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.
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.
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.