I’m the child of a survivor of New York City’s
soot-blackened subway. My mother, an able rat,
could navigate the welded sidewalk grates
while chipping coins into a busker’s cup. She could
scamper on the granite concourse curb,
dodge pigeon shit and feathers—and never fall.
The gutter wouldn’t frighten her. She gnawed.
I’ve always wanted to fill my trouser pockets
with visions of living—of cloud and leathered mountain.
But when the gusts of winter threaten and swell,
I flee like an elk driven from its peak and rocky
elevation by a wicked north wind—leaving
what’s been familiar. Will I find a fallow cornfield?
Though grateful for the stalk and scatter, would
my pockets, pulled inside-out, soon empty?
I’ll hitch down New Hampshire’s gravel road
to Gloucester’s fishing port—fat lines, strung from
grappling hook and trawler, promise to speak to me
what’s spoken undersea. A nomadic gray whale,
itinerate, hungry, sifting the microscopic
from the gull-brine of these waters, blows
salt into my hair. It curls. Every wispy strand
heads in its own direction.
Perhaps, I should settle in the entanglement
made of twig, moss, and bird spit. I could teeter
on branches shrouded in leaf, hoping to be unseen.
Windswept in a rooted home. There—safety—
ducking in and out of shadow. I could be
held in the curved hand of a warbler’s cup,
socketed and secure, the gales of ancestral migration
a final sigh.
How do I recognize the perfect destination—
the final acre of land able to anchor the wandering
of discontented feet? These hills are made of malleable clay.
My name, engraved on a granite monument, undated,
is waiting in the rain. In the graveyard, there are fences
cast from iron. And I’m wary of the thorn
on brambles—with neither sunken root nor climbing
blossom. Simply braided rope meant to bind me.
The Ars Poetica of the Friesian
He takes the bit between his teeth,
tastes the foreign language
learned before his birth.
His lips part willingly,
and he chews the connection,
swallows the obedience of it,
rolls its messages along his tongue.
Through the leather reins,
his taut enjambed line,
his ear tips to listen
to the twitch of his rider’s finger.
the snaffle which bends
and flexes like the link
of a locomotive to its train.
He’s the locomotive.
He could power through but chooses
to accept its pinch.
He spits the irritation of it.
And when a hen flaps her wings
at a thieving magpie,
his rider’s thigh presses
and pledges their body united.
He circles past,
and trots the long side
like a molten nocturne.
The Time of Balance
The dawn air has a northern lash to it,
an elephant gray trample, and heavy
with garden soil eddied upward, swirling,
the crone soup of autumn equinox
thinning the earth-veil, and it’s the way—
The scarlet cardinal tips in flight, tries
to catch the holly bough sway… and then,
it’s the holding on. Quartz-white lightning
flashes his feathers, reddens his red
into a dragon fire which fights back,
thundering—the stiff refusal of a small thing
who tastes winter’s vaulted wind on his beak
and still opens his mouth. He swallows
the tempest. And when the azure west-blue
sky breaks on the horizon, he welcomes it
with muffled feather shake and happy chatter
as if nothing beyond ordinary’s happened.
D. Walsh Gilbert is the author of Ransom (Grayson Books), Once the Earth had Two Moons (Cerasus Poetry), and imagine the small bones (Grayson Books), a full-length book of poems in communication with the art of fish and birds. A triple Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in The Lumiere Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Thimble Literary Magazine, and forthcoming, New Feathers Anthology, among others. She serves on the board of the non-profit, Riverwood Poetry Series, and as co-editor of Connecticut River Review.