The fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts has made it possible for me to take time off of teaching this fall to complete my second book of poems, Drunk in Sunlight. Not only am I especially grateful to the NEA for its financial support, but I also appreciate the affirmation that accompanies such a generous award.
Early Autumn in Tennessee
(originally appeared in the New England Review)
Before a October's gold veneer
Of leaf has covered the chilled creek,
And all the trees have grown antique
With change, before the wind unveils
Each rickety and grim physique
Of maple, poplar, oak and elm,
The cotton downs the drying field
Like strange, anachronistic snow.
The monarchs come. The monarchs go.
But still there are late swallowtails,
The cloudless sulfurs, too, that glow
Like incandescent lemon skins.
Just yesterday the evening sky
Grew gas-blue like a pilot light.
The meadow purpled into night.
And as a flock of grackles came
The black confetti of their flight
Seemed suddenly to shape a slurred,
Profoundly large and fleeting word
Against the cool and fragile dusk.
At the meadow's far end I heard
The downward spiraling of song.
It was a screech owl's shrill reply
To what was written on the clear sky,
Though, really, who could comprehend
The meaning of that mournful cry?
The air was sweet with soil and hay.
Two jet trails hooked a loose crochet
Across the writhing apple-green
And phlox-blue of the dying day.
It was a feeling more than a thought
That those cold colors glowing there
Seemed like the colors despair
Or some unnamable regret.
While such forebodings, it is true,
Will seldom sway the courts of law,
Or topple legislative chambers,
They may give prophets pause, or make
The broken-hearted exiles weep,
And this, for many, is enough.