Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

Jennifer L. Knox

 

Before there was the time we see
there was the time we saw through,
when the biggest bear lied down,
exhaled the boundary of herself—
woof!—and rolled onto her side.

Her family followed in a line,
bending like an oxbow lake,
crocheting holes in the land
where water bubbled through
(so much does bubble through).

Birds saw the bears
bubbling up and dug it.
Whoa!

So with wing fingers wide,
they pressed their feathered breasts
flat to the ground which sung
their own songs back at them but
way slower, like whale
songs in
amber.

Is that a yes or a no? the birds asked.
Yes, replied the ground.
Whoa!

Green grass grew over them,
which was a long, green love song.

Nearby, turtles, panthers, dogs
lost their boundaries…exhaled…then
found them again and became constellations.

What speed was the time
signature singing then when all those
holes in space opened up
and bear after bear,
bird after bird,
sun after sun lost
refound their shapes in
the long song, knowing
themselves at last for
what they were:

eternal,
immutable,
from every possible angle.

More by Jennifer L. Knox

The Decorative Airport Fern Is Not What It Pretends to Be

and it takes me a triple-take to realize it's scanning
me, or something near my ear—that must be it. No plant’s 
ever complimented my perfume—wait—there it goes 
again. Did you see that? [Time passes, drinks] "Sure, I 
remember when I thought you were a fern but you were!
Who could blame me?" I tell the what’s now a magnificent
purple tetrahedron, eggplant-sized cilia straining at its corners, just 
a hint of ferniness remains in its fingertips—enough to blush. 
We hug goodbye. The scent of flowers lingers around me 
the next day. Flying home, a decorative airport fern that really 
is a decorative airport fern says, "You smell nice." I don’t 
believe it, but it's still a happy
ending.

A Fairy Tale

When my father was nine years old, his mother said, "Tommy, I'm taking you to the circus for your birthday. Just you and me, and I'll buy you anything you want." The middle child of six, my father thought this was the most incredible, wonderful thing that had ever happened to him—like something out of a fairy tale.

They got in the car, but instead of driving him to the circus, his mother pulled up in front of the hospital and told him to go inside and ask for Dr. So-and-so. After that they'd go to the circus.

He went inside and asked for Dr. So-and-so. A nurse told him to follow her into a room where she closed the door and gave him a shot. My father fell asleep, and some hours later, woke up crying in agony with his tonsils gone. A different nurse got him dressed, and sent him outside where his mother was waiting in the car with the engine running. He couldn't speak on the way home to ask her, "What about the circus?" Days later, when he could, he didn't. They never mentioned it again.

Fifty-eight years later, he tells this story to his wife, his only explanation, when she asks him, "What are you doing home from church so early?"

He'd walked out in the middle of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," never to return.

Auld Lang Syne

Dad couldn’t stop crying after Kathy moved him into the facility. 
When she came to visit, he’d cry and say he wanted to die. He said 
the same thing to the nurses. This went on for about a month until 
the doctor put him on an antidepressant especially for Parkinson’s 
patients. The next time Kathy came to visit, she found him in the 
cafeteria, talking to some of the other residents and not crying at 
all—just enjoying his lunch. When it was time for her to go, he 
didn’t cry, but rather calmly escorted her to the car. “Do you like 
this car? My wife and I were thinking about getting one,” he told 
her. “That’s very interesting,” Kathy smiled, “because I am your 
wife.” Dad chuckled, “Is that right?” He squinted over the palm trees 
towards the freeway. So many cars. Busy busy busy. “Well, we’ll see 
you later, then,” he said, and shook her hand firmly, the way he’d 
learned to do at Rotary. What funny new friends he was making. 

Related Poems

House of Green Thunder

 

          for Carl & Lillian Sandburg’s Connemara, Flat Rock, NC

 

As a child I was taken
to visit Connemara
as I remember
a little display of concrete poems
in the shapes of shoes
next to a typewriter
on an orange crate
let me know
I was taken
to visit poetry

All the books on the staircase
Said never back away from love
Of the word

O what is louder than the thorn
in the window of her thunder?

Wild Rutabaga Stories growing in
a thousand creeks under her ground

A song’s still a song
but sounds quite different when it’s grown

I took an upside-down photo
of their stationery on a shelf—
a copperplate sans serif

If it was a snake it would’a bit me
beaming in some past
I keep desiring like walking
down the main street
of a town that feels like
wearing a vintage dress

As we exit through the gift shop
the great-grand children of Lillian’s goats
reproduce in stuffed animal glory and bleat
O What is whiter than the milk

Every evening after dinner Carl opens up
the American Songbag of his mind
Singing O Susanna and such-like
banjo and grandkid on his knee

Some books he wrote
on an outcrop of rock
overlooking the valley

Since the beauty of the mountains
would be too distracting
to get much done

Sandberg wrestled upstairs
with tomes on Lincoln
in a room with no view

Now over ten thousand books
in a nine thousand square foot home of
twenty-two rooms and a million acres of sky

Connemara means the sea