A Sampler...



     Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania
 

     They used to dig ditches here to catch wolves.
     Deep gashes stitched with roots,
     slick with melt,
     baited with deer necks
     that drew the wolves in,
     even the mothers, full of pups.

     All night long, they fell and fell,
     brewed fog with their own heat,
     dug everywhere only to find
     endless earth and darkness
     and the bones of other buried things.
     In the morning, they barked
     and shied and bared their muddy teeth
     at the farmers who shot them from above
     and cut off their ears for the bounty.

     The tiny ears of the pups,
     born on the tip of a knife,
     were like pink rose petals
     that curled and stiffened
     in my hand as they dried.
     That is what I remember best
     of the year before I was old enough
     to hold a shovel or a gun.





     In Which I Watch a Live Feed from the Nkorho Pan Water Hole While
     Sitting at My Desk on Cape Cod



     I am addicted to Africa.
     To the high bob of a baboon’s tail,
     the way he eats the muck from his hind foot
     with such aplomb.
     I am addicted to a dusty ton of rhino and
     her spud-faced son
     forged of tungsten in the sepia dusk.
     To the giraffe following the atlas on her coat
     slowly through the fever trees,
     the hot geysers of her giant heart.
     The burrow owl that bids the buck take care
     where he sets his cloddish hoof.
     The zebra festooned with stripes,
     shivering at fly-touch as he drinks.
     I am addicted to the mutton-chopped warthog,
     wallowing in the brown batter at the water’s edge.
     The hunchbacked gnu, his beard a fright,
     the ravenous oxpecker that probes his teeming nostril
     with her candy-corn beak.

     I am addicted to all of this and more,
     to the belching of bullfrogs in the
     night, ticking as it cools,
     the twang of love-sick bugs,
     the rusty squawk of God knows what.
     And God does know what.
     What else a world like this could want.
     What else to ask of this box of
     filaments and miracles and Africa
     that sits on my desk.

     I wish there were a camera aimed this way,
     so they could look at me as I have looked at them,
     so I could be the stuff of their addiction, too.
     So they could see, in the squirrel outside my window,
     a phenom of pewter and grace,
     in the jay a deft orator,
     in the woman at my desk something exotic and fine.
     They would listen to her as if they’d never
     heard anything so unusual
     and wonder about the texture of her skin,
     the smell of her hair,
     what she is thinking as she sits quietly
     in her little room of words and photograph
     and waits for something wonderful to happen.

 




     Shelter in Place
 

     We’re at a dance when we hear they’ve found him
     cornered in a boat in Watertown,

     while a couple seven times his little age
     waltzes to an old Eagles song—

     “I guess every form of refuge has its price”—
    and I shiver with echoes and shockwaves, even at this distance.

     “We saw blood dripping from the boat,” says a Fox News man,
    tiny as a bug on the screen of a smart phone,

     “in a backyard, and they say he might be dead,"
     and I think they may be right,

     if blood is any indication, if bullets are any indication,
     tidy little bombs, freighted though they be with misery and mess.

     But I have no sympathy for that Russian lad
     who carved men, split women, put a child in a dark box,

     gutted mothers who will never again
     look at a boat without remembering this spring night.

     The band warms to its work—
     the harmonica player kissing the song like

     a man too long without love,
     eyes closed, body burden-bent—

     but just look at the crowd
     clapping for these dancers,

     for the glide in their old steps,
     for the swing in their old hips,

     for how they smile, for how they turn as one,
     for memories of sailing a skiff out beyond the first bell,

     the swells lifting them into a happiness beyond flowers,
     while Van Morrison and some incarnation of his moon dance


     rise in the voices of the singers, who grimace as the music erupts
     but out it will come, out it will spill, and sirens?

     And gun shots?
     And the thud of a leg leaving its hip—

     of a boy leaving his earth—
     smoke wagging the obedient flags,

     fire melting the runners too close by,
     scorching even us, even us, and

     “Everybody wants to be closer to free,” they’re singing,
     but I don’t know.

     What does that really mean anyway?
     Closer to free?

     “Everybody wants respect, just a little bit,” they sing,
     and that, I suppose, I understand,

     while the drummer sits at the back of the band,
     mute but for the sticks in his fists,

     the mighty boom only he can make,
     the crash, the jangle, the fuss,

     the lockdown tighter than the skin of a snare
     as a million shelter in place,

     and the sky froths in the chopper blades,
     red and cobalt gardens splash the night,

     and a black battalion swarms,
     the blood on Boylston Street refuses to rust, and

     “They’ve got him!” yells a man at the
     next table, his palm full of blue light and chaos, while

     the woman at the mic, her guitar at port arms, sings
     “What a long strange trip it’s been,”

     ‘til word reaches the band and a flush consumes them,
     their smiles harden, and before the ink is dry on The End

     they’re belting out a shaky version of Sweet Caroline
     for battered old Beantown.

     And suddenly we’re free, or closer to it.
     Out the doors open, and windows wide,

     and sirens sing, and one stupid little Chechen is
     down, down, down

     and everyone is out on the dance floor
     even the foxes, trotting in place,

     “hands, touching hands, reaching out,”
     the band sweating up a storm,

     like a leaky boat, like a leaky boy,
     down finally, done finally, and we’re out.



     The Voice I Wish I Had


     I want an NPR voice

     Smooth as water over stone.

     As deliberate as a cat at her bath.

     Kin to warm milk, cool hands, and lullabies.


     If I had an NPR voice,

     I could say 10,000 dead in Japanese tsunami.

     Death toll hits 144,000 in Rwandan genocide.

     Father kills his five children before shooting himself,

     and you would listen.


     But I don’t, no matter how long I stand in the shower,

     softly trying.


     I cannot say, US debt soars to 14 trillion

     and make you want to hear more.


     I cannot say Baby dolphins wash ashore with the oil in Louisiana

     and keep your calm attention.


     I cannot say Missing child found dead in dumpster

     without flaying some part of you.


     I want an NPR voice

     so when I tell you that I’m leaving

     you will curl your hand under your chin,

     blink your sleepy eyes,

     and to that lullaby concede.


     I want an NPR voice so you will think that

     the news is not so bad after all.


     And neither will I.







     Divided December

     My son, the Buddhist, has a new job
     ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.

     Unimpressed by the regulation bell with which they armed him,
     he took instead a silver one I've always loved,
     to swing it like a lantern in a storm,
     that graceful arc warming him at his post
     outside the Stop and Shop throughout this dark December.

     “You’re going to hell,” hissed a woman who’d heard him
     chanting softly, the boy himself a bell.

     “Can I tell you about my wife?” asked a man who wore his
     spare hours like epaulets of lead.

     “You must hear that bell in your dreams,” said a
     man who dropped a quarter in the kettle as he passed.

     “I feel sorry for you,” he told the woman.
     “Yes, of course,” he told the first man.
     “Yes, I do,” he told the second,
     all the while ringing,
     all the while ringing.

     The Army has not yet asked him to wear a Santa suit,
     though he says he will, if he must,
     since Santa has little to do with Jesus
     and he has nothing against either of them, besides.

     But if they asked him to wear a crown of thorns
     or hoist a cross onto his shoulder, I suspect he would demur.
     There’s a limit to the uniforms he’ll tolerate for the sake of money.
     And, after all, the Buddhist in him is really in it for the bell.




     Dirt Prophets

     So if, for you, a promise
     is the better part of faith,

     then let that hunger
     lead the way past

     yarrow stalks and tarot cards,
     past fortunes writ on sparrow wings

     to a garden that knows nothing
     beyond the blooming, nothing save the root,

     and sit you down there for a while
     until the bees mistake you for a rose

     and longer,
     until there’s no mistake.






     On Why I Will Never Retire with You to Tampa


     This is my south,
     this cold-mashed shore,
     this brambled fringe of berry vine.

     This is my south,
     this minstrel wind,
     this tangled trail of wrack and brine.

     This is my south,
     this uncapped heart,
     this beauty-baffled soul of mine.

     This is my south,
     this where I am,
     my was, my is, my will divine.







     










     Wolk has written only one song, which her son Ryland set to music and recorded. He chose to

      balance the sentimentality of the lyrics with a simple melody and by recording the results in his

      bedroom on rudimentary equipment while suffering from a bad cold. Listen if you like.  The

      audio file is above. The lyrics are below.

     The song has been performed by The Beach Plums and by singer-songwriter Kathleen Healy,

     who recorded it on her first album.


     I Will Come if You Will Call Me


     From atop the scarlet mountains,
     from the canyons I will come.
     From the moors of blushing heather,
     and the deserts, I will come.
     From the doubter that I’ve been
     and from the dreamer I’ve become,
     from the fields of ash and tinder,
     from the river, I will come.

     I will come from silver darkness,
     when the stars have not yet set,
     when the moon is sweeping upward
     with a light I’ll not forget.
     And I wonder what I’m here for,
     so irrelevant and small.
     I will come if you will call me,
     I will come if you will call.

     If you call I’ll leave the rubies
     that are just beyond my reach
     and the ocean that is waiting
     out beyond the golden beach
     and the road that keeps me walking
     when I am moments from a fall,
     I will come if you will call me,
     I will come if you will call.

     I will come if you will call me,
     I will come if you will call,
     from wherever I am waiting,
     I will come if you will call.

     I will come if you will call me,
     I will come if you will call,
     from wherever I am waiting,
     I will come if you will call.
     I will come if you will call.

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