Download document

HALL, Donald

September Ode
The tree is burning on the autumn noon

That builds each year the leaf and bark again.

Though frost will strip it raw and barren soon,

The rounding season will restore and mend.

Yet people are not mended, but go on,

Accumulating memory and love.

And so the wood we used to know is gone,

Because the years have taught us that we move.

We have moved on, the Tamburlaines of then,

To different Asias of our plundering.

And though we sorrow not to know again

A land or face we loved, yet we are king.

The young are never robbed of innocence

But given gold of love and memory.

We live in wealth whose bounds exceed our sense,

And when we die are full of memory.


To grow old is to lose everything.

Aging, everybody knows it.

Even when we are young,

we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads

when a grandfather dies.

Then we row for years on the midsummer

pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,

that began without harm, scatters

into debris on the shore,

and a friend from school drops

cold on a rocky strand.

If a new love carries us

past middle age, our wife will die

at her strongest and most beautiful.

New women come and go. All go.

The pretty lover who announces

that she is temporary

is temporary. The bold woman,

middle-aged against our old age,

sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.

Another friend of decades estranges himself

in words that pollute thirty years.

Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge

and affirm that it is fitting

and delicious to lose everything.

The Corner

It does not know its name.

It sits in a damp corner,

spit hanging

from its chin, odor of urine

puddled around.

Huge, hairless, grunting,

it plays with itself,

sleeps, stares for hours,

and leaps

to smash itself on the wall.

Limping, bloody, falling back

into the corner, it

will not die.

Name of Horses

All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding

and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul

sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,

for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,

dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.

All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine

clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,

gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,

and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,

three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load

a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.

Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill

of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,

one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,

led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,

and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,

and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,

shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,

where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,

roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,

yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter

frost heaved your bones in the ground - old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.

The Things

When I walk in my house I see pictures,

bought long ago, framed and hanging

—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—

that I've cherished and stared at for years,

yet my eyes keep returning to the masters

of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,

tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,

a broken great-grandmother's rocker,

a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable

detritus that my children will throw away

as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips

with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,

and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

Safe Sex

If he and she do not know each other, and feel confident

they will not meet again; if he avoids affectionate words;

if she has grown insensible skin under skin; if they desire

only the tribute of another's cry; if they employ each other

as revenge on old lovers or families of entitlement and steel—

then there will be no betrayals, no letters returned unread,

no frenzy, no hurled words of permanent humiliation,

no trembling days, no vomit at midnight, no repeated

apparition of a body floating face-down at the pond's edge

At Eagle Pond

In April the ice rots. Over the pocked glaze, puddles

of gray stain spread

at midday. Every year an ice-fisherman

waits one weekend too many, and his shack sinks

to remain among reeds and rowboats. At this open

winter’s end, in the wrack

and melt of early spring, I walk on the shore

of Eagle Pond, by our August swimming place, and count

the season’s waste: mostly the wakeful

beaver’s work-stout trees chewed through, stripped

of bark, trailing twigs in the water.

Come summer we will chop the rot away, and loll on red

blossoms of moss.

In October I came here last,

walking beside my daughter whose red hair flared

under poplar’s pale yellow, under black-green fir.

I gazed at her watery pale profile,

admiring the forehead large and clear without guile

and took pleasure in her silent company.

By the shore a maple stood upright, casting

red leaves, gnawed to a three-inch waist

of centerwood that bore the branches’ weight. Today

it is eaten down, new blonde splinters

within the gray surface of the old chewing.

Two weeks ago I drove her to the Hematology Clinic

of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and waited outside,

among bald young women and skeletal boys.

By the felled

maple my frightened heart

is wary of reassurance; from forty years back

I remember a photograph of the German regular army

hanging partisans on the Russian front:

Grandfather Wehrmacht in his tight-collared greatcoat

adjusts the boy’s noose

while his elderly adjutant watches; beside the boy,

his girl companion has already strangled, her gullet

cinched when a soldier

kicked a box from her feet. In the photograph,

taken near Minsk the summer

of nineteen-forty-one, the boy smiles

as if he understands that being hanged

is no great matter.

At the pond’s edge old

life warms from the suspense of winter. Fish hover

under the corrupt surface of April ice, and everything

trembles in the moment’s skin and surge: grasping

nothing, wishing only to fall as the stone wishes,

or to rise with the wish of fire, I separate

into sky as a bird, into water as a fish,

or as water itself, or as weeds that waver in water.