Walking in his Footsteps

My ghost you needn’t look for; it is probably
Here, but a dark one, deep in the granite–

“Tor House”, Robinson Jeffers

the low clouds blow fast

over the point where he stood,

the path outside the window

his hand-built tower of sea

boulders, his stone walls

the grave of his beloved bulldog

in the corner, here the bed

where he sat looking

at this same ocean and where

he died, here the writing chair

he would sit in every morning

all present in the sea-colored air

the tall trees he planted

now crowded by neighbors

who don’t read poetry—

his hands touched here

his feet walked here, his ghost

in the very surfaces of stony

cold, unyielding granite

he hauled up, set in place,

cemented in, out on his bare

headland, the old coast road

now filled with glassy moderns—

not a handmade wall or verse.


Six-Train Night

Downtown on an empty side street

the fog drips off bare trees, in a cheap

motel room the sagging bed smells

he dozes a little while trains rumble

nearby. Each begins with a long sad

whistle, then another one rumbles slowly

again a couple of hours later, the last train

just before dawn, echoes pounding against

the bare brickwork of an old creamery.

He knows the schedule, the sounds dripping

in the foggy streets, long whistle a lonely lost

moan, following the tracks toward morning.


Watching Lightning

Lie on the hard, bare ground

always flat on the ground

move a stone if necessary

lay out a plastic sheet

cover it with a cloth, pad,

blanket, anchor it with shoes.

Lie down on the ground

at late summer’s sunset.

Now watch the lightning

play off the Henry Mountains

over fifty miles away

too far to hear thunder

the flickers low in the east

like fleeting ghosts

on the horizon dancing

against the blue twilight.

Lie still and watch night

gather on the far peaks

swell with the lightning

the ground black until

the first bright stars appear.

Now you may sleep in silence.


Saving War and Peace

Outside the Gospel Mission where the homeless gather

around noon each day for handouts of thin white bread

and processed cheese, someone dumped a pile of old

illustrated hard cover books—

Leaves of Grass, tales of Poe and Sherlock Holmes,

one of the Hardy Boys and Tolstoy.

Snow was forecast, I grabbed most of them along with

the dog’s leash, gloves, keys, but I couldn’t manage

War and Peace. It was simply too heavy on the first trip—

I would return later. How can you just leave Tolstoy

on the sidewalk to rot away? The snow came quickly,

at dusk we passed by again, the book now splayed open

pages soaked and torn, ignored by those

who have no bookshelf.

Would they read of Russian snow when theirs is cold enough?

Could they feel the pain of princes caught in Napoleon’s invasion?

No, it’s too weighty to carry on someone’s bike

among bags of blankets and shoes, I couldn’t rescue

the Grand Novel as it flutters in the icy wind,

one page at a time flying into the bushes.


Thoughts While Driving a Hearse over the Mountain

Low-slung black car, long polished casket, body resting

inside carefully pressed, made up, dressed in finery.

Quiet in the back, in the forest, sunlight on snow

in the open spaces, drive carefully around the curves

the cargo stable, no music— must be respectful

maybe the guy will hear— a mountain bluebird calls.

He taps his fingers silently instead, pays attention.

The family waits at home around the kitchen table.

The casket will sit surrounded by cakes and casseroles

all day tomorrow, he will drive back alone, not even a body

for company. He wonders if the dead can hear the forest,

can see the sun that calls them home, shining on the grave

dug on the hill. Now the music may lift—not trumpets

but Bach, he opens the windows to the trees.



Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 450 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. She is a Best of the Net and twice a Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. She is a retired teacher living in Oregon.

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