the victor departs wondering whether out of Marsyas’ howling there will not someday arise a new kind of art— — Zbigniew Herbert
If not winter, what must Marsyas have felt, so artfully flayed, his visage stripped from him, all of a piece, until his fingertips were the last to know wholeness. He could see his countenance lifted from him just as this snow is lifted from us. Two fists remain under the Rose of Sharon, the last of a long winter’s screed. A rabble of earth emerges on the hill, almost green, vulnerable, the stream that promised to return, now a river of Marsyas’ tears.
The field that you are standing before appears to have the same proportions as your own life. — John Berger, About Looking
Boulders cleared with stone boat and ox form the boundary, once the virtue of someone’s hand, one who would abandon tillage to pasture. Thrush and sumac, dragonfly and vole thrive in a world humming with purpose, where at the inconsolable center a wolf tree spreads. Flattened woodreed and broom are evidence of the raccoon’s nightly haunt, hepatica and bloodroot blanketing the knoll at the end of winter—each receiving its shape from that which it opposes. Spittle bug nymphs encased in foam survive in the elbow of a stalk of wild rye. Plant hopper and bluet, barberry moth and bold-faced hornet appear, disappear. Then the field quickens as wind sweeps up, opening, closing, opening again—breathing, finally breathing—saying everything is within you to know.
Prayer for the Children
The impeded stream is the one that sings. — Wendell Berry
Goodbye to the bedroom, dark and drafty, wakening always to shame—no call for help, no sound at all—to the myths, molded to keep the children quiet. Goodbye to the covenant breakers, the apologists and deniers, evaders smug in their corners, to the liars and harmers, to the do-nothings. Goodbye to users and exploiters, manhandlers and promisers, to deceivers and those who scar and debase, whose dominance wins every time. May rain climb the foothills. May the mongrel who once menaced the back meadow of the children’s dreams wag its whole body toward them, smiling.
Even in the hardness of things meant for good gone bad, even when the bleak days took their place among the ordinary, Clotho worked, cleaning and carding, until the roven fibers wound round the distaff shimmered cloud-like, so that when she teased a bit between her fingers to hook securely to the spindle, she might, in the quiet of her day, spin the thread of life. On she labored, filling spindle upon spindle, each its own bright refuge, until Lachesis, the prudent sister, was moved to measure the thread, so as not to be wasteful, and Atropos, blustering in from the fields, red-cheeked and breathless, lifted her shears with little ceremony and cut the thread. Someone had to make the decision. At the wide river Clotho hid among the tumblestones, rounded her back to loneliness. Then something fell over the grieving land. Meadows browned to wither and the sheep began to wander from the valley. People took to quarreling when they should have been shearing, so when lambing time came newborns snared in their mother’s wool. In the dry riverbed, Clotho stirred among the stones, which over time she had come to resemble. Above her floated a day moon, flat and bloodless, in a sky penciled with clouds. Then, as if she’d gone wool-blind, as if someone had doused the candle of the sun— everything went black. Even the wind inhabiting the great trees ceased. Yet she knew this region, so utter in its darkness, it could not darken further, and Clotho stood up in that darkness and dreamed sheep.
White House on South Montowese Street
I’m eleven or twelve and fly over that house, holding tight to a four year old self as if my small body were a suitcase— the stand of birch as it was then, barn already half gone, rhubarb growing poisonous by the back steps. Mother is busy in the kitchen, butter knife in the jam jar, jam purpling the white white bread. At the round table she sits, an anthem of light shifting imperceptibly through summer curtains and onto her sturdy shoes, set square on the speckled linoleum. I am there too, opposite her, afraid of the dark where my legs dangle, under the flaps of the tablecloth with big strawberries on it, Three me’s and Mother. And still I cannot speak.
Pam Bernard is a poet and painter, an editor, and an adjunct professor of creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Franklin Pierce University. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Graduate Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and an AB from Harvard University in History of Art. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing, two Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships, a MacDowell Residency, and the Pablo Neruda and Grolier Prizes. TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, and Nimrod are among the many journals in which her work has appeared. Of her four published books, three are full-length collections of poetry, and a novel-in-verse, entitled Esther, was published by CavanKerry Press in 2015.