As I edit North of Autumn, I thought I’d put all the novel’s poems in one place. I previously posted them as I wrote them. North of Autumn is written in the same universe as Tiny House Big Mountain. The latter is on its way to being published by Raw Earth Ink. I also added readings of the poems. Reading the poems is my favorite part, but also what I’m never satisfied with. Now, having them all together, I want to write more hymn meter. Also (adding this after having published the post) I didn’t include the poem Haute Couture, which I wrote for the novel but decided not to use.
Whatever rakes the attic floor, There won't be any ghost; And if there's scratching at your door, A gust of leaves at most. Though I may whisper my good-byes, Who hears the Thrush's song, Who's seen which way the Raven flies Will never stay for long. I'll have crossed the fresh-laid snow And left no trace behind; The summers that I used to know Will since have slipped my mind. P.S. Life is itself enough to scare The living half to death, No need for supernatural fare To steal away our breath. P.S. - Hymn #7
Each element best mends itself When human beings have erred— Metal is with metal welded And clay with clay repaired But tell me when the last word's spoken— If this is how we end it— Tell me when the heart is broken What element will mend it? Broken
The morning glories may mistake Whatever wall they try And in their slow mistaking take A window for the sky. They press against the glass and reason They touch the celestial sphere (Above Earth’s evanescent season Divinity is near). How strange and unaccountable Is heaven to these flowers— My indoors unpronounceable And foreign to their hours. As if I were a deity They watch me come and go, Their guileless spontaneity More God-like than they know. These flowers searching the sidereal For something like perfection Might almost witness the ethereal Yet miss their own reflection. Hymn #9 - The Morning Glories
You mostly needn’t guess (Or second guess) the season, You know it more or less: You know it by the spider Fattened on the addled flies. They crowd September’s cider. And if the weather’s terse And fitful then it’s likely April; yet suppose this verse Is buried under snow? Your guess is good as mine. Vermont. You never know. Every year it’s touch and go. If despite your hurry You pause just long enough To momentarily query The verses here and there, You next may ask yourself If poems aren’t everywhere?— If maybe all along (And even by a sidewalk) There wasn’t always song? And though that may be true, It’s true because all poetry Is truthfully in you. Two Sidewalk Poems
Cosima Lia Tilden Died Dec 15 1893 in þe 73d yr of her age. Here lies a piece of Earth That for a little while Was all my joy & worth Heaven in her smile A world of love & mirth All was ours in a brief square mile.
Forgive me if I'm worse for wear. There's nothing I've to show For writing poetry here and there. One should take care, I know— The ant instructs us patiently— The winter will be long— But where would summer's evenings be Without the cricket's song? Hymn #14 - Fables
Odysseus, wily navigator, you Who have endured a thousand harborless sorrows, I too have suffered. I, being sent to launder Your mistress’s apparel in the river Or often, by myself, to bring from orchards A desired olive, fig or grape, was also Betrayed by those you’ve slain—made by them A slave to slaves—my vessel desecrated My lading mired and diminished, sorted With weeds and brackish waters—yet for that Condemned. Odysseus, wily navigator— Tell him, your minstrel with the wine stained fingers Who sings of wayward tides, of witches, Gods And far-flung isles, that I was also lost Longing for home who had no home to search for; And tell your songster in your rage you snared My sisters by one rope between a pillar And dome; and that we were together lifted, Each beside the other, nooses round Our necks until our feet no longer touched The earth—the knots tight as a luthier’s string. Tell your songster, though he sings of you To tell of the twelve girls who were like Thrushes that spread their wings to fly at last But could not. Though struggling, we only breathed To take another dying breath—our agony Your pleasure. Tell him: ‘Sing of girls, of slaves To slaves, who twitched a little while but not For long; whose rags were left behind, bone broken And creaking in the winds of Ithaca.” Tell him that we waited to be lain Among the corpses we ourselves had carried From the blood-soaked hall. So long as sings your minstrel, Odysseus, so long will fly from us The last syllable of our breath: that far From Ithaca, cries of murder, bloodshed And vengeance—where the grass at evening shivers In sea-spray and the noiseless spider sifts The wind—was seen a startled thrush that cried out, Took flight above the drumming waters, even Above the dissolution of the air, Into the spreading fingers of the Milky Way. Ithaca
The seasons do not tabulate The yearly gross and net, And neither do they contemplate What quotas go unmet. The endless inefficiencies Give reason to be worried (There's no escaping winter's fees) Yet dreams will not be hurried. The dreary mind cannot affirm What nature testifies— The paltry labor of the worm Becoming butterflies. Hymn #8 Butterflies
I otherwise would hardly write (These poems are hit or miss) But here I sit, alone tonight, Still thinking of your kiss. Just so you know, a storm came through; The garden is a mess. You ought to see the honeydew. They're floating more or less. The melons drift from row to row, And peas are here and there. Don't bother asking if I know Which vegetables are where. But I can tell you either way The melons are delicious, The flesh— so cool, so sweet. To say Much more would be seditious. I washed the dirt from some tomatoes; Diced and tossed them in With several waterlogged potatoes— (The soup's a little thin). The weather teaches us, I guess, What is and isn't ours— But have I mentioned, nonetheless, How beautiful the stars? Thursday’s Letter Hymn # 17
I've seen the threadbare eyes of women Their longing turned to doubt. They pass me by like shrouds, these women, Who've looked too deeply out. I've watched the speechless men go by; Their loose and tattered frames. I've watched—beyond repair—these men With their forgotten names. If nothing else then know that some, Depending where they dwell, Would trade all heaven's angels singing For just one kiss in hell. Hymn #3 - Threadbare
I’m told they finally closed the bridge. They say It’s for the season. I don’t mind it closed. Autumn is the time of year a tree Will make her apron from the leaves she scatters; And neat and tidy as a pin she’ll strew The self-same skirt with fruits and nuts. The shame Is when her labor’s swept into a ditch Her summer lost to all the traffic’s coming And going. Were the brook to drown the bridge As she’s been threatening to for forty years I’d be as pleased to see it gone. And sure I’d have to go by Hodge’s into town. Old Hodge! Such stories as he liked to tell! He’s since long gone but I remember how My mother scolded him from time to time. She’d ask him. ‘Stealing berries from your neighbor? No fields of your own?’ ‘Too shaded,’ he’d say. And then she’d answer, ‘Cut down all those Hemlocks! And why not plant your berries there? ‘I’d never!’ He’d answer with a wink my ways. ‘Someday They’ll up and go all by themselves. You’ll see.’ And I being just a little girl saw how They could and straightaway that night I dreamt Of Hemlocks. Just past midnight came a gust That shook the windowpanes. I sat upright Or dreamt I did. When one’s so young life’s anyhow A half-remembered dream. I looked straight out The window where I saw the further ridge And Hodge’s Hemlocks quaking top to bottom. I slipped from bed and tip-toed to the sill And leaned with nose and elbows. There was not The slightest breeze and yet the Hemlocks teetered And tottered down the ridge the way we used to Before electric came—when all we had Was balancing a candle in one hand And the other out before us all the same. They slipped into the hollow; not just Hemlock, But birch and Sugar Maple followed. They swayed into my dooryard just as though They’d been there all along. Next there was a tapping As of a bony finger at the window As might a neighbor come by casually To say ‘Hello’. And what with all their reeling And almost falling down, there were everywhere Acorns, pine cones, twigs and whirligigs And apples that swung like rusty bells whose tongues Had since gone dry and shriveled. What was I? Six? Seven? I thought nothing more than straight Undo the latch and open up the window. I meant to let them in and in they came— The sprung and rickety articulation, The lean, long-fingered limbs. They combed and lifted My hair, and poked and plucked and pinched my nightgown (And by my nightgown picked me up). I held My blanket sailing round me as I spun From limb to limb. Their plaint timbers groaned And popped as though the ocean rolled beneath them. Their roots like prying thumbs dismantled obstacles: They sent the stones from stone walls tumbling down And knocked the stooks out of their rows and columns. Sure as I stand and talk to you today I still can feel the ribbing tips of sticks Like fingertips, the sticking scent of pine, The papery slough of the birch and wild vine Against the skin. They took me from the dooryard Into the wooded valley where the brook Runs leisurely; where oftentimes I’d look For Marigold and Summersweet. You might say The child taking home the buds of May— The firstlings of the season—was no different Than were the woods returned to take the child Straight from her house into the wild. By rights It’s just the same. They set me barefoot On the leaf and needle covered floor. I turned a little circle as I pulled My blanket into something like a hood (As if to hide). The scent of petrichor Was in the air. I peeked; they gawked at me. They stood like giants stooping low as if To better see the girl they’d snatched away (Tiny as I was). And then it seemed That they’d decided. First to do was take My blanket. You would hardly think a Thornapple Could be so delicate and yet it was. And then the others took to prodding me Until I’d lifted up my arms and stretched them straight To either side. They circled me like tailors, I in their fitting room. You’ll want to know Just what the forest wanted. To tell the truth, I know as little now as then. The best I ever do is simply tell the story— How if there were a spider’s web between The aspen’s limbs, a birch would twirl it away: She’d wind a yarn to weave into my braids With Fleabane’s petals at my shoulder blades; How when the Willow brought the cattail’s leaf The Popple made me wristlets and a sash; And as I waited came the Cherry Tree To daub my lips with Hobble Bush (Witch-Hobble Its hereabouts called). To think that they would stain A girl’s lips with that! You might have thought The late September’s wind had riled them—splayed A hundred limbs into a thousand fingers Grasping at their leaves before they fell, But this was no haphazard storm or season For soon as they had daubed my lips and cheeks They made me sandals for my feet—tied with cords Of knotted grass—and lastly wove a crown Of honeysuckle vine and the silk of Thistledown. A train of dragonflies attended me With ruby wings and emerald eyes—they circled As if I were the Fearie Queen and they My courtiers. Then the forest made no sound Apart from here and there the leaf, the stick or fruit That fell or struck the ground. I’ve since been told That old marble, the moon, went tumbling down; Hodge’s jenny jumped the neighbor’s fence And quarreled with the goose. The wind went nibbling At every door and window so bedeviling The weather vane that wakened ghosts ran riot Knowing neither which way to heaven nor which To hell. Their cold and bristling exhalations Struck all they touched with frost, and passing by Turned raincoats inside out. Shutters banged And barn doors howled on swung and worried hinges; Roof shingles clamored for a hold. The owl Swallowed the mouse—the whiskers first and then The whip of tail. Its yellow eyes surveyed The farm yard’s squalor as the cat went dripping Like licorice through the split and missing teeth Of hemlock planks. That was the night to close The bulkhead lest the cellar’s belly fill With leaves and rain. Some thought the dish and spoon Might finally run away and others, with The mortise cracking in the attic, thought The house elves, who steal from our kitchens, Tapped back in place the oaken pegs worked loose By the wind and weather. They’re the elves who snatch A tea-leaf from the cupboard, so little That you or I would never notice, steeped Where dewdrops gather on the rosebud’s lip— So slight a cup!—a hummingbird in turn Might rob the petal if they’re quick enough. I’ve seen it done. But none went out that night Who needn’t go. There was only just Myself, a wide-eyed girl, who danced with Dogwood, Larch and Sugar Maple. I was passed From each to each with little pirouettes. They lightly held my hand above my head; And while I spun I lifted up the hem Of my pajamas just the way a Lady Might hold the corner of her gown while dancing. It airily tumbled as I hopped and skipped. My heels made spirals, my toes made ringlets, round And round I went. How grown and ladylike I felt! I nodded graciously and bowed And curtsied. They kept their rugged rhythm. They thumped their hollow trunks and clapped their sticks And with their sticks made melodies. The forest, Had there been anyone to wander by, Would have seemed to them to bend and sway According to the weather. A gale Of leaves and then another just before The lightning crackled in the understory And stood my hair on end. The dancing faltered. I lifted my pajamas to my knees And scurried to my blanket. Here and there A raindrop stamped the earth with a flowering splash Of dust and water. Then, as if decided To pay no mind, a Honey-locust nudged me To dance some more. But just like that the lightning Struck like a thistle’s lash across the sky And turned the bowl of water upside down. The rain fell down in sheets. ‘No!’ I cried. ‘No! Take me home!’ The forest pricked and pinched me. ‘Let me go!’ I cried. I tried to hide. I pulled my blanket tightly round my shoulders And would have run away but stumbled— The rolling acorns bruised my heels and needles Poked between my toes. ‘I want to go—!“ But then stopped short of crying ‘—home!’. An Oak tree Appeared, its hollow like a yawning mouth, The vines of wild grape among its roots As though the old Oak trailed an ancient beard. The woods made way until the great tree stood giant-like Above me. I held my blanket to my eyes When with the thumb and finger of its branches It picked me up by my pajamas (pinched Between my shoulder blades). I kicked and flailed Above its gaping hollow when straightaway It dropped me. Down I fell into the maw And down into the endless dark, falling and falling— Myself a piece of autumn. I closed my eyes At first; but feeling only weightlessness I slowly opened them again. I saw The tiniest light that seemed both far away And close enough to touch. All else forgotten, I reached. I almost touched before a moth Took flight. It fluttered round me, through my fingers, Flew away and back again before I’d cupped my hands. And just as moths will do It zigzagged fitfully until it landed. How beautiful it was! The moth shown through And through with light. Another fluttered round me And then another. If I fell or floated I couldn’t say. I turned and tumbled slowly And held my hands out as the moths glittered, faery-like, Between my fingers and then dragonflies And even leaves, all lighted like the moths, Joined me. I was like a little planet And they the stars accompanying me through darkness— The endless night. And then I cried aloud! I landed on my bed! The comforter And pillows burst. The air above was filled With feathers just as if the moths, the dragonflies And leaves had all along been angels. They’d scattered, As suddenly perplexed as I was. Little By little I began to hear again The household sounds of open windows. The pop and stutter of their hinges. The storm Had passed me by. I watched the ghostly curtains That neither came nor went. They moved in moonlight And moonlight glittered on the floor. I went Barefooted where the rainfall pooled and drew A chair behind me. Still not tall enough, I stood on tip-toes once again to reach The window latch. A trailing gusts of rain Confused the glass. I thought I saw the Hemlocks, If only through the momentary blur. I thought they bobbed and sunk into the earth Once more. Needles were between my toes And there were acorns in my bed. I picked A cocklebur out of my sheets and here And there were petals slipping from my hair. Into the Woods As told by Mrs. Agnus Merryweather of Brookway, Vermont
I’ve seen them sometimes out alone, Out walking roads too late For any business but their own— Lost to what they contemplate. I’ve seen as they have seen: the grim, The few remaining rags Of autumn strung from the black limb, How every hour lags. I too, without a place to go And nothing to my name, Have wandered through the rain and snow And would have said the same: There’s only guessing at what may Or may not come tomorrow, But I have seen enough today To know the taste of sorrow. Hymn #7 - Sorrow
I know better than to say: Give no thought to when. There’s nothing to wish the ache away, But that we’ll meet again. Give to the intervening hours As much as absence takes But nothing more—our love is ours; And the bonds affection makes. To you alone the keys Who, friend and lover, part; To you the secret codices And chambers of my heart. Ellie’s Hymn As written in the notebooks of Ellie Tydan, mother of Zoē Tydan.