the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Spring 2013



Jim Tilley


Why this particular Cleveland pear? What takes
a cherry instead of a plum? Oversized wet flakes

thick in the air, that but for a few degrees would be rain,
settle on still-green leaves, accumulate, strain

branches and trunks. And like people, some break.
In rising wind, a night of cracking. We lie awake.

At dawn, we find splintered limbs littering the lawn,
whole maples down, beeches with their centers gone.

The melt begins, too late. Will birches continue to weep
or lift themselves? Should we cut down or keep

the English oak? Its tendril branches, now unfurled,
no longer hug the trunk; raised arms that swirled

like a figure skater's locked in a spin
hang limp. It may take years for them to fill back in.

Everywhere uprooted shrubs. What to do with a yard
that a Nor'easter has disfigured into a ward

of fresh amputees? Move the debris out of sight
into the woods? It wouldn't make things right,

but we could leave the rest till spring, give the broken
a certain grace. Let the grief remain unspoken.


Cruising at Sixty to Seventy

Not that it's a herd thundering
toward the unseen edge of a cliff—
there are consequences
to plunging over a cliff with hundreds
landing on top of you after your body thuds—

but that's what I'm thinking
as I watch the cars on the other side of the Interstate
cruising at sixty to seventy, nobody
knowing that right around the next bend
the traffic has come to a dead stop for miles.

They're listening to the news or their favorite music
or are on the phone arguing with their bosses,
engaged in something they're accustomed to
and likely wouldn't want to be warned,
nothing to do about missed appointments,

though most are traveling to or from
a well-earned vacation, just family and friends
put on hold, few once-in-a-lifetime
opportunities slipping away.
Recently turned sixty, I wouldn't

want to know either, out here cruising
at seventy without a thought about what lies ahead.
I haven't yet spent hours moving
nowhere today—I have all the time I need
to get where I'm going, and I'm

listening to a book on CD, Remarkable Creatures,
hearing about an ichthyosaurus
being chiseled out of a limestone cliff,
imagining myself uncovered, discovered
after millions of years, bones turned to stone.



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