(read by the author, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 2011)
During the day I have watched them stand around and chew the yellow grass,
the long-suffering cows. Sometimes steam comes from their nostrils.
I have also visited them at night, seen an entire herd standing
in the rain, as unreacting as the trees behind them
when the jitter of flashlight warned of my approach.
Those were the cows in the field by the forest, and those
were the days when going outside felt like going inside.
There was the sound of a woodpecker pecking, and that was a kind of
knocking. And the sound of the pine trees creaking, and that was
a kind of door. And so you could enter the forest,
and although each moment you trespassed further
became more tense, it only lasted until you could no longer see the road.
Then you would be inside, on a kind of unending
staircase of roots worn silver like the soldered iron strips
that hold stained glass together. From a distance, it would be
mountains, but up close, under the arrows, spears, and ropes of trees,
it was a forest floor, palatial leaf meal mosaics on the ground.
There was a little carpet of stream so clogged with leaves
it had stopped being a stream. And such a surfeit of silence,
it had become a kind of sound
to which, for a while, you could pay attention. Though
it’s inaccurate, I want to say it was like staring at a light.
All you could do was sense it; then you had to recover,
by which I mean to wait for everything to grow dim again.
Then the mind was the only flashlight, a little bobbing beam
that would illuminate randomly and too little.