Michael McGriff

Sudden Poem for the Last Hour of Winter

I’ve emerged from my winter depression
like a man at a piano
whose faith in the invisible finally outweighs
the yellow keys tugging at hammers so distant
the audible is vanquished miles
before it happens, or could matter.
What I hear now is faint, the flat hum of joy
in the coast wind
changing direction with the tide—
in the jetty, which tells me nothing—in seagulls
who go about their caroling elsewhere
when it’s dark—in whatever the broken piers moaning
on their barnacle stilts are trying to say.
This carnival season is tearing itself down
and moving east of the Cascades. Everything’s flashing
like a run of jackknifed salmon into my thought.
I’m paying attention to the carvings
in the sandstone banks along the old coast highway:
names, swastikas, desperate propositions.
Today, I salute you, ghost engravers,
and what’s left of your rain-soaked petroglyphs.
Maybe you’ve entered the afterlife
and what’s inscribed before me
is the testimonial of our collective failure—
or, as the last fits of rain cut the sandstone
into jags of wet lightning,
maybe it’s the veins of the woman I love
branching from jaw to throat to breast
that I’m supposed to see.
I’m going to drive the whole valley today,
drive the fields of I-5 the seed farmers will burn
in a few months. I’ll take Peoria
until a.m. talk radio fades into my dreams of hay devils
turning in the wind, where Mennonite country
skirts the paper mills and roadside nurseries.
I’ll pass a bend of water filled with junked
American cars where the river eddies
then changes direction, the old water
riding from one season to the next
through the skeletons of rumble seats.
The winter is a hinge
swinging one world away from another, leaving
those cruel months where grief and beauty
must be arranged and rearranged
like two chairs in a house I’ve yet to call my own.

Michael McGriff
Sudden Poem for the Last Hour of Winter first appeared in Mid-American Reivew, vol. XXVI, #1.
Poem, copyright © Michael McGriff, 2005
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse