Jennifer Saunders is an Illinois native living in German-speaking Switzerland with her Swiss husband and their two Swiss-American sons. Winters she works part-time in a hockey school and summers she enjoys spending the off-season gardening; she writes year-round. Her work has appeared in Adanna, BluePrintReview, Found Poetry Review, IthacaLit, Heron Tree, Shot Glass Journal, the fib review, and elsewhere. Her poem "Reading the Book of Psalms Behind Closed Doors," originally published in Shot Glass Journal, was nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize. She occasionally blogs about hockey, writing, and life at http://www.magpiedays.com.
We have our seasons. Who doesn't?
If somebody told me she'd gone twenty years
without a winter, I wouldn't believe her.
Even the desert sees snow, once
in a while.
We clear the path,
bank our fires. In the summer
we cut cord, lay it by
against the colder months.
We share a destination
but have lost each other's tracks.
As you follow the high ridgeline
holding to a true bearing
I trace the creek running roughly
north-south through the valley.
You study topographical surveys
and calculate the local deviation.
Knowing just enough to follow the red arrow
I point my compass at the sun.
And so we walk, each believing the other
has set the same course. North
is north. So between us a distance widens
by degrees too small to notice
until you are standing at the North Pole
and I on Ellesmere Island –
staring at my compass and swearing
I travelled north the whole time.
It starts with a soft-spot
on the underside of a plum
forgotten in the bowl and covered
each day with fresh favorites.
If you took it now
the almost over-ripeness
would burst sweetness
in your mouth;
(if you took it now)
but a soft spot unchecked
turns to bruising that spreads.
The plum ruined, the bowl
You wore your recklessness like a crown
of roses. Petals scattered behind you;
a trail of blood leading back to every hand
that led you to beds in rooms you forgot
as soon as you left them, the scratch of sheets
beneath your back the only memory
worth holding. You never let an interesting man
pass you by but plucked him off the street
the way other women lift plates of sushi
off the lunch-time conveyor belt.
Now you pity me from your distance,
my steady diet of rice. But you never knew
what recklessness is: walking the tightrope
between everything you have and everything
you want and glancing down at the long fall
that threatens the middle.
Are you waiting for me
on the far side of the tunnel
or have you decided
to take your chances
on the mountainside,
that radiate around the summit
without ever achieving it?
My marbles were translucent. You kept yours
in a red velvet bag that knotted up darkness.
I knew which chestnuts were hollow
without having to crack their spiny casings;
you gathered lupines to weave into rope
you'd drop into slot canyons.
Nobody was ever down there. You found her anyway.
Nobody was a girl, seven years old and thirsty.
You were the type to take jackhammers to plywood
whereas I dismantled brick houses with tweezers.
No matter the tools we were both left with ruins,
cerulean curtains hanging where windows used to be.
I wanted to rebuild on the old homestead
but you had already oriented to a new meridian.
What would happen if I didn't fix it:
the temperamental thermostat, the slit
in the screen door, the hole in the finger
of my glove? If I surrendered, for once,
to entropy? Let the laundry pile up, let
the spider spin its web in the corner.
Why keep everything at bay?
The loose shutter that claps in the tempest
prompts me after all to close the window
against the rain; the rusted rake in the garden
a reminder that all things crave tenderness.
The world is full of lessons I could study
if I weren't so busy sweeping them up.
There are leaves in my yard
from the oak tree two doors down;
they tell me storms have come
and storms will come again. Why pretend
things don't blow away?
and carcasses everywhere.
This morning a vole
neatly eviscerated and left
on the welcome mat.
Yesterday, a sparrow
transformed by casual violence
into a robin redbreast.
The cat, seventeen, graying,
content all winter to sleep
in whatever patch
of sunlight she could find,
is suddenly profligate
and neighborhood toms
with equal disregard.
Behind my car
On the sofa the cat
We are none of us domestic
as we seem.
Stop skating. Kneel. Cover me
with the spread of your hand.
Look at everything
passing beneath my surface:
shifting air bubbles and circulating water,
fish gliding along lake's bottom.
It's so clear you can count the stones,
know, for once, how far to bottom.
Calculate the thickness beneath your blades:
still, you do not quite trust it, do you? Most years
I am so blanketed and opaque you can pretend
the world beneath your feet is unchanging.
Listen, it's rare for me too,
this clear sight of you –
a clouded surface is clouded
from both sides.
But once or twice a decade
we can see straight through.
Who knows when conditions will be right again –
such clarity is not easy and weather patterns
unpredictable. So drop once more
to your knees. Let me see your face.
Blackbirds feast at the grape vine
that climbs the back of the house
and strangles the shutters
until we cannot close them.
Every August, the same vow:
cut back the vine
to free the shutters;
hang strips of tin foil
to scare off the blackbirds.
Something always happens –
a sick child, a school play,
a sudden shower –
that keeps me from pruning
what ought to be pruned.
Then the pink-violet light
of evening filters through
grape leaves beginning to turn
and our bedroom fills
with the yellow-green glow
of the woods at last light,
winning for the grape vine
I set lanterns by our door,
light the candles at twilight.
Behind the glass
the flames waver,
bob like buoys rising
and falling out of sight.
Small sign set
against the darkness,
against the cold.
Still, I light them.
Still, they lead you home.
and we are felling trees.
One lands in our garden
and crushes the tomato frames.
We hack off its limbs
as pine needles spark,
haul the trunk away in sections
that groove the soil like a plow.
Drawn to the easy feast, starlings
feed in the furrows for days.
Come summer the tomatoes will ripen earlier,
fall warmer into our hands,
we will wonder at the light
slanting in undiscovered angles.
It is never easy,
seeing something through to harvest.
You build a fence
of solid four-by-fours
and pace the distance
between them. You pound posts,
string wire, adjust tension.
Your part done,
I set four young raspberry plants
each at arm's length from the other.
Without constant tending
the canes will spread wild
to send out shoots we must cut back
or risk losing the whole.
They will bear no fruit
until the second summer.
Still, the weather is fine enough
to make us believe in harvest,
the days are long enough to make us believe
we might finish our task.