surface displacements

sheila packa

The minerals whisper: iron, manganese,
copper, nickel, platinum, and titanium.
On the Laurentian Divide, one river falls over stones
to Hudson Bay. Another falls south through fields
to the Mississippi. The third river goes east
through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.

Handfuls of water. A body of sea smoke, of wind,
a body of motion, an ocean without salt.
In the benthos, tailings from taconite mines.
In the basin, shipwrecks and broken bottles and sunken
barrels and bodies the lake has claimed.

On a bridge made of paper, my voice turns to vapor.
On a bridge made of iron and steel
I veer between traction and black ice
wander through beams and woven branches
follow the rain in its tracks through roots and excavations.
I cross before, almost, never,
the thunder of interior dialogues
through heavy machinery.

Practicing the old art,
my father once crossed the slope
holding a slender branch, calling the water.
Divining. Now, in a dark room, a daughter holds
a cello to her breast. In the instrument is the old tree.
The wood turns toward harmonics.
The bow rises, glides, floats above the bridge.
Calls of the geese overhead vibrate
against the windowpane. Her fingers tremble
like strings and the water answers.
A car comes down the street. The driver
locked in a dream, rolls down the hill. Slower.
Still. The branch dips and the invisible flows
into containers. The forked branch
didn’t know it had lost its root.
It only had yearning.

I call the rivers in the forgotten language
call the Sawtooth Mountains,
forested slopes with snowshoe hares and deer beds
and bears’ dens and lynx.
I call shore’s perpetual threshold.
In the city, in a house, I call a moth
caught between two panes of glass.
To catch it will damage the wings.
To leave it means it will perish.
I write of the trapped and desperate flight.

No one can follow the map of the bees.
Their business is in every direction,
from tiger lilies into the hives to the chives
to other realms with heads of clover.
Apple blossoms. In the lavender colonnades
of mint through the rooms of June
into purple irises, yellow daylilies, deep inside
delicate tunnels with hardly a foothold
hidden in clouds of pollen.

Along Fourth Street, the rapids climb a bed of stones
amid revelers, but alone
over a steep slope with winter’s melt
below a bridge, a bird on a wire, hidden by trees
past a canvas tent and pillow with nobody home.
The constellation of Orion
roams through clouds and goes on a shifting path
with the sleepless river, plunging deep.

A river catches herself as she is falling.
She is a cloud that breaks open and the earth
that holds the seed as it is broken.
The farther she has gone, the closer she comes.
The more she is lost, the more she has found.
Her body is formed by what she touches.
Blind, she sees. Deaf, she hears.
The wind is her breathing. In her emptiness
she fills. In her erasures, she is writing.
The colder the air, the deeper she goes.
The more it rains, the more rain she carries.
The more stones in her path, the more that she laughs.

A blueprint on a scroll of paper: a bridge is built
for floating on air, but heavily, on pylons
wading in plaits of current.
Passengers go between steel cables and arches
and bows, through quicksilver and mercury and yellow.
The homeless meander below.
This bridge, made to join, to cast a permanent shadow.
This bridge, made to resist wind and gravity.
This bridge made, above all, to echo and hum.

Between steel rails on ramps of forward and back
I merge in the traffic. In the union of opposing forces
accelerating through ribs of steel and spider webs.
Once in a dark kitchen, there was an old woman sifting.
The flour falls through the screen.
Once the oil of the lamp climbed a wick
lit a small conflagration above the round oak table
in a circle of chairs, a murmuring, a call for grace.
The roar of a flame mingles with
the chink of forks and knives.
A man, injured in the mine, lies in his bed.
On the bridge, red brake lights. Cars surge
past a blur of years suspended in fine dust.
The bridge sways.
Wheels stir the filaments, litter drifts
where words can’t reach.

On foot. On the span, falling without falling.
Say I cross the bridge,
although it is windy and missteps are fatal.
Say clouds cover the moon and I cross borders
without knowing. Say the wind blows at my clothes,
strips me of my protection
and I lose my footing. Say I fall through the night
break through the surface in a cold fire.
Say I vacate — abandon my saying,
withdraw my breath, take my hands from my hands,
twist from my shoulders. Say I walk or am carried
to the place before birth, the place where the sun
comes as a ribbon of heat.
Say I arrive in another language,
wings lifting and landing,
to speak with a wild tongue.

Here, a sketch of shore. The pencil draws
a water line, a vanishing point. In graphite,
wings of a bird in flight. Two more curves,
parabolas that float. Next, between the boat’s ribs, a bench.
A wave on the water’s surface — not much — just grasses
bent beneath a wind. Then a shadow, three-dimensional.
There’s a need to leave things out. In the silence
those that peer uneasily, advance, and then withdraw.
Granite outcroppings — broken by ice.
Already the currents pull and the hull lifts and sways, restless. I render this as if I were — disembarked —
without a body, without a shadow, a current of air.

Jointed and broken, the skeletal hand raked the beach.
It drifted and reached, five long finger bones bleached
and worn clean. A hand and nothing else.
Was it a bear? A deceased? Wind blew from the northeast.
No other bones to be seen — no other walkers.
Grass was chased over the dunes. Trees leaned
away from the sea. Clouds lifted in each crest.
Pebbles unsettled the bottom, rode through the knuckles
and left no print. The water was sky,
clear and tinted with old blood or rust, rot of fish
and soft ice. Inside were rivers and constellations,
storm wrecks and lives ground into splinters.

In the hollow of the body, a crow comes with a sharp beak.
The door of the chamber opens and closes.
I cannot translate this well. The arteries are open.
There is nothing apparent, the same pressure as always.
Life goes on. The crow grows a long shadow
and takes short flights along low branches.
I walk under the trees when the days are short.
The crow flaps its rough wings and squawks.
This what you call death, she says, I eat.

Here, bulbs are forced to bloom. They are planted
in the ground before winter.
Here, mouths are filled with soil. Those
who entered the tomb and grew roots
and walked in cold layers
to draw the minerals out. Those are the ones
who yield to the shovel and receive the bones,
those are the ones who weave a net and lift the stones.
There are those who seep or are swept
into the underground river, who decay and are kept and yet,
rise in a tender green stem to carry new buds.

I walk over the narrow holes of diamond drillers.
Above the horizon, seagulls draw arcs in flight.
In the morning on shore, sandpipers run on wet sand.
Feathers lift and fall, driven by wind’s breath.
I find, half buried in the sand, lost thresholds.
Scrolls of birchbark, small arches, angles
and grayed frames of doors that once opened and closed.

In the city are those who cannot be traced.
In the city of good air and bad are ghost cities,
old cities, cities of war with lamps that no longer burn
but pierce the tongue, cities that write in smoke
in a book open to depredations and
cities that reassemble endings in a dark room
of unknown dimensions, suspend belief,
upend the fields. In the city, I affix the disappeared
to sheets of onion skin with stains and smudges.
Trans-literate. Splice the image.

My hand disappears over the horizon
and pulls up the sea for cover.
I travel as a cloud for miles, citizen of a bruised sky.
I cross the tides to climb the coast
follow roads to the interior
and rivers flow over my banks.
My border spans the continents, and my spine
grows into a mountain range.
My arms can’t carry the load.
The cast off, the rejected, the driven
and defenseless. Everywhere they come forth,
everywhere off course.

Seagulls wheel. The hidden drifts.
Freighters and ships embark
in the harbor, trembling with heat,
breathe cold vapor
and speak in the language of horns.
In their wake, the undocumented
travel with currents that carry the vessel.
May it not sink.
May they not be detained or taken by claw or beak
or roll like driftwood on the bottom of the sea
but rise to their feet and climb the beach.

To swing like a branch in a storm
whose edges are accelerating,
to heave with the waves in the slant of hurled rain.
To hear the thump and crack in the too-early dark,
see the electric pour into a hollow.
To find a vein and excavate,
see absences in the landscape.

Strangers come to the edge and double back
because vessels are small and voices can carry,
because children are heavy and nothing is cheap,
because destinations are far and some roads lead nowhere
because fences are one thing and rivers another,
because rocks rise beneath the feet
and holes can be deep, because we look
at the water and don’t see any crossings,
because journeys disappear and time erases the map,
because words cloud the distance
between us, because no matter how many have made it
or how many have foundered, they still come,
because what falls from our grasp lands in the past,
because when the wind rises, waves make mountains to climb.

Difficult, to move a border. To clear a forest.
Difficult even to open the furrows
in the field. We lift the seeds and scatter.
If we don’t cut every year, the forest will take over.
Imagine a beaver on the sandbar of Lake Superior.
She slides into the surf and emerges
with a piece of driftwood, in that heavy surf,
and lays the first beam of her house.

In the forest, most seeds flung by wind or wings
never sprout. Seedlings compete for the smallest bit of sun.
A white pine, one hundred feet tall,
can be felled by gooseberries.
Slash and burn feeds a coming year’s crop of blueberries.
The forest thrives on waste. Dark wings flutter.
A red-headed woodpecker knocks
on the houses of the dead and pulls the worms out.

The center was never a destination.
Inside the fallen trunks are roads — circles around circles.
Insects in the canyons of bark travel with their bundles,
fall into the dark rooms of the camber,
get caught in rivers of sap turning to amber.
Anchored in the rot where so much thrives —
lichen reaches up to sketch on the rocks.

A catbird hidden in the branches
whistles and squeaks and whines and mews.
A catbird says whatever it hears.
Short notes turn into phrases, are repeated.
She can see over the Divide a river of clouds.
She can hear underground, in the rivers that scour the drifts,
a moneyed sound.