Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Hidden:

33 years ago I had a big crush
that became a revelation. I saw beauty as being
(potentially) sexual
for the first time
just as I was leaving the high school
to walk home through the fields.
From the corner of the school
ground, across Caney Fork Creek,
A challenge sometimes, when the water was up,
Up a long slope, cattle-cropped, cross a long field,
past the Dutton Cemetery.
On a high flank extending out from the hill,
To an old fencerow with layers of wire, all
Grown through and over, with honeysuckle tangle,
I would climb over
And then, so I thought, step onto our land.

This particular day, just after crossing
the creek, as I walked past
The small hawthorn grove,
Which, it being the quintessence of spring,
Was full blown, and emanating, as they do at
Certain times, a light sweet but maddeningly sensual
Scent that hovered in the hillside air around me
Like a cloud of desire -
I stopped, as I usually did,
though not, before, inflamed by love,
To get a drink, wondering, also as many times before
If there wasn’t something about the stone in the spring pool
That suggested it had been placed there,
Or was part of something long gone. The giant tree
Whose roots the spring emerged from
Engaged my fantasy of the tree, said, in old Norse
Sagas to be an Ash, whose trunk
Supported the nine
of the universe. At the root, somewhere
Worlds below, was a spring, a single drink
Of whose icy water brought
Knowledge of all that was, is, and
will be.
I imagined the bark and branches grey
With lichens – old man’s beard
Hoary with fog droplets, the mist
Swirling about the hidden trunk, only seen
(suddenly) if you run toward the base of a limb
wide as a road, but curved, like the back of a
whale breaking the surface of the fog–enshrouded
sea. On other limbs, invisible in slow roiling
clouds of flying droplets, the sounds of branches being
gnawed on and twiglets snapped in mouthfuls
seemed strangely close in the chill moist air,
as though the stags and squirrels
who inhabited the limb-worlds were
whispering directly in your ear.

The well is somewhere unimaginably
Far below, there is no way
To shinny down, unless –
The wind-worn, lichen-festooned grooves
In the mighty bark ,being deep as creviced canyons
In a cliff wall, one did climb down, for days
Or maybe weeks, resting on the wondrous slopes
Of house-sized bracket fungus.
Traveling down, one becomes
Due to a sliding that loosens the certainty
Of dimension
With ever-greater speed, as pressure
In the deep compresses,
The barrier of size is crossed and
The realm of the dwarves arrives.
And that being, really, is not so much
Seen, as sensed, the fog, at this depth, is
Utterly condensed. He
Is the guardian of the spring,
Pausing like a crouched cat to whirl
Around and pounce
On anything near the water unaware.
And you must speak to him
As you speak with a cat, and say
Plainly that you’ve come
To strike a trade. For even past
Crushing the insolent with his fine forged
Hammer he adores
The code is simple;
Give the nature of what
You wish to receive. Don’t be afraid to be
Literal; the drink is visionary; offer
An eye.
(They do wear out in time.)
And this done, and the water
Dissolving, with icy clarity, the
Habit of being in a single place and time,
To something more like
The nine layers of mist world above,
Encircled round

This is what I thought beside that spring,
And that it had excellent watercress.

Little did I know, standing in the
Hawthorn cloud,
That if I walked ten
Yards to the west, I would have stepped into
The ghost-site of
My great, great-grandfather David
Dutton’s house, cedars pushing the
Disarray of limestones about, in
his and Mary’s hearth.
It was a cabin, of course, and he may
Have lived there till he died -
March 21, spring, in 1869.
The spot was lovely, a garden-sized flat
Of bottomland to the creek, approached
On the far side by a road, hugging the bluff
Above Caney Creek. There are, and were likely
Beeches lining the lane,
Reaching out over the creaking harness
Of the horses, dappling the sunlight,
In spring, with shade of yellow green
Leaves, to a pattern beside you on the
Wagon bench. Just ahead a fork goes off
Left to ford the creek and lead right
to the door, facing out and
Set in the mouth of a little hollow just
Big enough to cut the wind and shelter three
Tiny meadows, divided by walls of stacked rock,
Once fences or barn foundations, a path with a ferned
Rock side, leading to no less than 3 springs, the last one
With room for a tiny pond, where a cattail still grows,
beside the remnants of a springhouse of stacked stones.

The holler now is overgrown with a crop
That favors special spots, the pale blue arching
Of black raspberry canes, more
Than I’ve ever seen.
In the middle of the first patch
I discover an even bluer ring, barely
Protruding from the earth, and dig out
An enameled crock rim, swirled with clouds of white,
As though the sky had cleared
And heaven become
A decoration,
Like a joke
Shared with a ghost.

Thank heavens all the tangle of undergrowth
Was there, the tumbled piles of stones, the shadowed
Thicket of the cedar, the claw-set briars,
To form a blind,
And they, my ancestors, grown so remote in time,
That I could see only what I have described
And not
The exact moments they lived and died
Though those too
seem to linger
just a handsbreadth
hidden in the fog.

Did he too, mirror to my steps,
Step into the hawthorn cloud
His last spring
And dream, again, of being sixteen and seeing


Mary Beth said...

You take me back to J'Town and long walks home after school. There was a bus, but I always loathed the shallow chatter of the glossy girls and prissy cheerleaders. So I walked.

Soon a few girlfriends joined me. Carol and Pan were as enamoured to the trees and streams and wildflowers as I was. Sometimes we'd barely beat our parents home from their work places in the city.

Yes, I feel under the power of a first crush in the Springtime too. He began to walk home with me. It was on a down hill slope above Fern Creek that he kissed me. I don't remember the kiss. I remember the stillness and the stream burbuling and murmuring with language I could not yet understand. I remember that he was tall, 5'8", and deciding that such was the perfect height for a man. The thoughts of a silly girl!

How many years ago was that? I don't even dare to count them. It was another life time, a different world.

Now I'm old and my eyes ARE wearing out. I'm still getting used to my first pair of reading glasses. When I look up from the computer, or get up for another cup of tea, I forget about the light weight glasses and go stumbling through a fog until I remember to take them off again.

What a drag it is growing old. My friends tell me to get bifocals. I don't have the heart to tell them they look like chickens, jerking their heads about as they struggle to find which pair of the lens allows them to read the menu. Do tell me about the specials please!

What happed to the sweet young man? Would he still seem tall? Is any of his blond hair left?

His parents suddenly divorced and he and his father moved away in shame. She's taken up with a younger man and moved into Louisville. Where did they go? New Jersey? Tennessee? Either place would do. They were as distant as the dark side of the moon.

Dan Dutton said...

According to the Immutable Sutra Buddha said, "The phenomena of life may be likened unto a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, the glistening dew, or lightning flash; and thus they ought to be contemplated."

Whether glasses might help or not, he did not say.

We sensualists never abandon the ship until it's wrecked.

Cathy said...

Of all the vivid images and jeweled phrases here, the one that haunts me most is "a sliding that loosens the certainty of dimension."

Your mythic ash reminds me of the huge tree with exposed roots we saw in the branch

Dan Dutton said...

I thought about you the moment that one tapped onto the keys!

I was afraid this would be a little redundant concerning the tree/spring image, but had to go where the slide took me.

SBD said...

Take me there...into this mythical/true/touchstone world!