One night the moon is a golden hook
pulling the threads of our apathetic chairs
until we’re standing in full appreciation
outside on the front lawn under the maple
with its hundreds of yellow leaves
luffing nonchalantly as if summer were
indefinitely at the edge of falling
and then, the next day the invisible hook
pulls and pulls the leaves down,
the stitching worn loose from warm
afternoons and evening laughter,
wine and scrabble and baba ghanoush,
fiddle tunes and the baby’s incredulous shrieks
as sensations touch her leaf by leaf,
then, down our lane to the lake
we pass under the magenta
arms of primordial oak
its beauty formidable as the sun glazed waves,
despite its aged gaps and lopped off limbs,
then, the next day a scattering, as if the branches
were deserted by thousands of cardinals,
or the gods shook down buckets of roses
to our undeserving feet. Just a few weeks ago
we rushed over the stony shore
and dove in quickly to beat the
chill, some dregs of summer sun
reached through our wet clothes
as we shook ourselves like dogs.
Hundreds of white and orange pumpkins bloomed
then decayed in the fields. We found our hats
and boots and the oil was delivered.
Christmas ornaments in the stores before Thanksgiving
and the baby stood up, no hands, plucked strings, ate solids.
We gathered the neglected apples of the county,
richest harvest in years, made pies, pressed cider.
A new politics of “honest words,” the gas price down,
we drive up and down the lake,
we live in its constancy, its million shades of light.
We see mysterious meetings of crows
turning the fields to glistening coal,
flocks of geese amassing over the shops and parking lots, their raw honks urgent,
as if ushering in a fifth season,
shaking us from the doldrums
of old guilts and dreams —
and what have you done with your life
your mother says on her way to more tests,
what is the point of all those words you’ve lugged
in boxes in and out of storage, all those songs
you’ve memorized and never sing?
One more year gone faster than one can
realize the rent is due, the whole lot of baby clothes
from the shower outgrown.
The turkey carcass is still on the back porch, frozen,
the Christmas roast is coming. The broken Ford is still not towed.
The college kids are coming home, exhausted from papers and exams, but ready to change the world. Once I marched against the powers that be,
the buttons with doves and silhouettes
of Washington rust in my jewel box
with the mismatched earrings,
rings of old loves.
Now I set the table, light the candles
against the undertow
pulling me down with the leaves,
against the detritus of loss;
I light them for you.
Let there be song.
and may you count time with words,
and may the words count,
these words that make a life.
Adrienne Maher: I have been writing all my life; for the past 30 or so years from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. I live in a small rural village outside of Rochester. I teach writing and literature at SUNY Geneseo, and education courses at the University of Rochester. My work tends to be personal, while it probes archetypal concerns of the heart, nature, and the creative process. My poems also tend to be long–they tell stories of the people and places where I’ve been in densely imagistic language reflecting lake country and small village life. I am also a folk musician, and have traveled to Ireland many times to learn and perform music, so some of my landscape and subject matter strays there. I have a Ph.D. in creative writing from SUNY Binghamton; Ruth Stone was my mentor, and she invited me to study there on scholarship.
I have published a handful of poems in journals including Southern Poetry Review and the Gown Literary Supplement. I go to places of grief; thus the title of my new manuscript, Driving the Dark, from where these poems come, but they are also about the moments of joy, beauty, and humor that sustain and elevate us. My first manuscript, Lilac Time, is under contract with Salmon Books in Ireland. My poetry reflects a lifetime of the creative work of a mature woman who has lived many roles—mother, grandmother, lover, teacher, traveler, musician, and who continues to learn, grow, and embrace the moments given and taken in a marriage of words and spirit—straw into fool’s gold that one can always hope might ring true and universal, at least in small ephemeral glints.