This trail, marked in yellow blazes
for the mapless and lost, where lookouts
once kept eyes awake for smoke and fire,
begins in white pines, the edges
needlesoft and quiet, then blends
into proud old chestnut oaks standing
straight a hundred feet in a kind
of wisdom. At the top, where paper birch
lean toward the gorge, unwrapping
in the almost noonness of the sun,
a meadow filled with low blueberry
bushes stretches until the mountain
bends to the river. I pick my fill
of ripe ones, miles from highway
traffic and the river now dying
from mine acid. Here, so much free sweetness
within easy reach the world must be
playing a trick. Maybe it’s not
that life is hard. Just our expectations
too high. Eyes bigger than your stomach
my mother used to warn. I’ll leave most
of the berries here for birds. Begin
the switchback down to the car, back
through those oaks, the dark quiet
of pines, the day’s haze that leads
toward home, the taste of blueberries,
the whole marvelous mountain,
still on my lips.
When you’re eight years old
and pull enough of the whip-like
branches into your hands, take
a running start and lift your legs,
half the tree may bend, but still
you’re flying for a little while,
swinging in the sun’s arc
over the rock your brother calls
the Volkswagen because it’s almost
as big as the neighbors’ blue Beetle,
and when you let go, wild leaping
out over the rock onto soft ground,
rolling down the hill into the always
wet part of the yard, you know that
sting in your hands from landing
will go away, just like everything,
the last two times your parents packed
to move, some new tree waiting
at the new house, your knee bruised
again through your hand-me-down jeans.
Down in the ravine
where the Black Creek’s
with gravity, and the water
competes with boulders,
is part shadow, even me
when I crept up on the bear
scratching his rump
on the rough bark
of a pine, the small tree
shaking with every shove
of his legs and spine
til needles sprinkled
down on him and into
the cool brook trout
waters of the creek.
This went on for minutes.
The tree pushing back
against the yearling’s itch,
the creek slipping by
unnoticed, me frozen
in shadow trying to save
every moment in memory,
that place I go to more
often these days,
that place I feel better
in, rubbing shoulders
with the past, making
the minutes last.
White Pine II
Who doesn’t stop to marvel
at big trees? This forest, clear cut
completely at least twice shouldn’t
have a pine so massive.
It would take my whole family
to wrap around its trunk
like a bear hug, reward
for standing still
a couple centuries.
Upstream a mile
the remains of a mill
that ground this mountain bare.
Downstream a cemetery
remembers the flood
that washed the valley clean.
If this great old tree
I hope it forgets the sounds
of saws and chains.
The train whistle bearing
coal to Philadelphia.
The one great fire
that finished finally
the town. I hope
for wind and sun. Some
100 feet in boughs
still growing, getting
farther and farther
from the ground.
Grant Clauser is the author of five books including Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven (winner of the Codhill Press Poetry Award) and Reckless Constellations (winner of the Cider Press Poetry Award). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Rattle, Poet Lore, Tar River Poetry and others. He works as an editor and teaches at Rosemont College.