[Table of Contents]
for Heid Erdrich
My friend believes that people looked
a long time at the way storms took the land,
the magnificent bruising a brutish sky
could give the earth, the green's appalling swift
submission to moister air, the way the wind
could bully or breezeand she is sure
this is how we learned the art of ravishing.
I wish I could agree with her, but I wasn't born
this far north, cannot trust how long it takes
the spring to come. It scares me, how frost
stalks night after night, how every other year,
something fails completely to go on. Gardens thin,
pavements buckle with melt, and rivers going north
forget themselves, sprawl, unlovely, muddy
perfect strangers' beds. And though I don't believe
my friend, I've accepted life alone here, stopped
making up my bed, expecting guests. I see how
my cottonwood refuses every year to dress until
the end of May, and autumn too, that one's last
to shed its underthings. The shrubs and hostas
have no shame, frill early, and the trillion tulip
wands too soon bend and quit, but the reluctance
of the trees is almost wise, or simply practiced.
If my friend is right, I cannot lend them human traits,
but take example from them as I drive along the freeway
pushing them with wishes into what they could
become, afraid of what the air has done. Ravished
by the wind and left for dead too many years to count,
those wily silver olives leaf one tight fist at a time,
so late it's hardly worth the bother for such a casual fling,
and when I push unwilling green along in the drafty
copse of my desires, I know it is afraid of something
bigger than not blooming, that my own reluctance
can't be blamed on any silly disappointing past,
but on this very landscape's bad example, dour,
dormant most of every year, all heartless self control.
The earth, like a kicked heart, needs to warm
in increments, lest it glut our ten thousand bodies
of water, pour a winter's hale crust
south, thicken the tresses that halo
all the here, and dump muddy chronicles
through a whole continent's windy ribs,
those outpost attachments where we gathered
no moss and learned what the birds never did:
to stay in one place. This place, like the sensate
site we call simply heart, must allow its excesses
to transmute in mist, in fine strands of sweat,
in the attenuated wail of studied untouching.
This state, like cooled ardor, must pay back to the air
all those wan kisses in black slush and wishes.
"Cautionary Tale" first appeared in Great
River Review and again most recently in Eat Quite Everything You
See, Graywolf Press, 2002.
"Hydrologic Sonnet" first appeared in Southern
Leslie Adrienne Miller's fourth full-length
collection of poems, Eat Quite Everything You See, came out from
Graywolf Press in spring 2002. Her previous collections include Yesterday
Had a Man In It (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998), Ungodliness
(CMU, 1994) and Staying Up For Love (CMU, 1990). She has won a
number of prizes and awards including the Loft McKnight Award of Distinction,
two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships in Poetry, a National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and the PEN Southwest Discovery Award.
Associate Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St.
Paul, Minnesota, since 1991, Miller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers
Workshop and a PhD from the University of Houston.