The 1883 logjam on Michigan’s Grand River
was one of the biggest in the history of logging.
Listen: one hundred fifty million feet of logs: skew and splinter thirty feet high for seven river-miles. Sky of only lightning, mouth of only teeth, all bite and churn, thrust and spear, the kind of mess made by men who have men to clean up their messes. It rains. Thirty-seven million tons of white pine clears its throat. Water rises. The bridges will go soon. Listen closely: underneath the knock and clatter, the trees still sing. The song is a violence.
LIKE GREAT HARPS ON WHICH THE WIND MAKES MUSIC
—Henry David Thoreau, on the Eastern White Pine
Dark ghosts, tall as moonlight.
Shadows without shadows.
Listen. This wind will not last.
Such music will never play again.
The smallness of a man
who enters a forest to destroy a forest;
who believes that to name a tree
is to claim its strength as his own—
across the lake, a city burns.
O-WASH-TA-NONG, MEANING FAR-AWAY-WATER
Across Happy Hollow Road, across Gillespie’s pasture, past barbwire and tree line, the river of my childhood still twists and eddies south toward the gulf, cold as memory’s fist, even on the sunniest day, even decades later as I cross a new river each day, the same river, the only river, the river I’ve invented, shaped and poured to quench my thirst to be loved, a filled trench, a scar left 11,000 years ago as the great glaciers crawled north, meltwater left to find its own way to the lake. The story of a river in America is always a story of destruction.
“A HUNDRED DOLLARS TO AN OLD HAT SHE HOLDS”
—Local paper, predicting an iron railroad bridge
would withstand the logjam; the bridge was swept
away while the ink was still wet.
What if I’ve learned the wrong lesson from every story?
What if a flood, after all, is only a flood, cleansing nothing?
What if our sins cannot be washed away so easily,
if all our stumbling will leave us lost, still?
Somewhere I learned to love the kind of man I am not.
Knuckle-scar. Thick forearms. Beer-bottle-dark eyes
and a sense of duty. The strength to hold a tugboat steady in rushing water
while other men sledgehammer pilings into place, an obstacle
to catch what comes our way, it’s a matter of time—
all that’s upstream breaks free.
THE ENGINEER WHO FIXED THE LOGJAM RECEIVES A GOLD WATCH FOR HIS TROUBLE
I know so much about how water moves
it leaves me dizzy. I know time and rivers
are tools the rich use to make fools
of the rest of us; no limit to the weight a man
can heave onto the backs of other men.
What else to do but decide to survive?
Water has no memory, is only memory,
is the world’s purest form of desire,
the relentless drive to return home
whatever the cost. It’s all any of us want,
to have a smoke and finish the job,
carry our weary bodies to a hearth
somewhere, a resting place
and the warmth of someone who loves us.
If water cannot go through, it goes around.
You can leave me and I will not kill you.
That this needs to be said is insane
but I am a man, and this is the world.
Probably it should have been in our vows:
in sickness and so forth,
I will wash your coffee cups
and do the laundry if you fold,
I will walk the dog when it’s my turn,
and I will not kill you,
nor will I ever fill your car
with wet cement, which is a thing
I read about today: a man hurt
when a woman declined
to wear his name.
When we married, you kept
your name; people told me
I should be bothered. People
told you that you were young
and did not understand
how the world worked. By people
it should be obvious I mean men.
I don’t want to make a joke
of all these wounded
walking around among us
dividing the world
into Fuck Marry Kill
which is supposed to be
a fun conversation starter
but the world reminds us
over and over there’s nothing
funny about it, these
are the dude-colored glasses
through which men see,
and although most every guy
I know is thinking
#notallmen, which misses
the point, which is that this
is not a calculation with any
margin for error. For every
man who loves you
there are eleven who love you
and will still come to your job
and shoot you in the head.
For every body you have,
there is a man willing to claim it,
one way or another.
The story goes that God
spent five days making
this amazing place, its cedar trees
and canyons and so many egrets
taking flight over so many
grassy marshes, and then
on the sixth day he created
men. If God is reading
this poem, he’s probably thinking
#notallmen, but if God
truly sees all and knows all,
he’s probably also thinking,
Well, shit, it’s still too many
of them, he’s thinking,
At least the shorebirds are lovely,
and I have to give him that
even though out there
right now some man
is thinking, Fuck the shorebirds,
marry the canyons, kill
everything else. This is the world,
in which, somehow, you
and I found ourselves together,
and in which we wake up
every morning and pledge
not to harm each other
any more than we have already.
BADGER BURIES ENTIRE COW CARCASS
The New York Times, April 3, 2017
I accidentally freaked out my students the other day
when one mentioned that, working on an essay about dead dads,
she’d had little luck Googling stats about death rates among dads.
That’s because the stat is 100 percent, I said,
and my students gasped in a was-he-joking-I-guess-
They don’t always seem young and I don’t always feel old,
but there we were. My father is still alive, a sentence
only temporarily true; I was taught that a sentence
represents a complete thought, which seems impossible,
as if one could pinpoint the beginning or end of thought,
but the stat is 100 percent. A semicolon
suggests a sort of equality between two independent clauses,
I used one in the previous sentence because I could not
bear to end the thought so soon. It’s a lot of work,
being alive and continuing to think in the face of certain death,
but that’s the job. I was reading about this badger
scientists recorded burying a calf carcass. It took four days.
Now that’s a complete sentence. Badger sees cow,
badger thinks, Bury cow, badger buries cow. Period.
I watched some of the video. This badger was serious.
How long can a badger live on a carcass’ measure
of rotting beef? I’m guessing a year, maybe eighteen months.
You know that badger figured it had won the meat lottery
when it found this cow, left by scientists studying
scavenger behavior. Eventually we are all scavengers;
the stat is 100 percent. I sent the video to my father.
He sent back a link to a New Yorker article
about nostalgia. How we sometimes miss
things that never existed or are not yet gone.
I miss more than I can say. What would you do
if you were walking through the desert of your allotted days
and came across everything you ever wanted?
Eat what you can. Bury the rest.
After Dean Rader & Robert Frost
Another planet battle-scored & near-exterminated: we crave this cave-chase & escape plan,
our evacuation inevitable. We have always been outnumbered & every system is remote
from somewhere. Our future pendulums away from us, our small stars extinguish each other
in the heart’s dark sky. You are not afraid. An empire grows in my chest. Pistol me open,
let my rebellious ribs steam into the frost, feed on the warmth of me. We cannot destroy
all that threatens us & ice will not slake your salted tongue. Given flame, we choose to burn.