RETURN TO GREAT MEADOWS: TRACKING THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
One goldfinch feather, veined color of cosmos, coreopsis, primary
shade, the definition of yellow. Taken as a sign it comes along for the walk
around the marsh, the mucky edges, fallen trees downed for want of firm earth.
At the gaping center, dozers unearth the earth, upbraid invasive purple loosestrife.
With choking stalks these sirens of the bog trick the terrain with false beauty.
Canada geese honk in tandem with low-flying planes from Hanscom Airforce Base.
In the distance, what sounds to be a solitary loon. Closer, craze of chipmunks inhabits
the reeds; a hollow the screech owl once filled; dragonflies attached end to end, sexual
pinwheels riding the wind. Scattered stones under cattails, last year’s cairns undone.
Along the watchtower, silver corners strung with the projects of old spiders.
A single cardinal frets between two trees. Ruddy bird, flying heart-in-the-bush,
the hue of a berry stain on yesterday’s apron, monthly blood seeped into the mattress,
dusky burn of forsythia leaves at the brink of fall, rusty bloom of feminine plumage,
mateless without her scarlet twin. Is she looking for him? Does the wind tell her where
the owl has gone, how long the geese will clog the rushes, how fast this winter will roll in?
What can she tell us, who treat these meadows like a labyrinth? Or is the lesson in the bird
chalked in the script of many hands, noting the green heron, nuthatches,
and a redwing? What are we meant to learn from the broken rosary
hanging on the welcome map, from the found feather, from the way the binocular case
snaps shut with worn-in ease, from the bench backs bearing names of the dead,
or from Peterson’s dog-eared pages, penciled with proof of life?
Do we mostly want to know we have not been left? Pocketing the heart-
shaped stones pried from where they settled, we dig incremental graves.
With each removal, in the taking of evidence, a soothing sort of theft.
Rebecca Hart Olander teaches writing at Westfield State University and is working toward her MFA in Poetry at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Recent work has been published, or is forthcoming, in the following publications: Common Ground Review, Naugatuck River Review, and Connecticut River Review. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family.