Earlier, through stones and burdock and under
barbed wire, the dog had raced each August day
out to the fields of timothy and beyond
to where the Guernseys, swollen with the glut
of summer, grazed beneath mountains of cloud.
Darting and feinting, she brought in the herd
past the long shadows of the row of trees,
the maples and box elders and forked birch,
granite picked from the fields lining their ranks,
and through the muddy barnyard, each to her stall
to wait for callused hands to pull the teats,
relief as the milk sang in the galvanized pail.
But now with snow lying waist-deep in the barnyard,
life is defined by the narrow paths a man
can shovel. The dog trots out to the pump and sniffs
cold iron against the acrid moist manure
smell of the barn. Pitchforks and rubber boots.
The steamy breath of cows. The temperature
for weeks not topping zero. Each day he breaks
ice from the trough, hefts feed sacks, splits stove wood.
In the long solitary hours a man
inclined to thought ranges the world and sighs,
imagining a calling, what one does
with leisure, tended lawns, and books at hand;
feeling here in winter’s dusk that pleasure
is meager as heat. But who would guess his heart
when, back on the porch, the barn chores done, he gazes
out at the night to see, eerie and transient
as wordless longing, the pale blue northern lights?
The Road to Nowhere
by Jan Schreiber
– for Max Ross
He stumped them when he built
a road over a mountain.
It started close to home
and wound through trees, past cliffs
not visited in years,
bound for the sea, but stopped
before it got there, somewhere
halfway down a hill.
They said, why build a road
that goes nowhere? But
it goes somewhere. It goes
out to a rocky shelf
that overlooks the steady
unceasing breakers far
below the traveler
who moves while standing still.
Perhaps if it were finished –
but it will never be
finished. It runs toward
not to the sea, an arc,
a proposition in
geometry, a brief
infinity of points
along a finite line.
It was for him a mode
of recall, of the son
who loved this place and years
ago in madness or
despair had killed himself.
Walking the road, he saw
what could not be left out
in the many tellings.
It made a kind of solace.
Yielding to rocks and shadows
at the end of order,
he waited for the long
susurrus in the trees
brushing across the land
like half-formed memory
or like the coming rain.
by Jan Schreiber
His mother had the talent, and she knew
a child who reaches twelve and cannot play
with sureness, grace and speed should not pursue
musician’s dreams his fingers will betray.
One night he heard his parents’ muffled voices
in counterpoint when practice time was done.
Next day their sentence came disguised as choices:
“You needn’t work so hard – just play for fun.”
It was not quite the shutting of a door
in that his hands already understood:
the option had been sealed off years before
or never had existed. Still he could
have told them something, were they tuned to words.
Instead he struck the keys with furious chords.
by Jan Schreiber
Forget the stone that stands
off in a graveyard waste
that no one ever finds,
ignored, forgotten, lost.
Forget the verbal wiles,
for where now is their sting?
What hope of survival, then,
after the stiffening,
the tears, the moving on?
Here is a sheltered home:
a file with each address
and tutelary name,
all ordered, more or less,
by alphabetic rules
on loose-bound index cards
or a computer disk –
unspoken, dormant words
by telephone or desk.
Here let this record not
be struck, but keep its place,
that it, for all who might
in haste or distraction pass,
searching for something else,
may momentarily live
and, by a curious grace,
awaken memories of
this man, this voice, this face.
by Jan Schreiber
Black and sleek as steely-eyed
deacons, ascetic and aloof,
disdain the jostling waves, riding
peaks and troughs, placid as flatirons.
upends and disappears a full
minute or more, some fifty yards
Preying and gorging, they float fastidious,
always unruffled, unperturbed
Though half-submerged they do aspire.
Persuaded finally into flight
they gather speed
and skip tiptoe on wave tips like
flat stones flung side-arm from the shore,
Full bellies when they would be light
belie the anorexic pose,
rob them of grace.
With difficulty they enter heaven,
rise and take dominion, running
Interminable day. The sun
hangs over a world that hangs
suspended. The only change
is local. A man can walk
through life disturbing no one.
The light is strong and high
for hours. The still air
is drying out. A man
respects his obligations.
He missed what he came to see.
Long after the vanished morning
a moment almost like all
the others will not be noticed.
The light must have shifted. He
was about to tell us something.
Lament of the Maker
What wonders I’ve performed, with leaping mind,
imagining the fruit while eyeing the seed,
conjuring what’s ahead, lagging behind,
savoring bliss in vision, hopes in deed.
I have esteemed my skill so highly that
I stroll through mansions I have yet to build
and, like the seigneur or the plutocrat,
reap harvests from rich fields I have not tilled.
But when I face the drudgery of art,
bright mirrors where misunderstandings lurk,
my faltering strength just when the need is great,
I faint before the task – or rashly start,
push through to make an end, survey my work,
and smile – how fine, how small, how light in weight!