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.
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.
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.