With the Dog at Bernheim Forest
We walked the field where the path edged
the trees, spindly stands of cedar at first,
then oaks, chestnut — their numbers,
I could see, farther in, shut out even
the dim, winter light. My father whistled
something bright and clear in the cold
as I stayed close, matching my stride to his.
The dog ran in and out of the woods thrilled
and trembling — there was life ranging
in the bracken and she was off her leash.
Eyeing the fallen needles and leaves,
she must have caught the rabbit’s scent
or she saw something flicker, as an eye
might — a shock of white on its breast.
A ridge of fur bristled along her spine
and she stopped dead for a moment,
then ran. We watched her dodge trees,
leap over downed branches, the sound
of her chase fracturing the air.
She must have caught it by the neck.
And then, her low, guttering growl.
My father took the rabbit from her mouth
and laid it in his hat. We’ll bring it home,
he said. We’ll bury it in the lilies.
Playing in the Pastoral Dream
My neighbor spent the summer destroying
his yard. Lopping the tops of his trees,
and razing the ground until it was no more
than dirt, the roots of vines ascending
like wire. I was on the sidewalk
watching my kids ride bikes when his wife
came onto their porch in a bathrobe.
Her head behind the screen was pale and bald
from what could only be chemo.
My body seized at the sight of her,
and I thought of my sister last winter
in her wig. It’s no use, I wanted
to tell him. There’s no construction,
no revision that will stop this.
In the street it was dusk: I knew about death
and I didn’t. It hardly mattered.
The red brush of a cardinal darted
across my yard in the evening’s odd coolness,
moving to her nest in the hedgerow.
Sycamores lining the street shed bark
like snakes in wide strokes, leaving their trunks
a pale green. Inside my pastoral dream,
the white noise of cicadas rises
around my son playing in the grass.
The street lies awash in golden light
like that of endless spring. And my daughter,
at the end of the block, she’s a deer
wandering the trees, she’s in and out of sight.
I can hear them in the next room singing
in bed. Their old cabin lamp warms
with a dark yellow light. Books and plush
animals lie with them each night strewn
amid the swells and valleys of sheets
and summer blankets. I don’t know the song —
it’s something about ponies — but I think
I don’t want to know. They begin to need secrets.
Language that passes for currency.
Places to squirrel their sacred objects:
here a lost tooth, there a compass;
under a pillow — a feather, a postcard.
They save meaning where they can — each stone
in their pockets, each word that comes near.
Sky Watch, Baltimore, Early June
We start in the backyard about 10 p.m.
looking southwest to northeast
for the international space station.
The smell of honeysuckle is a damp
sweetness that winds its way through the yard.
I’m standing on the sidewalk
among furtive vines curling around
the azaleas. Everything has grown up —
weed, flower — out of the nothing left
by February. I get to work pulling
nettles and poke weed, though it’s dark out
and I’m supposed to be looking
for this bright satellite. I imagine
it flying from one edge of the horizon
to the other, like a meteor
or comet, though I don’t know
what I’m looking for and point out planes:
There? No, he says, bigger, brighter.
I consider going inside. I could
be loading the dishwasher, sweeping
crumbs from under my son’s chair.
Then, he says, There. And I see it —
how could I miss it? — a star
moving steadily, quickly even,
from edge to edge. It’s not much,
this unyielding reminder, the little
light it gives is far beyond
our reaching. I want to wake
my children and say, this is what I mean
by far, but there isn’t time.
How can I explain the station’s
inexorable orbit, its path across our sky,
or the constancy of our own turning.
Clare Banks is associate editor for Smartish Pace. A 2014 recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Greensboro Review, Squaw Valley Review, and BODY, among other journals. She has an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland and lives in Baltimore City with her family.