Online Exclusive

Three Poems

Come late spring the branches bear

creamy blooms then pulpy orange half-sweet

three- or four-stoned fruits that slip to the dirt

that all things living leave behind, dirt

that children play in, dirt my daughters played in

back when my daughters thrilled to blink-eye dolls

and the story about a cat who marries an owl, so that when

with bare feet they mashed the loquats into the dirt

and said they were dancing along the moon, I knew

what they meant to say but not what they said:

the owl and the pussycat in their book

danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon as if

desire required clarity and did not, as my daughters did

(as desire did), confuse me. Everybody who lived

in this dry place we’d come to raved for the loquats

lolling on tongues of shade, the fruit

I was meant to want more of but wanted no more of, and not

without sadness I knew that I couldn’t make myself want

more children, and that this want of naught

brought me closer to the dirt and farther from being

alive enough to look at light and see it: a candle,

a gold ring pierced through a pig’s nose, a moon

swinging so close I could eat it.


Hundred-Year-Old Window

I wanted the hundred-year-old window
to open, as I assumed it had for many people
before I lived in this house and thought

to put a desk beside it. It was stuck.
Its watery glass gave onto hackberry branches
and thick black power lines, and by way of its delicate blur

of the scene made the eyes turn and
return to it, like a woman everyone
looks at, as if, looked at long enough, she might

be seen through and therefore invisible.
The window did not grant me the permission
I thought a window, no matter how antique,

owed me, which was the permission to have
hackberry-cooled air drift across my desk while I write
the word hackberry, a name I learned after a storm

splintered one of the tree’s limbs and I called
an arborist to saw it off. Because of its crowded
easily-broken branches, the hackberry is trash,

the arborist told me, and offered to remove it
altogether, despite the fact that it cools the house
and, as I later read, is one of the first trees to grow

on scarred earth. When I called the carpenter
to fix the window I learned that it was operated
by pulleys and ropes with cooperating cylindrical weights

on each end to ensure the closed would open, the open
close, all hidden in the wood frame on each side
of the sash. It seemed cruel and just
that when I learned how the window worked
its workings denied me sight of them, and when
I learned about the hackberry it was an invitation

to destroy the tree. You’ll say I only pay
attention to things when they’re broken, and I’ll say,
Too late. At sunset the window can look

like water a wounded animal has walked
through. Some days I’m
the animal, some days I wound it.


Cave Without a Name

—Stuart Hyatt, Glen Rose Formation

What lights up a morning
is juice in the low glasses, egg yolks
in the yellow cake, a feather in the dust
out the back door, sun on the knots
of the barbed-wire fence, bells on the sheep’s necks
nodding away into the brush, the grass blade twitched
by a furred life lived mostly invisibly near the ground.
The ground gives off its mineral of groundshine
that the children are low enough to see. 

What lights up a night is the moon 
and what lights up the bright part of the moon is the sun
the house spins away from every evening
carrying their sleeping bodies and the blackened windows with it
and what lights up the dark part of the moon
to make a grayish glow beside the bright
is earthshine reflecting off the elsewhere lakes and snow
or even the ice floes off the coast of an Alaska
drifting in the children’s minds.

What lights up a hallway is borrowed light
that falls through the kitchen window or through
the pane of square glass set in the back door,
and to walk at night through the borrowed light and out the door
before electricity came this far into the hill country
was to go darkly away, swinging a lantern
into the brush with feet familiar with the path
so that it was no matter whether the eyes
could see it or not, because the children were never alive at all

before they came here to walk through the dark field
the sheep hide themselves inside, the field
that the moonshine runs over, the cedars and creek
gone a weird white. Had any of the children been born earlier,
before pasture, before sheep, before the moths
striking softly against them, they would have seen
a low fire under a still making moonshine from water,
sugar, yeast, and corn for someone to pour burning
down a swallow hole.

When the sheep disappear, the children know
where in the pasture to find them but not the swallow hole
they’ll find there. If the goal of pruning a tree is to make spaces
a bird could fly through, perhaps the goal of water
is to make fissures in the limestone to fall through
below the corroded still the sheep like to sleep
with silenced bells next to, and perhaps the goal
of the rope is to drop through the hole
so that the smallest girl can lower herself into the cave.

What if the luminous has never been
the low fire, the lantern, not in the moonshine on pasture, not
the whisky and what it lights up in the mind. What
if the luminous has never been the juice, the cake, the feather’s iridescence,
the sharp fence, or the hidden sheep. I was never
afraid, says the woman who the girl grew up
to be. The cave she lowers herself into, sliding down
a scratchy rope, shines like nothing
she knows and she knows not to be afraid

of the water running over the rock, the watershine
where the rock gleams out of the dark,
the rockshine where the cave makes itself divine
for her. She feels thirst and the thirst
for the cave to show her how it began.
When she places her palm against what shines,
she remembers looking into the lost lamb’s eyes
and knowing nothing about what it saw
except that it was magnificent and private.

Cecily Parks is the author of the poetry collections Field Folly Snow (University of Georgia), a finalist for the Norma Farber First Book Award, and O’Nights (Alice James), winner of the Kinereth Gensler Prize. She is the editor of The Echoing Green: Poems of Fields, Meadows, and Grasses (Everyman’s). Her writing about the night in nineteenth-century literature has been featured on the podcast Nocturne and is forthcoming in the anthology 21 | 19: Contemporary Poets in the Nineteenth-Century Archive (Milkweed). The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, she teaches in the MFA Program at Texas State University.