Landscape with Practical Boat

Donna Steiner

                                                           

Night-winds at your back, brother, broken compass

in your pocket, four knots, maybe five. Congratulatory claps

 

on the shoulder left you sore; a trinity of regret

influences each adjustment of the rudder.

 

Night swimming far from shore. The sea balloons your trunks,

then plasters them, balloons again. It’s like having new skin.

 

In the splendid dark even your eyelashes are heavy;

the practical boat is far from near. 

 

Remember when the thermometer shattered, mercury spilled

on the linoleum? You are that glossary, quicksilver and

 

elementary, blinking up at constellations you can name

when sober. Tread water, sleepyhead, just a few meters

 

to go. We’re waiting up, and look, you can see silver fish

gaping at the surface. Watch them breathe and shine.

Remind Me of the Small Ambitions

Donna Steiner

                                                           

Clear the half-full teacups left scattershot on every counter.

Whisper synaptic one thousand times. Recall the cousin

gone too soon.  (All the days you felt so lucky…all the leaves

that crest and rustle.)  Little pink frogs cling to the glass door.

See them pulse, small ambitions of the tiniest hearts.

 

Landscape with Belly Feathers

Donna Steiner

                                                           

Every bird at the feeder – goldfinch, cardinal, vireo –

has a belly the color of uncut cornfields these abbreviated days

 

of November. The slant light is sifted by a density of maple and locust,

but does not dissolve.  It filters like chalk dust onto the tall stalks,

 

a mix of ocher and smoke, lingers long enough to make you gasp. 

When a sparrow hits the window, whaps it like a tennis ball,

 

you go to the yard and stand beside it, whispering assurances.

Don’t worry, baby.  It’ll be okay.  The lady who walks up the road

 

every day, year round, no matter the weather, notices you

talking to yourself, alone by the western windows, and passes by,

 

discreet as a priest. For two hours the sparrow blinks and swallows.

You want to stroke its neck, but must get in your car, drive past fields,

 

through villages, across three rivers to an airport in a winter city

where every disembarking passenger looks bewildered and chilly. 

 

Don’t worry, you whisper. It’ll be okay.  You imagine the sparrow,

rejuvenated, hopping onto the rock that looks like a hull, then

 

testing its wings, landing mid-bough on the scraggly blue spruce

in the side yard.  You imagine the discreet woman sliding her hand

 

inside her raincoat and smoothing her feathers, spreading them

neatly against her skin.  The sky is so vast, and the light so brief.

 
 

When the Leaves are Gone,

the Nests are Easily Seen

Donna Steiner

                                                           

Dust me, spritz me up, tilt my head toward the sky flecked with geese. 

Little words trip my tongue; little vowels stick like unswallowable pills.

Lube the shoulder and hip, do whatever it takes to get me through this

quiet corridor, this chalky dawn.

Headlights Illuminated the Arcs

Donna Steiner

                                                           

 

Mourning doves huddle on the sumac that flares

against the snow. The branch arcs red like that dog,

 

midnight, car-struck, the crowd stunned

to still-frame, blood spurting rainbows

 

until so much gone he deflated.  Like the deer,

down but not dead just this side of the blind hill.

 

I mind my own business, but stumble into disaster.

Come spring, wild forsythia cascades on the ridge

 

in snarls resembling nebulae, then some dumb

animal catches by the throat on its lash-thin brambles.

 

Tell me, friend, what you can’t forget. 

 

At dusk, the whole ridge lights up like a strange

condolence, and then it’s gone.

 

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