In the Backyard

This morning a hawk plunges
straight for the squirrel at my feeder
and leaves only
its signature: blood on the snow.

All morning it circled the yard,
then dove, stunning itself
on the glass sky of my window,

and in minutes returned, braving
the thin, perilous channel
between hedgerow and house.
I was watching
its path as it fell, its persistence,

and the squirrel, how it dashed
for the downspout, finding itself
motionless under the heat
of the hawk’s body,

the claws in its rib cage, the sudden
tearing of wind as it rose
over the fence, the feeder,

the tops of maples and houses.
All morning it stays with me, not
the squirrel’s terror, the hawk’s
accuracy, but only

how it must feel to be lifted
out of your life, astonished
at the yard growing smaller, the earth
with its snow-covered fields tilting,
and what must be your shadow
flying across it, farther
and farther below.

More by Patricia Hooper

In the Clearing

After last night’s rain the woods
smell sensual—a mixture of leaves and musk.
The morels have disappeared, and soon I’ll come across
those yellow chanterelles, the kind they sell
in town at the farmers’ market. Once I saw
the Swedish woman who raises her own food
foraging for them, two blond boys
quarreling near the pickup, and the next morning
they were selling them from their stand beside the road.

Out here, among last year’s dead
leaves with the new shoots of spruces
poking through them, I’ve come to the place where light
brightens a glade of ferns and the log someone else
placed here—carved “B.W.”—where I sometimes sit
to listen to the birds. Today the sun is breaking through
the wet branches, revealing a clean sky,
brilliant, cerulean. Then, suddenly, a raft of scudding clouds

promising more rain. If it comes, I’ll read all afternoon—
Henry James, or maybe Eudora Welty’s
Delta Wedding, where so many characters
vie for attention I can never keep them straight.
Here, there’s no one else, no one to worry over
or argue with or love. Maybe the earth was meant
only for this: small comings and goings
on the forest floor, the understory astir
with its own secret life. If I sit still enough
among the damp trees, sometimes I see the world
without myself in it, and—it always surprises me—
nothing at all is lost.

Lens

How different things must have looked
to my mother than they did to me.
There I am in the black-and-white photo
the summer the baby died.
I’m seven, trying out my pogo stick
with the two new girls next door.
We’re laughing, and I’m shouting something
to my brother, who wants his turn.
And there’s Dad, standing near the station wagon,
staring at the grass.
She must have stood far back, under the pear tree,
focusing, trying to fit us in.

From a Park Bench

Under the green domes of maples
light spangles the abundant slabs of moss.
Grass won’t grow here, but something else has taken
over. When I went into the drugstore yesterday
the clerk who moved away had been replaced

by a girl who looked so much like her
I thought for a moment she’d come back to town
with her hair cut. And in the second grade,
when Bobby Markley died, a new boy from Ohio
promptly sat beside me at his desk.

Out here, in the city park,
people are almost always interchangeable,
though the summer I’ll hate to lose
supplants itself with a wan and amber sun
that isn’t quite the same, reminding me

of larger griefs not easily consoled.
“Life is the saddest thing there is,
next to death,” Edith Wharton wrote,
she who walked so often in the park
listening to the old, remembered voices.

She must have sat under trees not unlike this one,
heavy with sorrows she couldn’t speak aloud.
She mourned her friends, and one friend like no other,
while the late sunlight passed across the grasses,
and now she too is gone.