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Four poems by Katherine J. Williams


When the blue shadow of the elm edges

across the lawn, we head to the woods,

my hand in the hard smoky hand

above me. Sounds of students slide away

as we pass the campus, and the hush

dusk drapes around us, thick and cool.

The last of the day’s wasps lazily rise

from smashed apples that sink in the ground

as the swish of grasshoppers through

high grass gives way to crickets

easing under evening, calling for a mate.

Our way greys down to feeling, muzzy

light furs the edges, we’re lured

by the dark that is not dark,

by the scent of decay, the sense

of a path, the loud hush

of high trees crowded together.

I am thinking of the unseen snails

curled in their coiled beds,

squirrels snuggled in leafy dreys

above us. I don’t think

of what my father is thinking

in this silence that is not silence.

He and I will turn with the woods

at our back like wind, pass through pool

upon pool of streetlight across the campus,

into the house where my mother sleeps

in her high invalid’s bed. He will tuck

me in, leave on one light. Out on the porch,

the smoke from his cigarette will curl

around his yellowed fingers as peepers

throb in the fated elms. The orchard

has not yet been razed to make space

for new buildings. His lungs

still fill with the moist night air.

Late August, Lake Champlain

The longer I sit, the louder they become,

the offerings of this pale morning.

No blare of birdsong, no display of light

to play through night’s watery leavings.

Neither chill nor warmth — I’m aware of being

aware of the seamless air.

But the tone of an unknown bird tickles the silence.

Spiderwebs wink in invisible wind.

Beyond the trees, vast lungs of unseen water breathe.

The ferry’s wail floats through a muffling cloud.

Almost hidden in the green tangle of maple and beech,

A single red leaf.

Assisted Living

The wipers barely swept the night rain

as I pulled in the drive at Forest Side, stepped

from the car to the click of the lock and the glint

of keys inside where my old friend

smiled while the rain slid down my arm

and over my hand that failed to unlock her door.

I pantomimed picking up keys as Alice

looked faintly puzzled, and I, like a sea creature

twisting in pulsing water, waved and moved

through the downpour, ringing the car windows,

wildly pointing toward the key ring as she laughed

wrapped in the warmth of dementia

until I stood still, chilled in the wet dark,

knowing I could not reach her.

Ghost Pipes

I never know how far in I need to go

before the starlings’ clatter pales,

the rattle of the high grass turns to breath,

and the loud hush of presence surrounds me.

But now under the clerestory of forest,

it happens, as slices of light

slip through the high gray beech.

Even though I don’t expect to see them

the fringe of my sight is always

attuned, as though merely watching

opens a nave of possibility. This morning

off to the left beneath the beech — ghost pipes

in a ring, sepulchral, glowing.

On all the yesterdays I walked through this forest,

these icy plants were only an idea

and if I tried to bring a stem home

the fluted blossoms would blacken in my hands.

Belief lifted off so quietly I barely heard it leave.

What does it mean to worship?

All I know is that I’ve missed you,

even if I’m creating the you I long for.

Katherine J. Williams, Associate Professor Emerita at The George Washington University, is an art therapist/clinical psychologist. Her poems have been published in journals and anthologies such as Poet Lore, The Northern Virginia Review, 3rd Wednesday, Voices, The Poet’s Cookbook, The Widows Handbook, Passenger, and How To Love The World, Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews. One of her poems was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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