Patricia Gray

 

CALF BORN IN SNOW

I can still hear the loud moan
in my grandfather's kitchen,
where the woodstove was open
for the failing fire's warmth, and
on the oven door, wrapped
in an old quilt, lay the new Charolais calf--
a twin that survived its snowy birth
that morning, though its brother died--
both of them the color of muddy snow,
this one too weak to stand.

We tried to feed him his mother's milk,
but he seemed to forget he was eating
and slept, so that by ten that night, when
he raised his head suddenly, making
a loud maa-a-a-a sound, I could scarcely
believe it. "He's getting better!"
Dad put his hand on my shoulder.
"Quiet. He's dying," was all he said--
old knowledge, deep as the Blue Mountains.
Still, I'd witnessed that final, wonderful
rallying, as if every ounce of life pulled
together to raise the calf's head,
to leave his sound so indelibly there.

 

BIRTH

Tulips blaze yellow in the vase
as my son bursts in from school--
his fifth-grade science lesson
glistening in his eyes. "We saw
a foetus in a jar," he says, and

"His birthday was the same
as mine. I could have been
in that jar. He could have
been standing there, looking at me."

On the table behind him, a petal
is missing from one of the tulips, leaving
a thin glimpse of stamen--such as
the openings we get sometimes--the one
my son slipped through today, blooming.


Steve Whealton
digital image
see more work by Steve Whealton

 

MALE TAKEN FROM FEMALE

He was torn from her thigh, that first man in Eden--
bone splintered skin, formed into sinews, tendons
of him--but she rose unharmed and walked
through fields, sunlight running down her shoulders
and hair like electricity. Even before the sixth day,
her spirit lived, for her energy has always been. Winds
moved with her over earth and fields. Trees dropped
their succulence into her hands, each fruit carrying its
own seed within. Small animals, also, rose up in this time
for her touch. Her right hand stroked the mane
of a black mare that shivered its pleasure beside her.

This first being came from water. With each footfall,
she felt the rough-textured earth, the early surfaces
of land. And even before he was formed, man
lived within her--took shape in Eden to help her.
When he sprang from her thigh, rolled over and stood,
she brushed twigs from his hair, dirt from his legs--
as if he were a large child in her care. Speechless,
he would find words to praise her. Already, he felt
the fierce longing to return to her steady certainty,
squatted strength. So it was then and is now--this
story kept from you, a secret you have always known.

 

SEPTEMBER AIR

Traces of helium, xenon, even krypton are in it. Air is only
1/5 oxygen, the stuff our body needs to nourish blood, fund
thought, help wounds heal. We pull air in climbing hills,
running 10-Ks, leaping or diving--but stop right there
and simply breathe. This afternoon in bed with you,
I breathe slowly--our bodies still warm and
disheveled from love. The air seems almost
conjurable, as if we could bring into view
the substance that holds the tiny particles
falling so leisurely in slant light that
gravity seems suspended, and they,
like us, lift out of the ordinary
for a moment and show
themselves in bright
September light,
before sinking
again from
view.

 

 

MAPPING THE HUMAN GENOME

A trail is being blazed to the people who preceded us,
whose troubling nucleotides we so clearly
contain. Probably, nothing could have changed
my ancestor McKay's blue eyes or prevented him,
that dark night in the woods, from ravishing
the Senedo girl who became our forebear here.

What made him live to be 90 and
his brother only 18 was luck.
Other families were more adaptable, tough.
Some of their men, like Meriwether Lewis,
survived by learning to eat dog meat
and to "prefer it vastly to lean venison or elk."

Lewis's map was huge. Open it out
on the library table, and you can see the point
at which British place names give way,
leading to Snake River, Bitterroot Mountains,
Clearwater--names that seem part of the earth,
integral as veins carrying sustenance through.

Today's trailblazers map us.
Ancient questions arise, but in a language
scientists do not understand. Their calipers
can't reach the lost knowledge running in us
like a river. It turns, spurls, and spits uncharted
currents--so close, so fierce--just under the bone.


 

Patricia Gray is the author of Rupture (Red Hen Press, 2005, http://www.redhen.org). She grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Washington, DC for 20 years. Her MFA degree in poetry is from the University of Virginia. Since 1994, she has coordinated the Poetry at Noon program at the Library of Congress. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines, such as Poetry International, Poetry East, The MacGuffin, and Shenandoah.


Published in Volume 6, Number 4, Fall 2005.

 

Read more by this author:
Patricia Gray: The Whitman Issue
Patricia Gray: DC Places Issue
Patricia Gray: Poets in Federal Government Issue