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Deidra Greenleaf Allan

how the light gets in

how the light gets in

Poems by Deidra Greenleaf Allan

This book is dedicated to all those who helped me find the words again and especially to my family, who gave me the courage to put them on a page.

“There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Acknowledgments Poems in this book have appeared in the following journals: American Poetry Review, Wind Magazine, Poetry Miscellany, and West Branch

© Copyright 2008 Deidra Greenleaf Allan ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Table of Contents

Darkness and Light Seeking the Genome: Montpelier, Vermont Transients The Stones of Wicklow Cape May Nothing Mystic Prophecy Prophecy II there is too much pain in the world First Do No Harm All That Glitters Eye of the Beholder History Folding His Laundry Aftermath Garden Imperialism Suburban Blight Car Wash Cold Fire September is Country Living Household Incident How It Will Go Lament of Those Left Behind Webcam Road Trip Small Town Bar The Fly How Our Dreams Find Us Embroidery Groundhog Detente

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 29 30 31 32

Darkness and Light I have learned that darkness is no different from light, both giving off the same cold and heat, that each is both the absence and affirmation of the other, each the other’s echo—sound of the other’s hand clapping. I have learned that dark can be a friend, though not an easy one, and that light sometimes conceals what you most need to see. It is not a matter of love that both are yours forever, each taking turns at your side, but if you are blessed, you will come to love them both as you love the different qualities of morning and night, and even more, the certainty that somewhere, as light shutters into darkness, elsewhere darkness is unfolding to the light.


Seeking the Genome: Montpelier, Vermont Topaz to sapphire, how evening deepens in snow-bound places. From the heights of State Street, I watch the angled housetops flare— sequence of orange to gold, dimming to grey. Far below, muffled figures trudge slowly home through the narrow channels dredged in the snow. It’s been a long winter. But then, every winter’s long in this longitude. To survive up here, it pays to know the tricks: Make a friend of the cold. Let it soak your bones. Think warm about ice. It’s all about letting go. A lesson one still learns in stoic places— the kind of lesson we city folk have let our genes forget. Once we all knew how to live in the shadow of something larger, shaping the world to our proportions, yes, but never losing our sense of place. We timed our harvests to the stars, blessed the animals we ate, knew each furrow we plowed, and made hopeful offerings to the weather. Now, we think only in terms of ourselves, see nothing but our own reflections. But here, in this region of cold and snow, we live in the grip of a larger imperative, elemental and indivisible, that buries all claims but its own. When the ice-rimmed peaks extinguish the last red coals of sun, there’s nothing to do but hold on through the night—a night that seems to reach back forever. Then further still.


Transients After five days at this Vermont inn, I can finally climb into the four-poster bed without stubbing my toe. But the cold is another thing. Who can stay warm when it’s 14 degrees—in the sun? Still, some part of me would like to be a local: on a first-name basis with the folks at the village store who are wise in matters of the weather and avoiding tourists, old hands at driving dirt back roads when ruts are slick with ice. There is something about this place that calls to the rustic inside, daring me to live through isolation and cold, adopt the dress of Eskimos, love mud as a sign of spring. How long would it take to make my own comfort? Hanging on the fridge at home is a postcard of Waikiki. I don’t see it anymore. It has joined the ranks of the visible but forgotten. I wonder, do people here ever stop seeing these mountains? Do they forget to notice the streams that run along every road? Or does this beauty become a kind of second nature, sinking in so deep they no longer need to look out to see? Maybe it’s only the transients, like me, who try to capture it in pictures, forgetting how much a person can hold.


The Stones of Wicklow They stop the car so I can get out. Crossing the black belt of military highway that girdles these moors, I step out onto the bog. The thick pelt sinks as I climb to the summit where I they sat atop a boulder, looking east over the low-breasted hills toward Mullaghcleevaun Mountain. The sky is bleak and ceremonial. Clouds cling to the crests as if unable to tear themselves away. Despite the commotion of my approach, their granite faces remain fixed on the horizon, remote as yogis deep in meditation. I long to ask them what is theirs alone to know, to reach out and touch their old, grey lichened faces, but am afraid to put my human scent upon them. From this hilltop no sound but the distant cries of the car’s radio


Cape May Like soggy party left-overs, the fuschia and lavender B & Bs of this Victorian summer resort stare out across Beach Avenue, their facades salt grizzled and blown with snow. It’s 4:30 pm in January. From my window, nothing but cloudpacked sky and empty avenues. Through this silence, even so many blocks away, I can hear waves crashing. The whole town holds itself, like Hokusai’s wave, in frozen anticipation. My pen on the table full of ink, so many things still unspoken.


Nothing Mystic Beneath the weight of tourist cars trundling over Mystic River, the planks of the old drawbridge play like piano keys. Standing on its wood deck, at the intersection of land and water, I look past the stillness of my feet to the swirling current below. Above, the giant iron trusses wheel in the sky. Crowds pass, humming happily. Along the shadowed side of the street, brick storefronts, their windows crammed with souvenirs, await their time to bask in the sun. In all the bustle, I nearly miss the one thing more motionless than I: an old frame house on the edge of the riverbank imprisoned by girders that rise from in front of its door. In its halfopen window, caught in a bleary grey patch of light, a still life of dust-coated apples and pears, and a “Rooms Available� sign waving a cobweb in the breeze. this old whaling town turned tourist trap now lives off a different kind of fat


Prophecy Once the blue blue sky came down to meet the horizon, with only a rough fringe of cornstalks to break our view. Do you remember? But we were hungry. Our hunger knew no limit. It sawed the air like a plague of insects, cutting through the soft flesh of trees. In their place, we planted our own predictions: gleaming, mirrored auguries of steel blinded by their own reflections, and sycophant highways, endlessly shouting their glory. At night, inside the blinking antennaed heads, millions of bedrooms crouch in corners and drug themselves to sleep. In the dream, we are walking around a house we cannot enter. And we are knocking, endlessly knocking. We have lost the key. Inside this house, there is no room, not even a window. Just the sound of water endlessly weeping. The water’s mouth is choked and bruised and it will not speak, no matter how much we ask it. No matter what we plead, our fingerprints are everywhere, leading back to the cornfields and the days already past forgiveness.


Prophecy II There is so little we can do now to save ourselves. The ink is already dry on our death certificates. Even the dogs have turned their backs. Our latest idols line the highways, glorious and gleaming, and we still praise them, loving the way they reflect the clouds, how their nightly fluorescence simulates the stars we’ve lost. We hardly notice the sunlight as it inches through our blinds, afraid of what it will find, or how the trees shake when we pass, seeing their destinies in our leafless shadows and the feathers falling from the sparrow’s wing. Cacooned in our air-conditioned sarcophagi, we surround ourselves with symbols— familiar, ageless, perfect—incapable, we think, of betrayal. We want to believe their pretty stories. Still, the nightmares persist, the ones that start with once upon a time and end with forever. They rise from dark interior pools bubbling with muffled accusations—all foretelling the same future. Nothing is working, they say. DO YOU HEAR? Nothing Is Working. Even your best efforts are no longer enough. We have begun to see this for ourselves: the first spider cracks in the wall. Still we keep doing what we do, clinging to the habits of the doomed as if there were no tipping point, no real probability that the world could collapse beneath the weight of a feather.


there is too much pain in the world our streets run thick with the smell of it sidewalks choke with its debris the world spills over with its progeny sobbing stories no one wants to hear and waiting in alleys with sharpened knives to eat our feathered words if somewhere there is no pain then surely there is the memory of it or the skin-shuddering anticipation of it pain has reached such proportions our dancers and painters and poets cannot hold it our shrinks and dealers and priests cannot hold it there is nothing we can do but wait in line and give it our name


First Do No Harm He took it and rubbed it in his hair and over his face as if it were a lover’s talisman or some precious gift— not just the five dollar bill I had given him for fixing my purse. Was this his way of coming on, or was he only showing gratitude the way they do in Kosovo—where he comes from? And then, just the other day, something equally as strange: a comment of mine misunderstood. I was only speaking of camouflage, the kind soldiers smear under their eyes just before they hunker down and slip into the jungle. Not blackface—what the other person thought. What can be done about these distances between us? Someone gestures, we interpret. Someone speaks, we infer. In our heads we build entire cities on assumptions. They glitter in the night to comfort us, but a fearful howling rises from the streets.


All That Glitters On the Bloque de Oro, love steps lightly in lime green sneakers, flips its hair, never looks back. In the bodegas, behind plate glass, glittery dreams are stacked. And across the street, through dusty windows, other displays of dreams gleam back. Between the gas station and Commencement clothing store, you can find Jesus hanging out among the religious statuary. He’s somewhere along the fourteen stations of the cross, looking beat. Someone has lent him a crutch to get to Hancock and Diamond Streets, where a mural reminds us of our better selves—already forgotten by the corner, where the worn-out house, stuffing exposed, is being circled by a pack of hungry dogs. At night, if one is not careful, a dream will be shot down in the street. If it refuses to cloak its ambition or conceal the glint of its desire. Sometimes, when it’s quiet, you can hear the squall of a dream being born. Unwanted, belligerent before it speaks, it kicks against the arms that rock it and howls at the sun that tries to jimmy the blinds to offer its bleak blessing.


Eye of the Beholder Scratched in the subway window scrolling an endless Bronx landscape: the word ENVY. Everything bears this watermark of desire, as if to say nothing is attainable, nothing within reach. But who would want this foliage of despair: these cluttered streets and broken buildings, these human drifts and boarded doorways? It must have been downtown, where the sun glances off Rolex watches and swoons on the tattooed bellies of rich girls that this word took form. It must have been in the long shadows of skyscrapers, never to be ascended, and the smug reflections of shop windows that this word was conceived and later carved into the pitted pane of this subway window, where it was left to ride the rails alone, wanting everything it passes, even this.


History A jumble of bones, beaks, and curled-up claws was all that remained of the fledglings I found, still in the nest their mother had built between piles of books and boxes and her battered dolls I’d saved, unable to throw them away. They must have suffocated slowly, entombed in this attic hideaway, far from predators, yes, but also far from light and the soft circulations of summer air. Like any mother, she must have tried to save them, bringing in regurgitated bits of worm, pecking imagined mites from their downy heads— whatever she knew or had. Not understanding the real problem. Their incessant needy peeps would have grown weaker and weaker until one day, they stopped altogether, leaving her confused and suddenly alone. With so much still to give, perhaps, for awhile, she stayed and fed the silence, like other mothers who have failed their young.


Folding His Laundry For a son, beginning recovery I fold it neat, this sheet full of wrinkles in my arms. I grip its corners and snap it in the air, watch as it settles to the floor, its white expanse blotched and crannied with blue like an iceberg adrift on the sea. It lies so docile there, unable to move without my help, unable to resist my care, its crumpled landscape splayed out like the legs of a man asleep. I lift it up and begin to fold— corners even, creases true and tight— smoothing and shaping its awkward bulk down to a perfect square, then, like a flag honoring an ended life, I lay it on the closet shelf and close the door.


Aftermath An hour ago, the wind cut through these woods mowing down a dozen large trees. Their carcasses now block the road— an explosion of trunks, limbs, sodden leaves. In moments, the wind made a mockery of all they stood for. Exploiting their weaknesses, ripping their roots from the softened earth, yanking them up by their heavy crowns, and breaking their backs when they would not bend. Now they are only obstacles to be hacked and hauled away. I wait in a long line of cars, motors idling, listening to news from Iraq, as a crew of men in fluorescent vests toss the remains to the side of the road. They do their job quickly, old hands at these scenes of natural destruction— as adept and quick as those who clear the blasted parts of other fallen from sandy roads so far from here.


Garden Imperialism I have been grappling with weeds all morning, digging deep to get at their roots and wrench them from the ground they’ve claimed between the peonies and tulips. If I left them alone, the flowers would cordially make room, adjusting to accommodate all, as fish in a tank grow, or not, to fit their allotted volume of water. But I know, in time, the weeds will take it all, squeezing out the others as if it is their manifest destiny to spread themselves and their kind. Now they lie in mutilated mulititudes: piles of onion, crabgrass, and vetch, nettle, foxtail, and elder. The seepage from their severed stems emitting a stench that draws a swarm of curious flies. I am not sad to see them go, these incorrigible gluttons for space and resources, though as sure as the sun rises they’ll return, asserting themselves where they don’t belong. I feel obliged to hold them back for as long as I can—one aggressive species to another—knowing how they are, knowing what they’re capable of.


Suburban Blight Their brightly colored skins lie crumpled on lawns across suburbia, as if a bloody battle had raged between Frosties and Santas. Bought in a moment of excess holiday spirit, their perfect ice-cream-scoop bodies lasted only a few days before collapsing, their owners too distracted by eggnog and cheer to keep them afloat. A few partly filled survivors tilt awkwardly toward the sky or down toward the ground, their fixed, ice-glazed grins making them seem brave in the face of their humiliation. And what of the owners, nowhere to be found? Settled in their plush warm sofas, drinks in hand, do they glance out their windows from time to time and say, I really must do something, or do they turn their backs on those who believed their promises, unable to sustain even this small trust?


Car Wash Friend, are you parched and dry? Is the dust of the world upon you? Come, bathe in the heavenly showers of my grace, be restored by the mercy drops of my forgiveness. You are lost, friend. You followed a wrong road and it has brought you here. But do not despair, for at this dead end lie the gates of your redemption. The moment of restoration is at hand. Yea, though you pass through a tunnel of darkness and confusion, Do Not Leave the Line. Receive the blessed pelting of my arms, the foaming fervor of my brushes, and, as it is written, you will be delivered of all that is foul and has covered you with shame. I know, friend, you are filled with doubt and suspicion. You are wondering, should I believe the signs? Will I truly be cleansed in the plentiful effusion of His solvents or will I crack beneath the mighty winds of His dryers? I tell you, DO NOT BE AFRAID. He who passes through the baptism of my waters will be brought forth gleaming in the pine freshness of faith and drive once again on the golden streets of promise for only $19.99, friend. Amen.


Cold Fire We rise to the surface as we come to ourselves, buoyed by the absence of obligation. Our bodies a lacework of tissue and twine our hearts depleted of all their claims. We come to rest like sea glass tumbled up on the shore, salt bleached and scoured to the dull sameness of surrender. That which consumed us we have consumed until there is only a cold fire banked against the coming dark and the comfort of old songs sung on guitars without strings.


September is the month of death when familiar things betray us seduced by autumn’s gilded decadence the month of stripping down and baring to the bone life’s awkward architecture made clear all pretense gone the month to ache when so much asks to be remembered and threads to summer’s endless days are severed letting dreams depart like burnished barques across the water No month is quite so brutal or so gentle foretelling how our hearts year by year are worn away in seasons’ struggle as we bloom and burn and finally fall made for only briefest pleasure —all this foretold in golden shards of light and the wind’s last warm whisper


Country Living Suddenly you look around and your life has accumulated like old machinery, too cumbersome to throw away. Out the back door, the broken hulks of your past blossom with rust and grow almost forgivable beneath their tangled manes of flowering vines. Your crops of children, raised and threshed to adulthood, return each spring like migrating geese to peck at memories. Your life is their history–a holy but abandoned place, like the musty back guestroom where they used to play, with its cabbage rose wallpaper long ago memorized and sworn never to repeat. Summers, grandchildren descend like a new litter of puppies. You keep them outside, hoping to avoid catastrophe, and listen with an odd combination of joy and sorrow to the sound of their fresh wet lives waving and snapping at the end of their lines. The old homestead, once such a point of pride, grows more humble and unkempt with each passing year. Everything sags or pokes or lists, and a fine veil of dust has turned precious heirlooms to a uniform, undistinguishable gray. Each day moves through like a rain shower across the valley, its entire span a predictable course clear to your naked eye. Few things disturb the settled serenity, only the occasional distant bellow of a downshifting truck or the cruel trill of an invisible owl, such that every sound assumes an isolated purity and dreams become harder to distinguish. From time to time, neighbors drop by with a small casserole, thoughtfully prepared in a throw-away pan, and you eat it cold as you stare out the dusty window at the stream that never stops going by. You think about country living, the bare bones of it, the way the air cuts clean through, and how you can see to the end of the valley without being afraid. 21

Household Incident Lately, the walls had noticed, she seemed to be losing her edge. The carpets, too, had begun to detect a certain hesitance in her tred as she scuffed from bed to bathroom and back. Even the windows, so extroverted as a rule, had stopped featuring her favorite flashy sunsets and become strangely withdrawn, feeling her attention absorbed elsewhere. Now she, on the other hand, did not speak of these changes, but drifted through the house, stopping occasionally to touch one or another of them, or pour some tea. But they could see, by the way the teapot trembled, that something was amiss. And when she stood in the light, they noticed a slight transparency, which stirred strong associations in the curtains, who wanted to reach out and enfold her. But they didn’t really start to worry until she stopped one day in the middle of the living room and began to cry, her tears dropping to the carpet like the houseplant’s old leaves. Even the air, which is used to disturbance, seemed a little ruffled by this. Conferring later, they thought perhaps these were early warning signs— like the television was always droning on about. But all this was beginning to affect them. They were listless and out of sorts. The table lamps were feeling frayed, the rugs had begun to curl at the corners, and everyone quietly noted the walls’ spreading pallor. They wanted to comfort her (at least they thought that’s what they should do), but didn’t really know what to say. So instead, they kept a silent watch, wondering to themselves how it would end: would she go with a small pop, like the basement light bulb, or suddenly rupture, like the pipes last winter, spilling everywhere and leaving an unsightly stain? Or would she simply disappear one day, as some household objects do, refusing to be found.


How It Will Go First the toes, spreading across the floor and down between the cracks will feel through the basement dark like a pale man’s fingers until they reach the earth, remembering to enter softly. Then the skin, flaking with the artistry of a sycamore will expose the muscles’ tightly woven basketry leaving only an open filigree of struts and braces through which the air will twine and flow. Next the eyes, dimming to the lumens of twilight, will take on the bleary afterglow of unwashed windows, then dissolve to pixels of colored light and sink backward into the vaulted darkness of the skull. Finally, the hair, tangled with feathers from nesting birds, will loosen and fall of its own weight to the floor, where it will be carried off by a breeze and tumble toward the horizon. And through all this, the body will sit, patient as an empty church awaiting Sunday, allowing nothing to disturb its transmigration, its process of undoing. If asked, it will not answer how it feels to let go, being no longer able to think in terms of a self, or, soon, even to remember.


Lament of Those Left Behind On your designated day, we bake cakes in the shape of skulls and throw open our doors. Later, we visit with picnics and handfuls of flowers, whisper the latest stories, do our best to keep you informed. Why is it, then, you never answer? Why is it our houses are so silent— silent as the dust that gathers at our door? At night we make a place for you beside us, letting your names curl to sleep on our tongues. In the morning, we kiss your pictures, revisit the cold hollow of your chairs, set the dog to wait beside the door. I tell you, we are more dutiful now than we ever were before. Even our hearts are carved into traveling altars—curtained compartments that house your remains. Inside, we keep a candle always burning. And still you say nothing, Still you allow this unspeakable distance between us. Were we so little to you? Do these tributes mean nothing?


Webcam Facing Bonn’s sun-baked square, the webcam follows a flock of market umbrellas, wing over wing, shading their produce for the lunchtime crowds that are just beginning to gather. From a camera fixed to a restaurant roof on the Riviera, I can see they are serving ceviche for lunch. The lens has caught a woman, mid-bite, as she slips a silver fork with its small marinated mound into her mouth. And just off St. Marks Square, a minicam scans the turbulent entrance of the Grand Canal, where slow processions of black gondolas founder in the wakes of vaporetti filled to the brim with their listing loads of tourists. Here, on the other hand, it has just begun to rain, a quiet summer drizzle, and I’m traveling the world on my computer, wishing I could look into the timeless place where you are now, unreachable by camera from any known point on earth.


Road Trip Through the snowless mountain resort cheering itself with billboards, past the chiropractor, neon psychic, and crowded discount mall grazing in its asphalt pasture, into the turn-of-the-century town whose gritty ancestry still plies the alleyways behind the restored faรงades of Main Street (now trimmed in respectable Victorian), around the 100-foot Christmas candle, pride of town fathers, rising pale and erect in the middle of the square, out along the two-lane river highway beaded with humble hamlets no bigger than their names, where bungalows, braided in holiday lights, cluster like lesser relatives around the gracious old colonials, we drive, city slickers, keeping smugly to ourselves, into the dusk, into the night, already losing sight of what we once were, wish we still could be.


Small Town Bar For Charlie O’s Like a bad day in L.A., friends disappear in the haze as they make their way back to where pool tables drift in and out of the smoke-filled room. On the walls, signs about bikers and beer, and Hollywood posters of “Fast” Eddie Felson and Minnesota Fats, eyeballs inches off the felt as they stare down the barrels of their custom-made cues. Across the room, smiling and waving from a cheap wooden frame, Peggy Guggenheim sits on her terrace above the Grand Canal, sunglasses perched like butterflies. Beneath her feet, in a big, broad, bohemian scrawl, she asks of all who pass, IS EVERYONE HAPPY? Above the bar, a pink plastic swordfish, the color of lungs that have never been here, tilts toward the cigarette machine, and lining every wall, photos of regulars sending their best from around the world—even Joe, doing a handstand on a hotel roof in the nation’s capital, who wants his friends to know he’s doing well but still can’t tell his head from his ass. Behind him, in the women’s loo, next to the condom machine, a well-worn copy of Jesus casting out the money lenders bounces on its wire to the music blaring and grains of salt that hitched in from the sidewalk boogey on the weather-skinned floor as the rest of us shoulder up to the bar: bikers next to townies next to poets next to nothing but their beers. All we know is it’s cold outside and warm in here, where there’s music and chatter, and the mindless clatter of pool balls. Barely clearing the bar, the tough little bartender’s head says, No m’am, we ain’t got red, only Zin or Char Don Nay— the same thing a hundred times a day when we writers, intent on our varietals, descend on this ragged oasis of cheer.


But she can handle us like she’s handled everything behind this counter for fifteen years. No surprises, not even a question, because after watching us come and go, making our scripted entrances and exits through the unmarked door, she’s seen enough of the likes of you and me to know we won’t find what we’re looking for—at least not here, in the staggered tracks of our mugs of beer or the sugary braille from the nuts we consume without counting.


The Fly Eating is everything to me: the tender invitation of a white breast peeking from the folds of a butter-soaked towel, the alluring contrasts of pecan pie, and can I even begin to describe the thrill of steak tartare— such brute rawness against the sweet trembling of its yolky eye? I’ve been known to poke where others wouldn’t dare—to mix a little ’hood with the palace. Some say my eyes are too big for my stomach, that my gluttony is unseemly and unrefined. I don’t bother to reply. On my tight schedule, who has time for good taste.


How Our Dreams Find Us For BCL Suddenly, it’s at your feet, eyes bright and hopeful, asking to be taken in. But few of us do. We shoo it away or avert our eyes and keep walking, afraid of what it might carry, the demands it will make. But sometimes one will get lucky. It will see you waiting at a light or just stepping out of the car and your eyes will meet and something will be understood. Who knows how the dream knows. Maybe it’s the brisk lightness of your walk or the way your eyes scan the distance. Maybe it’s the way your knuckles flare as they grip your briefcase or how your fingers play with the strap of your purse—who knows, but suddenly it’s all over you, as if you were its long-lost friend. And sometimes you’re glad for the attention, secretly pleased that of all those passing by it has singled you out, entrusting you with the contents of its future, but anxious, too, uncertain of what is being asked or if you will do it justice. Then the day, or night, whichever it happens to be, seems to open up and embrace you, like a riddle about to explain itself, and the dream turns back to a chirping crossing light or a car door slamming and suddenly you remember where you were going—only it’s not the same. Nothing will ever be the same.


Embroidery For Page We are teaching my feet to become lotus blossoms: a pair of golden buds three inches long. Each morning, Nana comes to bind them, winding the cloth round and round to make my toes fold under and my arches bow tighter and tighter until they break. Such beauty is my special destiny, an ancient custom from the time of Fragrant Girl, Emperor Li Yu’s favorite concubine, who bound her feet in whitest silk so she could dance for him the dance of the New Moon. In her memory, it is said, all bound-foot women dream they are as light as moonbeams, floating from room to room. I am not ashamed (though others have complained) to follow this time-honored tradition. I do it for my family, my future husband, and my husband’s mother, too, for whom such things will be of utmost importance. I am learning to embroider the shoes I will wear—beautiful slippers with soles that arch like the neck of a swan and tiny heels carved from lychee and pomegranate. I sew the things I know—animals, flowers, and fruit— and sometimes things I imagine. (My shoes with egrets flying in the snow fool everyone until they spy, stitched in finest silver thread, their feathery shadows gliding up the mountain side.) From my window I watch them in the pond, beating their heavy wings like huge unfolding fans, then lifting into the air. See, I have sewn one here, just as it struggles into the sky, looking almost as if it had forgotten, then suddenly remembered, it could fly.


Groundhog Detente I chose this retreat to be alone, but found my cabin came with a tenant. The first night I heard him bumping beneath the floor as he squeaked and argued with his mate. And he must have heard me, too, padding above as I cooked my dinner and washed the dishes. Next morning, as I warmed myself in the winter sun, he emerged blinking and drowsy from his basement den, shook off the night’s dusty blanket of dirt, and started across the lawn. It was then he noticed me and froze mid-gait, hoping, I suppose, I did not see. Detecting no movement, he slowly rose on his hind legs and sniffed the air, took another step closer and sniffed again, each stop and start dislodging a black halo of flies from the mud-caked fur of his head. For three days now we’ve been watching each other like wary neighbors across a contested border. But despite ourselves, living so close has turned mutual distrust to tolerance, and tolerance to a kind of guarded acceptance, so that, today, he took a chance. Seeing the lettuce I had been leaving for him just outside my door, he inched nearer and, stretching out his long scarred nose, sniffed the leaves, then reached out a shaggy paw and snared a piece. Then another.


Moving carefully from leaf to leaf while keeping me in the corner of his eye, he scoured the deck until every shred was gone. Then he turned to leave, but not before looking back and twitching his tail, as if to say, it would be alright if we did this again.


Cover Photo: Abandoned House, Hoopers Island, MD by Deidra Greenleaf Allan

How the light gets in  

Poems by Deidra Greenleaf Allan

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