Autumn-yellow hosta leaves
slump with terminal dismay.
They didn’t travel from Japan
to confront New England winters.
Their disappointment sours
and sticks to the tip of my tongue.
With tiny sighs of reproof
black spiders escape the woodpile
as I split a whole season of fuel.
The Anthropocene has dawned
in chemical colors no version
of the solar spectrum has parsed.
The gray sound of the absence
of songbirds combs the maples.
You recall a moment of thrush
when the weeds stood upright
and listened with flowering respect.
The light scalded itself almost blind.
You thrilled at three species of frog
rasping around the rim of the marsh.
But with my telescoped vision
I referred to an avenue creased
by shadows of new skyscrapers
excluding the old horizons.
Toting a bag of groceries, I crossed
against the grain of bus and taxi
and slipped into fresh geometries.
Since then, horizons have relaxed
to accommodate the smelting of ore
undiscovered until this instant—
a broad voice reeking of sulfur
yellow as hosta leaves, stitched
with phonemes richer than sense
can make of them, startling
the maples into dishabille
too graceful for us to attempt.
A damp spot in the forest.
Mist rises and clots the pine-tops,
erasing distance that enables
my sense of simple geography.
You never worry about your grip
on the planet, and ignore me
when I worry that gravity
will fail on my daily walk
and set me adrift in shades
of gray lacking innuendo.
You rake wet leaves into piles
shaped like extinct animals.
When I help you drag tarp-loads
into the woods I feel funereal.
Bored and exhausted by yard work,
I visit that damp spot and breathe
the mist, absorbing as much of it
as my slack old lungs can swallow.
If I were still a man among men
I’d lie in that muck and expect
to sink deeply enough to anchor
my body where it belongs.
You’d never bother searching
for my papery little remains,
but would collect my insurance
and rake away your modest grief.
More rain coming. I’ll cover
the firewood I split this morning,
then slip indoors for a sip
of the six-dollar vodka hidden
behind a bag of cat litter
where it almost never tempts me
to pour it all over myself
and pretend I’ve gone up in flames.
After jamming a finger
in the gas-powered wood splitter
I express myself in blue and orange
that complements the autumn glare.
You listen with the tuned ear
of an acoustic folk music fan,
but hardly pause in your work.
The crimp of my finger means
nothing like the snap of twigs
as deer browse on the far edge
of the garden, brown against brown.
I yanked it free before it broke—
before prose imagination
severed the day from its image.
The bruise and modest rip
of flesh will heal so quickly
the deer will never suspect me
of sharing their slim mortality.
You’re raking the local leaves
with such fervor that your aspect
ratio is constantly shifting.
A narrow glance, then a broad one,
then back to narrow as you scan
the rubble for black-legged ticks,
pinpricks of chronic disease.
I continue feeding chunk after chunk
of log to the grumbling machine.
My little offering of pain
doesn’t impress the universe.
Neither does your raking startle
the last oak leaves to free themselves
and fall obliging at your feet.
Maybe we should stop looking
for shape and design and start
all over again with a cosmos
too clumsy to acknowledge a plan.
The breeze picks up. Leaves skitter
across the driveway. The splitter
coughs itself out of gas. Silence
startles us both, and we look up
by instinct to see the clouds fly,
the afternoon light depleted.
A thousand white clapboard houses
gleam in varnished autumn glare.
Avenues cut across the grid
at acute and oblique angles.
We’re walking against the grain
to discover a market with fresh
vegetables and warm French bread
and small but choice wine cellar.
We’re walking without regard
for GPS or maps on our phones,
which can’t locate us despite
the sizzle of public wi-fi.
We’re so twenty-first century
that we’ve left our skin-bags empty
on a stoop several blocks behind.
We’ve reprogrammed ourselves
to conform to the digital age,
and march our naked identities
into cyberspace gray as snot.
Yet this crowd of repainted houses,
these streets lacking street signs,
these steep intersections betray
our digital selves in favor
of the flesh we left panting somewhere
possibly to the southeast.
We retrace our steps and reoccupy
the personae that resisted
the new age and its little angsts.
With leaden irony our phones ring
and synthesized voices inform us
that our GPS and Google maps
have located us, alive and well.
We set out for the market again,
although dusk is casting shadows
stretched to flatter us with textures
too subtle for binary math.
Last night’s secret glacier
slashed a ravine across the road,
stranding us until the town
sends dump-truck loads of gravel.
Global warming prevails but
can’t prevent ice events
creeping from the collective dark.
Insects tremble and chirr at dawn.
Portraits fall from museum walls
in a clatter that sounds like bones.
Big trucks swerve into ditches and die.
On the far side of the planet
a skyscraper bends like the stem
of an overwrought sunflower.
Dark ice links these events
to a social abscess from which
a mist of sleep roils and befogs.
You with the wisdom of a tree frog
and I with the voice of a lizard
gape at the gouge in the earth,
the thawed glacier swooning in mud.
Climate change has imposed motifs
we hadn’t predicted. Boulders
cracked all summer, hatching beasts
that left gnarled and hideous tracks
as they hid howling in the forest.
Brooks dried and their beds sprouted
jewelweed, tansy, and toxic ferns.
In our worn-out work shoes, we step
into a future shaped like a blimp.
It’s actually the inside
of a huge vinyl globe constructed
to commemorate a trade deal
among a dozen nations consumed
with intolerable mutual hatred.
Green beetles scavenge everywhere,
littering the paths. Although frost
has already claimed some victims,
the remaining weeds rejoice
as we enter their domain for good,
dragging amphibious motives
we used to mistake for prayer.