Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer Solstice Splendid Wake Poetry Pop-Up

Afterwards, You Learn                                                                    
by Judith McCombs
Poetry Northwest
The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New
Library of Congress video recording

Afterwards, you learn to say
you were lucky; the last-year’s cubs
stayed safely behind her, breaking
the thickets for berries. Lucky
the wind from the darkening valley
turned cold, and your jacket was heavy,
and zipped to the neck. Lucky
you knew, too late for retreat
in that clearing of downfall and stone,
to drop and go fetal, arm
over neck, playing dead. Lucky
the backpack came off like an arm,
saving most of your arm, and kept her
busy till the grunting cubs
called her back to their feast.

Afterwards you learn to say
that the fault was yours: you were tired,
you were stubborn, making up for lost time
on that summer-growth trail through clearings
and thickets, the wind in your face,
not bothering to sing out or warn
what was there beside you, not waiting
for warnings to reach you.

But sometimes, in sleep, you go back
to that stonefall clearing, that edge
of safety where your scalp hair rises
like hackles for no reason you see,
and there is still enough time to go back
as that dark shape lifts upright
from its tangle of shadow, like a man
in a burly fur suit, peering out,
and you wake with the ghost hairs rising
like fur on your unscarred neck
and perfect right arm.

Judith McCombs grew up nomadic, in a geodetic surveyor’s family. Her poems appear in Delmarva, Potomac & Saranac Reviews, Innisfree, Nimrod (Neruda Award), Poetry, Shenandoah (Graybeal-Gowen Prize); and The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New. She is active in Word WorksDC, Federal Poets; and arranges the Kensington Row Bookshop’s Poetry Readings.

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