Heartwood

Heartwood

by Eric Pankey

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780689707353
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/1988
Pages: 50

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

    CRAB APPLE


The thin chipped branches of the crab apples,
     are as hard as anything
   that holds on beneath the iron cast
       of late autumn sky.

Whoever planted them as ornament
     must have loved the scattered nest,
   the broken-knuckled look of the thing,
       must have loved the fruit,

the unripe pithy white, the dusty red,
     some speckled with mold, some pecked
   but not eaten, the holes edged with black,
       black like charred paper.

If the trees are bent it is not from fruit.
     Each year they shrink a little.
   The ground beneath them goes soft with rot.
       The bark grays like shale.

You can only eat so much sour jam,
     and when you do you are left
   with the cramped, twisted look of the trees,
       a look so jagged,

you almost forget the season they flower.


    THE ROAD TO EMMAUS


This is what they are offered. Their bodies, their eyes which fail
them. It is springtime. There is rain and the paths are rutted.

The gray mud along the road is a gravellymortar.
There is an apple tree among the trees of the wood, light

in the rain-white smoke of blossoms. This is not suffering.
This is the story of what suffices, how the body

can be divided infinitely, how it can be held
like bread in the hands of a stranger, bread which is broken,

the dust of flour falling through the column of sunlight,
dust so finely lit it becomes nothing before their eyes.


    WHITE HORSE


Those days as I drove over the rise
and my headlights hit the horse, I'd brake,
startled, believing the horse was loose.
It stood outside the short, tumbled fence.
By that time the sun would be up, but
the highway ahead of me still dark,
the hills filling away from the road
casting their shadows all the way down
the incline to the Cedar River.
All spring the horse had grazed the wide
ditch along Highway One, one leg tied
to a post in the ditch's center.
The white horse cut a perfect circle
in the rise and fall of weeds.
Today, driving that road again
after a summer away, I was already crossing
the bridge, sunlight breaking in flashes
behind the green paint and rust of support beams,
when I realized I had not seen the horse.
Ahead of me the slimmest of moons
persisted in the morning sky, white.
Perhaps the place where the horse had stood,
as round and hard as a threshing floor,
was now reclaimed by coreopsis, clover
and goldenrod. Or perhaps, the trampled earth
remained smooth and worn.
As I drove it was hard to know
which I would choose if it were my choice.


    FORFEITING LIGHT


      The hillside's red sumac,
A few thinning maples—
      So many trees lit up
Whole beneath evening's light.
      How long can the moon stay
Low like that, mildewed, cold?
      Its greenish burn on both
My hands surprises me.

      Glowing, phosphorescent
On a birch or white oak,
      In a thicket's shadow,
Lichen could easily
      Be mistaken—a ghost.
A spirit that returns
      Because I expect it
To. It is October.

      Below the ridge my car
Idles. The exhaust's warmth
      Burnishes the asphalt
A slick blue-black that fades
      Like his breath years ago
Damp against the mirror
      As I watched him shaving.
It was our time alone.

      I always thought someone
Climbing the oak across
      The mown field from our house
Could see us there—a boy's
      Face white with shaving cream,
A tired man splashing
      Hot water on his face,
Steam lifting from his hands.

      Those hands touching his face.
The moon forfeiting light
      To the work-day morning.
My father not paying
      Attention as I played.
I believed that someone,
      Real or spirit, would watch
From that tree over me.

      Now six months since he's gone,
In a season in love
      With death, I have stopped here
Beside these ragged woods.
      Li Ho was right—the trees
Do fill the four seasons
      With sadness. I'm home here
Where what is lost is loved.


    DEBTOR OF HAPPINESS


Whatever empties the feeder
comes and goes without my knowing.
There is little satisfaction
in their names or the songs I've stopped
listening for. The birds that come
come in spite of me, are welcome
to rule the yard and its one tree,
to pick and scavenge the little
I've left them. I stood among them
once. The morning after Halloween
I broke open a frozen pumpkin
against the trunk of the maple
and chickadees and cardinals
and even a cedar waxwing
cleaned out the three jagged fragments
of their hard white seeds. Once I walked
along a river's marshy bank
pulling a canoe through the shallows
and all the sounds were water sounds:
the reeds swayed by wind, the wet call
of the killdeer, the heron's blue stealth.
Above the quick cut bank, sparrows
broke the air into flight like rain.

I believe the birds no longer
sing their one song of alliance.
If the hummingbird works its way
through the damp dust of evening,
if the black sweep of a crow's wing
or the jay's miserable crying
sends the other birds scattering
I am unaware. I feel the earth's
pull and cannot even look up
to see the nests in the winter limbs
or the hawk circle its hunger
above the rain-washed riverbeds.
Now in my dreams if I fly
flight is more like a falling.
I used to wake to their songs once.
I would listen and I would hear.
It was that simple. What I heard
wove a wreath in the air. I lived
beneath it like a happy man,
as if there were nothing, nothing but air.


    NATURAL HISTORY


1.
Light settled in slowly like silt in the choked-off creekbed
until morning. Time passed like that.

After a long hunt for fossils in the scarped and silvery
clay of the bank

my brother couldn't decide
if the chipped finger-length stones we found

were the remains of marsh grass, or the spines of extinct fish
that lived so deep they were their own source of light.

But everything, he told me again and again, was turned
in time to calcium.

Pith or marrow. It didn't matter. He knew such truth.
He knew that sinkhole,

collared in black moss, where we sat listening to the deep
water's echo hollow in the distance,

might have been the bottom of the ocean.
He knew that the rise our house was built on

might have been a tidal island or a reef.
He knew that after the water receded, there was ice

and that wasn't the end of things. That's years ago,
he told me, before you can imagine.

2.
Summer nights, the grass not yet damp, we lay on our backs
and let the world, everything that held us down,

take us with it. The sky, each star locked in place, turning.
The heavens, we called it.

A machine we dreamed we invented,
so fragile it might break at our touch.

One night, after a week knotted with high winds, tornadoes,
we watched the clouds pile up,

the known dark above us collapse into blackness.
We believed God was up there, hidden. The rain broke

so suddenly we were soaked
before we could get to our feet.

Quick with lightning,
the rain and night flashed a moment of white.

That's what He looks like,
my brother said as we made our way to the porch.

Just like that.
Another stroke backed by thunder halved the changing dark.

We laughed, uneasy, our eyes blinded
as if we had seen Him. Just like that.


    AFTERWARD


Three snow angels cast by the neighbor children
flaw the back yard and except for the footprints
it does look like something's fallen from the sky.
There never has been a more beautiful end
to the world.
               Each snow that fell in my childhood
falls again. Falls around me. But by lunchtime
the sun is out and the gray ice thins, breaks up,
exposes the shuddering black of the creek.
Always the day gave in to darkness. Always.
I take it all back. I meant it all. The words
that couldn't stop anything from happening.


    OVERCOAT


The day my father came home, blood still wet
on his beige overcoat, the gash broken
open across his nose, raw and steaming
as he entered the house, it was Christmas Eve.

"I put the car in a ditch," was all he said
as he raised his hand to touch his wound, but didn't.
He was half-drunk and stood there like a child
needing help with the buttons on his coat.

I remember the water and soap, my hands
rubbed red as I worked the heavy fabric,
but the stain held fast, a splotch of brown
like mud outside where rain had worn away the snow.

Slumped on the couch, he talked himself through his sleep.
And as he slept, I drove from store to store
looking for the exact coat and when I bought it
I didn't have it wrapped. I even thought

of putting it on and stopping somewhere
to get dead drunk for the first time. I didn't.
He was half-drunk, which meant he'd wake easily
the next morning and remember enough

not to say a thing. He'd wake with crusted blood
along the ridge of his nose, with his coat
thrown over him as a cover, and know
I'd given it to him and that it was not a gift.

Table of Contents

CRAB APPLE3
THE ROAD TO EMMAUS4
WHITE HORSE5
FORFEITING LIGHT6
DEBTOR OF HAPPINESS8
NATURAL HISTORY10
AFTERWARD12
OVERCOAT13
APOLOGY14
WITHIN A CIRCLE OF RAIN, MY FATHER15
OLD BRICKYARD ROAD16
PERMANENCE18
THE SAME CLOTH23
PRIVILEGE26
ENDINGS28
SNOW ON ASH WEDNESDAY29
AS IT IS OF TENDERNESS31
TREES32
LEARNING TO WALK35
HOLE36
ADOLESCENCE37
METAPHOR39
FAMILY MATTERS42
CONSOLATION43
AFTER IT'S SPENT44
STORYTELLING45
HUNGER47
ODE TO FORGETFULNESS49
IN BALANCE51
OVER HIS SLEEPING AND HIS WAKING53
RECONCILED54
FROM DANGER56
INTO HAPPINESS57
WITHOUT FAITH58
THE DAY59
BY DUSK60
RHODODENDRON61
AS WE FORGIVE THOSE62
IF YOU CAN64

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