about you, tell me all
of now and since the Fall of Rome
it’s good to see you in my home, but
as I should so much like to hear
what it is that has brought you, dear.
Tell me why you’ve come, but first,
here, your tea.
—Mary Sanders Shartle
(Post design by Mahtem Shiferraw)