Rebecca Olander: 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.