Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.
Beth Copeland is the author of three full-length poetry books: Blue Honey, recipient of the 2017 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize; Transcendental Telemarketer; and Traveling through Glass, recipient of the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. She owns and operates Tiny Cabin, Big Ideas™, a residency for writers.
You hand me a nest, a bowl of pine straw, moss,
and leaves with three eggs like speckled jelly beans,
hardened, unhatched; we wonder what happened,
why the bird left, and laugh about weird locations
where wrens build nests—on a grapevine wreath,
in the crotch of your jeans on the clothesline.
Later, I look at properties on my laptop, dreaming
of a place of my own, a condo in long-leaf pines
or a brick church I could convert into a home.
I pack miniature houses in bubblewrap to ship to
my daughter and sift through a battered footlocker
of old diaries and letters too heavy to lift, deciding
what to keep, discarding the rest. When did we quit
trying? When did the life we warmed with our breath
turn cold? When was our ending etched in stone?
I step out of myself onto the lawn,
away from sumacs with spikes of red,
lemon-scented berries, from fallen trees
rotting under a canopy of poplar leaves,
from milk caps and amanitas poking
through moss, their white, fleshy heads
heavenly or deadly, from the water
oak and sugar maple grove.
My fawn shadows me onto gravel,
stepping cautiously as if on first snow.
We graze on purple heal-all, purslane,
bitter dandelion and wild violets.
When I raise my head, a woman
speaks to me through the screen
door, a silhouette of stillness. Don’t
be afraid. I won’t hurt you.
You’re welcome here. But who is she
to invite me, as if I’m the visitor,
when she’s the guest? These woods
belong to my spotted fawn and me.
The fly wants to get out, bumping into the glass
but unable to pass through the pane to pines, to green
poplar leaves, palmetto grass, and fetid trash where a fly
might feast. Zooming to the lamp, it perches on the burlap
shade, then nosedives into the lightbulb as if it’s the sun.
What would Buddha say to the fly? That glass is an illusion?
That life is suffering? That if it meditates on the windowsill
long enough it will pass from this transient path to a higher
plane of existence? I’ve shooed many a fly from the face
of a sleeping child, but how do I know if it paused there
to do harm or to whisper a blessing into the baby’s ear?
Tomorrow I’ll find a dead fly on the sill, its metallic blue
thorax like a miniature shield. I’ll pick it up with a tissue
and throw it into the trash, relieved I didn’t have to swat it
and bear the burden of its death, that it bludgeoned itself
against the glass and passed from this dimension of blood
and breath onto the land of enlightenment or samsara, only
to return as a cobra or cat or someone like me who ponders
these questions without knowing that I’m pushing against
an invisible barrier, frustrated, wringing my hands, eyes
glued to a world that lies beyond my grasp, trying to pass
through this fence of flesh to the other side of the glass.
Cultivate balm and humility.
Forage in fields
of milkweed, lavender, and sage.
Dive-bomb dandelion suns.
Carry pollen to the humming hive.
Fan flames with your wings.
Don’t envy the odalisque
sleeping on white satin, her torso
elongated and small-waisted.
Move with millions
en masse toward one goal—gold
in the hexagonal honeycomb.
Measure the angle from tree
to hive. Dance to show others
the way home.
© Beth Copeland