Every poem I write for my father is called twilight by Kelley J. White

Every poem I write for my father is called twilight

Clouds make shadows on the mountains.
I walk through their green darkness. I want
a wind to silence thought, a storm to drown
out prayer, electric stillness, the promise
of breaking. You can walk three days
into woods and not find a single birch

worth a canoe. I know. I have done it.
I have loved slender saplings peeled white
and mourned for their cracking death
in ice. You never trusted your canvas
to my hands, never taught me the courage

of rapids. But I learned to read cocoons
and the wings of beetles, spider silk
and the veins of fern. I can follow bear
spoor studded with blackberry seed,
walk through thorns and not care if my legs

are bloodied. I have knelt on bruised knees,
mouth to rough water, asked the snake
to rattle your path from his one rock.
I want to remember dawn. I will listen for
the hawk to fold his wings.

by Kelley J. White

Editor’s Note: The intense clarity of the imagery in this poem conveys the weight of myriad emotions that couldn’t otherwise be articulated.

Poet’s Note: This poem has had an interesting life. It appeared many years ago in a now defunct internet publication, Three Candles, and as the title poem for an on-line chapbook (also now defunct). More recently it was included in two museum projects in New Hampshire pairing words and graphic art, one at the Museum of the White Mountains and one at Castle in the Clouds. I was reminded of the piece as we approach Father’s Day.

Round Pond by Kelley J. White

Round Pond

Always twilight. I pull the heavy oars
through dark water until we balance,
cool air and water, night stilling, silent,
but for the living web of insect song spun
to our skin. We could hear a fly
settle on the face of the pond, hear the fish
rise to meet it, the still circles of each rise
ringing out until each fish’s hunger met
our wooden boat and quavered back.

Night birds dipped, smooth swallows,
flickering bats; no human sound
but the shipped oars dripping and
the shirr, shirr, shirr as my father gathered
the line in his palm for the cast,
the quick run-out as the trout pulled taut,
the moonlit silver dulling in the dark creel.

My father knew each hatch, which mayflies
lived for only one night’s flight, or two,
or three, or five. He knew the larva
and the nymphs, each swimming, clinging,
crawling stage. He’d catch a chrysalis
on the net’s edge to watch the rough husk split
then dry and enter air. So many white wings.

He’d lean a moment, the lit match quick
against his young face, the cigarette cupped,
match shaken, his hands brisk to tie a leader
or untangle a knot. I wet a finger. No wind.
Moon. I lay on the bottom of the drifting
boat, rocking, palms open to stars, so many
risings, light, sound, circles, whispers of fish,
my father dim in the bow, casting and reeling in,
my whispering breath, the water gentling,
lapping, and he rowed us swiftly home.

by Kelley J. White, from After Frost (CyberWit)

Editor’s Note: The absolute stillness of the imagery in this poem is broken only by the quiet movement of life flowing out of the water and then fading back into the depths, which is a lovely way to remember someone.

From the archives – You sped off in angry darkness and struck something hard. by Kelley J. White

You sped off in angry darkness and struck something hard.

Turning back, you cupped two hands around the shell
of the broken turtle, to ease it to a place
where it would be more comfortable in dying

down by the river, the flat slap of dark water dying
beneath a dim streetlight, beside the shells
of broken factories, an empty silent place

you knew alone. You moved gently to a place
of moss and sand, a soft cool place for dying,
to honor to be faithful to the turtle, the shell

pealed from her tender dying places; you broke your shell.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, February 20, 2017 — by Kelley J. White

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim.

You sped off in angry darkness and struck something hard. by Kelley J. White

You sped off in angry darkness and struck something hard.

Turning back, you cupped two hands around the shell
of the broken turtle, to ease it to a place
where it would be more comfortable in dying

down by the river, the flat slap of dark water dying
beneath a dim streetlight, beside the shells
of broken factories, an empty silent place

you knew alone. You moved gently to a place
of moss and sand, a soft cool place for dying,
to honor to be faithful to the turtle, the shell

pealed from her tender dying places; you broke your shell.

by Kelley J. White

Editor’s Note: The poet introduced me to this form (a tritina—a mini sestina), and as with other forms dependent on repetition, this poem uses the technique to emphasize the underlying emotional narrative with great effect.

From the archives – I knew I’d lost you — Kelley J. White

bird jewelry

I knew I’d lost you

on your tenth birthday. Your father pierced
your ears. Walked into my house with surgical
instruments—and you chose it, though I,
I’d reached forty, I liked to say, intact—
no physical alterations, no piercings, tattoos,
scarifications. I didn’t even wear jewelry
or make-up. But you perched on a kitchen stool
and I ran, put your little brother and sister
in the car and cried injustice into your
grandmother’s laundry basket (while she taught
them to fold.) That was the year your aunts
gave you a cookbook and you started to make
an art out of chocolate. I swallowed, hard,
and grew.

from Autumn Sky Poetry 6 — by Kelley J. White

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim