Mary Kay Rummel’s poems have and sustain an oracular voice.
— Stanley Kunitz (Passing Through)
Walking Toward What’s Left
in order to find it. (Dr. Schulman, biologist who discovered
the ancient bristlecone pines.)
Ten thousand feet above the high desert
the ancient bristlecone pine forest
clings to rock. Those trees that survive
are wind sculpted, hoary, gnarled,
low to the ground, looking like Lear.
I touch one branch, a curved foxtail,
bristles and purple cone, a frisson
of energy in my hand.
I do not see God in them. It’s more
like looking at tumbling stars, so clear
the emptiness around like my own
as I get older, rounder, closer
to ground, holding what’s left the way
strangler figs embrace a tree
they feed upon, making a thick
What’s left of bristlecone is story told in rings,
five thousand years, a thousand spent dying
and even dead they live. The trees once
waited for Dr. Schulman walking toward them,
the way rocks wait for ice, for snow, for sea,
the way we walk searching for what we want
to discover, what is waiting for us, and everything
important lies just beyond our vision.
Up here at night the moon swings like a lantern
against the dark, clear with purpose, as if
it could choose a knobby bristlecone pine
or a white horse nosing another horse by a fence.
We hear them as we walk halfway up or down
the steep hold of the world, their breathing, our hearts,
as if we were not forced from our beginning to an end.
As if it were easy.
Looking for the Chanting Monks
A learning to live in a ghosted now.
The journey marked by towns grimy
with industry and grey
sky, tree lined cloister walks,
church to graveyard where centuries
are thrown together, black stones
in an unbraced earth, leaning like teeth.
I dream the sides of the tracks are lined
with those who have lived before.
How can we travel anywhere without
acknowledging those we pass?
Image © Hervé Constant
In his studio the artist
painted shell after shell,
a series, red of persimmons
and rubies purple limned.
He painted a shell like
the stage Botticelli made
for Venus, a begging bowl
shell that pilgrims
wear around their necks
to Santiago de Compostela.
One glittery like the paua
shell that landed at my feet
on the wild south beach,
shell become ear listening to sea.
Then he began painting ears
layered white mushrooms
lined in red and black
bulbous, they got larger
until they left the canvas.
He sculpted an ear
and attached it to a birch
in the orange part beneath
the peeling bark.
The ear hanging there
seemed part of the birch
listening to itself.
A woman went deep
into the arctic looking
for silence to see what it was
and heard herself in her
empty ears. In a land where fells
rise like waves from rock
she heard the sound one hears
at night in a quiet room:
a soft persistent whoosh
beneath the owl’s wings
inside your ears or brain,
something or nothing at all.
Why, she wondered, was she still so lonely?
Image © Hervé Constant
All poems © Mary Kay Rummel.
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