Poetry by Margaret Gibson

In the Woods

Between dreams, desperate,
I stare at the sun’s slow
swing, a hypnotist’s crystal.
Tell all the truth, it says,
tell it slant. How else,
walking lightly on the earth,
can I tell it? Through
jigsaws of shagbark and briar
I map paths with my eyes,
sudden openings and arches,
then weave through. Of the Tao
it is written, Look,
you can’t see it.
 So here I am
looking, hooking east with
the brook, sun now a rickrack
of light on bare branches,
a screen of white silk on the sky.
From above it’s not bright.
From below it’s not dark.
Where then is the gate to its mystery?

I lie down in the leaves by the brook.
I fill with dark sky. And the trees –
Seen from a slant, what are they
but slashes of reed, the loose
weave of a basket or cradle.
Rocking deeper asleep,
I walk the high ridges.
Granite ledges jut out into air.
Still as centuries, pale lichens
bloom, here on the stones,
the whole planet a prayer wheel.
I sit down in this thought,
unwinding myself to a thread,
a bit of mooring left by a web
when the wind’s torn through.
Briar rock blossom brook –
the Tao I can name is not
the eternal Tao. But here I am,
lightly bound to this life 
and the mystery I look for,
I’ll call it the new moon,
a darkness within darkness.
Watch it rise.

To Say Nothing of God

Fattened all summer on wild raspberry
sarsaparilla     pond lilies     Bedded down

at noon in thicket of laurel and witch hobble
its pelage a rufescent shade near hazel

the rough boss at the base of its stark
crown like oak bark   the stag

sensing me near     may have then pressed its head
to the ground in camouflage     its antlers

branches of red cedar     sharply tipped
Or the riven staves of shagbark the lightning

sheared off in August     And I continuing
to gather mint where the pond spilled

into the brook     and I continuing to float
with the water skimmers     and the clouds

And I adrift in the burr of grasshoppers
in the field lit by sun     by mourning cloaks

and monarchs     Now it’s months past velvet
past rutting     and I’m wandering

the winter slopes of dark cedars     crossing
the Iichened walls that rib the open woods

Even now I might have missed the buck
dead in its winter blue coat

a thick fur I wait for the wind to riffle
No sign of breath     or struggle for breath

or wound     Neither swollen nor caved in
at the belly     Fallen on the run     its limbs

splayed out     A frozen gait so like its ancestors
drawn on the cave walls of Lascaux

And in my mouth     breath of its breath     a keening
akin to the Anglo Saxon     and to the Slavic

roots of wild spirit     beast breath god

In January     I chance to find where the buck
first fell    before he gathered

heavily each muscle each neural fibril
each stellate cell     and rose up

from the running cedar and mast and woodbine
to dear the tumbled wall     to clear that last

acre of silence     leaving behind him     shadowy
a flurry of coarse white hair     tufts from

its tail and heaving belly    You are not
this body which is born  
   and dies

on the surface of infinite mind     These
are words rising out of me     Do I believe them?

Soon after sundown     the coyotes come
their shrill arias rising into a snow of stars

And the wind that blows     quietly     freely
without striking words     follows me

down to the buck     And the wind flows over
the flattened blue-flecked iris of the buck’s

open eye     The fox and the shrew eat
their fill     I visit the buck each morning

I just stand there and look     I don’t know
why I do it      One hind leg torn

off the haunch socket     flung over the shorn spine
The clean cave of the belly     soft parts eaten

the waste already shunted hot from the coyote’s
anus     Wind nests in the carcass     Only a ridge

of frozen meat     pale carnelian     on ribs that curve
like the tines of a rake     These are the spoils

Before the squirrels eat the antlers for calcium
we shear off the head and hang it

by a cord from a rafter in the barn     It turns
slowly     five feet in the air

Not a trophy     not a graven image     We want
to bring skull and antlers     inside the house

To watch our comings-in     our goings-out
To turn us from daily parrying

This task and that     So crowded out of life
we forget ourselves    The deer skull

we boil gently     scraping it clean with a scalpel
oiling the antlers     We hang it

white against a white wall above a wainscot
of native hemlock     Sun and then moon fill

the windows     The antlers pattern the wall
with branched shadows     shagbark and oak

Light drifts into the curious reefs of lace
alongside the bone snout    it roots

in the feathered edges where the bone plates
meet in a line that resembles the zigzag

of inlets and outlets seen by a hawk
above the archipelagic shore     I don’t know

what to make of the cribbled disk at the base
of the skull     Or the eye sockets     entirely open

And set so far to the side of the head     I can’t
match my gaze with its own     I touch my face

Jut of brow and cheekbone    I touch the emptiness
these will someday circle     and the light

that will blaze    when this body     intricate
coracle     loosens and dissolves     borne away

If I should look for this place     a century hence
the Infinite focused anew     in a body

now of antler and fur     my long bones precisely
hooved     stepping deftly into the open glade

over a dusting of snow like today’s     I should hope
to be graced with an attention so keen

I’d miss no creak of wood     no distant whir
on the hard road     no tilted glide overhead

in the pine grove     By then this house would be
simply a rib of stone wall     a slumped hollow

for woodsearth and bramble     This pond a mere seep
beneath wiregrass     No evidence of otter or cattail

No sign of the spruce we planted in the field
No black spikes of cedar on the ridge     Although

a tremor in memory     may lift that antlered head
toward where they grew     once Orion rises

and strings its bridge of years on fire
across the emptiness I glimpse between them

Perhaps I might then     in the luck of being alive
be grateful enough not to mind the neon glow

still sprawled across the night     Grateful perhaps
and enough at peace to sense boundless presence

in whatever space is left open     too empty to profit by
Glad for goldfinch and junco puffed in the winter lilac

And for the sumac     tall at the edge of the road
That bold candelabra lifted into lemony winter sun

I want to look ahead     and know these acres of earth
survive our human ignorance and greed    The air

still clear enough to breathe     Random stars     Staghorn
sumac     Deer tracks in the snow

And the task at hand? To disappear
where I stand     But to stand

in near tones of hush and mist     in the early
winter of morning bottomland     To stand

in my body of ridge and pine     the sun turning
lunar and silken     And the task at hand?

To mark the trail with a thick ring of bone
slipped over a bare ripple of wild blueberry branch

Where marrow was     an arrow of air
points toward the pine grove     the barred owl’s

warren of rabbits     To be here simply
on a trail deer have etched into summer earth

And to know that the ground of the poem is
oak leaves underfoot     deer droppings

bright as black beans    a rumple of lichen
on cold stone     a possum’s jawbone

the teeth still sharp     And these words
a temporary blaze     a dust of snow