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.

More by Patricia Hooper

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.

The World Book

When the woman in blue serge
held up the sun, my mother
opened the storm door, taking
the whole volume of S
into her hands. The sun
shown as a sun should,
and we sat down at the table
leafing through silks and ships,
saints and subtraction. We passed
Scotland and Spain, street-
cars and seeds and even
the Seven Wonders until
the woman who owned them skipped
to the solar system and said
it could be ours. My mother
thought, as I held my breath,
and while she was writing the check
for everything, A through Z,
I noticed the room with its stove
and saucers and spoons. I was wearing
a sweater and skirt and shoes
and there at the window the sun
was almost as clear as it was
in the diagram where its sunspots,
ninety-three million miles
from the earth and only a page
from Sumatra, were swirling. The woman
stood up, slamming it shut,
and drove down the street to leave us
in Saginaw, where I would wait
for the world to arrive. And each morning,
walking to school, I believed
in the day it would come, when we’d study
Sweden or stars and I’d stand
at the head of the classroom and take
the words of the world from my satchel,
explaining the secrets.