Two Poems


[audio link]

after Jade Mountain I and II, by Claire Giblin, acrylic and ink on Yupo 

Sometimes, our journeys take us off the maps. Like when
we were in Dingle, and stumbled on the Famine Cottages,
not mentioned in any guidebook, nor starred on the circuit map
though every other pile of old stones, from the 2500-year-old ring
fort to the ruined churches to the stone beehives, called clocháins,
are clearly marked. An Gortá Mór, the great famine, tragedy not
just because most West Kerry families lived on potatoes and a bit
of milk, but because the English landlords had hearts like a cairn
of stones, refused to send relief. Yet Muckross House had 365 windows,
one for each day of the year. A million died, a million more went west
over the sea, never to return. Fishermen sold their nets to pay rent,
while the ocean, teeming with fish, glistened and gleamed. Yes,
there were cattle, and fields gold with ripening wheat, all of which
went to England to be sold. The sky closed like an oyster shell
over their heads. Towards the end, when the suffering could no longer
be denied, food bundles were given only to those families that worked
the Hunger Roads. Men in rags, walking skeletons, died where
they dropped, in the shingle. And there the roads stopped, too.

Aerial Reconnaisance

[audio link]

Flying into Tulsa, looking at the tiny trees, toy houses from the air,
arriving at a place I’ve never been. Flat as a table. I have no memory
to bring me here, no frame of reference in my data base, no place
like this in the east, rolling hills and blue mountains, trees turning red
and orange and yellow all at once, where anything seems possible
if ordinary leaves can change to something magical like that. The battle

between summer and fall reaches its final conclusion. The battles
in the Middle East blunder on, mistake on top of mistake. The air
compresses in thunder clouds, mortar and dust rising; what possible
lung diseases rasp ahead? Night sweats, blackouts, flashbacks, memories
our soldiers imprint on their hearts, reprint in the books of their lives. E-mails read
and re-read, passed around the table, shown to neighbors, friends. Hard to place

a value on one life, when life is cheap. On this hillside, this place
I love, the days roll on, blue and gold; apples ripen. The battle
of tree and gravity comes to the usual end: red
apples, green lawn, happy deer. Some days, we see a fox. The air,
heavy with fruit, should be bottled for a cold night when the memory
of gardening, turning over soil, miracle of seed to sprout, seems impossible.

Back in Baghdad, the brown and beige days grind on. Is it possible
that nothing can change? Politicians continue to blather. Where can we place
the blame? The hollow rhetoric, convenient amnesia, no memory
of that last disaster, Vietnam. You’d think we’d learned, but no. So the battle-
ground becomes the ballot box, just after Halloween, the air
redolent with sugar and decay. Pumpkins fall inward. Blue state, Red

state, the divisions grow wider, haves and have-nots, and who has read
the fine print carefully enough? Surely not the insurgents, who use every possibility
to plant bombs, blow up check points, careen into buildings, fill the air
with smoke and debris. If the city is uninhabitable, who wins? Whose place
does history bookmark? Is winning worth it if you lose it all? Another battalion
vanishes in the desert. Pipelines explode, oil burns blue. Memory

and shrapnel mingle in the dust. A soldier cleans his gun, the memory
of home, hunting season, uncles and father out for deer, snow on the ground, red
seeping out of a wound. Easier to kill with modern weapons, like mock battles
in a video game. Don’t think of families around a table, the empty chair. Is it possible
that nothing’s been accomplished, that democracy is just a word? Whose place
is it, to tell others how to live? At home, baking turkeys, pumpkin pies, sweeten the air.

From the air, all lands are one land, no borders, artificial boundaries scar the fields,
and home’s the only place we want to be. Red rover, red rover, won’t you come over? 
No more battles, just the impossible: peace in our time, not just its memory.

—Barbara Crooker, Fogelsville, PA