“Waterfall” by Ellery Akers


Advice from an Angel

from Knocking on the Earth (Wesleyan)

Today I saw one of those Digger Pines you love so much,
uprooted, its needles in shambles,
tan, flaking,
and the wheel of its roots
still holding clods of dirt:
twenty kilometers of roots
tangled in that vast shelf,
a thousand kilometers
of root hairs and nodules
delicate as the teeth of radishes,
bulbs, tubers,
and embedded in bits of loam and hornblende,
unseeing, staring,
the tiny blind eyes of pebbles.
I know you're afraid sometimes.
But that's all right. It's those voices from childhood —
quarrels, drinking — the sound of the ice
knocking in her glass as she stumbled down the hall
towards your door. It's understandable. And the glacier
does look frightening up there on its cirque,
with its hooks of ice. But down below
are the fields and pastures full of vegetables;
cauliflower squats in the caked earth,
its blue furred leaves smelling of rubber,
and there are tubs of melons,
cranshaws, summer squash,
potatoes dug from the loosened soil,
dropped in burlap, smelling of mold,
still spotted with dark crumbs...
If I have any advice, it's this:
watch the moon as it rises with all its money
and spends it carelessly on drift and cirrus,
but above all, love
the packed earth,
loaded with coal,
boles from the old carboniferous swamp stumps,
slivers of chalk, shells of molluscs,
boreal slopes, bitter escarpments, shale, hardpan,
alluvial gravel, bits from the early seas:
holding the powdered bones of cattle,
holding the old shoals.
Below the stump, where the bluebird sits and preens
its chest, and crooks its wing, and flicks, and preens,
below the stones, below the rubble of the sink,
under the glacial erratics,
where springtails leap and scatter in the snow,
ten feet down, where cold toads
bivouac between clumps, away from the wind shear,
and earthworms steer towards each other through the dirt
and lie wrapped in balls for shelter,
below the centipedes, millipedes, where the ants
and the silverfish wander,
under the slump of crust where the heat thuds,
nickel and magma, and the pulse of the core ticks as a watch ticks,
there is a calm hand,
the palm facing down.
I know it's in your nature to want air,
ozone. To float: to be free. But stick with what you know:
you'd be surprised at the effect of sheer blundering
and doggedness. To evaporate is nothing:
to sprint, to travel. It's weight
that divides the known and unknown worlds. It's your boots
that impress us, your squads of boulders,
and your heavy wadded soil. And in your oceans
it's those blue blots
we notice, the shadows of clouds
that float like tanks
and make the sea look deep,
while all around, the turquoise
shallows dazzle, and the sea-lettuce sparkles,
and the kelp...Do you remember
on the tablets in the graveyards in Rome,
the matrons hold out their hands,
and their dead sons kneel under them.
Those hands: it was their weight you noticed,
and when you looked down,
loosestrife and mullein
bungled up between the graves,
someone pedalling by chinked a bicycle bell,
and, under your shoes, the grass sprang up,
already busy, repairing itself.
Didn't you notice how heavy you were?
It's the same weight
that pulls down
birds from the air, leaves, boulders,
anything that falls.
And there is so much falling.
From up here we can see them, the dark lines
attached to every living thing, and then to the soil.
They look like strings, or pulleys.
But it's all right. It connects you with the earth, and all its grit.
Would you believe me if I told you it was all
all right? Look: a calm wave of heat
blows through the breccia and sandstone,
a calm wave of light. Clouds release their arms.
Across the ridge, dusted with little feathery Diggers,
rock doves clatter and disappear, and clatter back again.
The quality of hope is bent, and lies in the light sweet sand.