Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Natural History

Late afternoon, autumn equinox,
and my daughter and I
are at the table silently
eating fried eggs and muffins,
sharp cheese, and yesterday’s
rice warmed over. We put
our paper plates in the woodstove
and go outside:
                                 sunlight
fills the alders with
the geometries of long
blonde hair, and twin ravens
ride the rollercoasters
of warm September air
out, toward Protection Island.

Together, we enter the roughed-in
room beside our cabin
and begin our toil together:
she, cutting and stapling
insulation; I, cutting
and nailing the tight rows
of cedar. We work in a silence
broken only by occasional banter.
I wipe the cobwebs
from nooks and sills, working
on my knees as though this prayer
of labor could save me, as though
the itch of fiberglass
and sawdust were an answer
to some old incessant question
I never dare to remember.

And when the evening comes on
at last, cooling our arms
and faces, we stop
and stand back to assess
our work together.
                                 And I
remember the face
of my father climbing down
from a long wooden ladder
thirty years before. He
was a tall strong sapling
smelling of tar and leather,
his pate bald and burned
to umber by a sun
that blistered the Utah desert.
He strode the rows of coops
with a red cocker spaniel
and tousled boy-child
at his heel.
                         I turn to look
at my daughter: her mop
of blonde curls catches
the last trembling light
of the day, her lean body
sways with weariness. I try,
but cannot remember
the wisdom of fourteen years,
the pleasures of that
discovery. Eron smiles.

At the stove, we wash up
as the sun dies in a candle-flame.
A light breeze tears
the first leaves of autumn
from boughs that slowly darken.
A squirrel, enraged,
castigates the dog
for some inscrutable intrusion,
and Eron climbs the ladder
to her loft.
                         Suddenly
I am utterly alone,
I am a child
gazing up at a father, a father
looking down at his daughter.
A strange shudder
comes over me like a chill.
Is this what there is
to remember – the long days
roofing coops, the building
of rooms on a cabin, the in
significant meal? The shadows
of moments mean everything
and nothing, the dying
landscapes of remembered
human faces freeze
into a moment.
                         My room
was in the basement, was
knotty pine, back there,
in diamondback country.
The night swings over
the cold Pacific. I pour
a cup of coffee, heavy
in my bones. Soon, this fine
young woman will stare into
the face of her own son
or daughter, the years
gone suddenly behind her.
Will she remember only
the ache, the immense satisfaction
of that longing?
                         May she
be happy, filled
with the essential,
working in the twilight,
on her knees, at autumn equinox,
gathering the stories
of silence together,
preparing to meet the winter.

Credit


From Animae (Copper Canyon Press, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Sam Hamill. Used with the permission of Eron Hamill.

Author


Sam Hamill

Sam Hamill authored fourteen volumes of poetry, including Almost Paradise: Selected Poems & Translations (Shambhala, 2005).

Date Published: 2018-04-24

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/natural-history-1