When You Know a Hard Sky

By RON WELBURN 

for Don Cheney

 

When you know a hard sky the surface of a stone sea,

the texture of popcorn foil.

When its belly sonograms across the eyes and face,

the tissues of heaven static above fields and asphalt.

When each crevice moves in petrified motion,

lock-cloud where there is no cloud,

lock-cloud when the hard sky arrives to stay

and to stay afloat.

 

What do we now have in this Norembega sky

that Don said was phenomenal except for Italy

where the paintings take rain from the sea?

What Pilgrim and Providence,

immigrants with portfolios to enforce change,

brought this product to us?

 

Description fails in my mouth.

We have swallowed wonders of eclipsed locust trees,

leaves in shadowed inversion on the ground.

we have walked in their opaque silhouettes.

 

If I put my finger on this cloud surface

could I pry open a firmament to see the bear

and the deer who fled there?

Would I loosen some crevice in the ceiling

searching for answers my elders articulate?

Would I realize the whorl of that hand and the muscle fibers

of its arm and hamstring, stomach and calf,

or would we all come to know bone and sinew,

and the hard tearing sound of mothers’ cries rent across

these fossilized shallows?

 

Upside down, no bird could know

this stone surface, for no bird flew beneath it,

afraid, perhaps, to dissolve like garbage in wadded aluminum.

Nor from above could we have witnessed flight

or witnessed ourselves earthbound, wondering,

looking, and too foolish many of us

to be unnerved, humbled, drained by

looking in the face of this strange and sacred beauty.

 

Ron Welburn (Gingaskin Cherokee and Assateague descendant) has published in over one hundred literary magazines and anthologies, such as volumes I and II of Susan Deer Cloud’s I Was Indian compilations, Yellow Medicine Review, Callaloo, and The Best American Poetry 1996. His seventh collection of poems, Council Decisions: Revised and Expanded Edition, was published by Bowman Books of the Greenfield Review Press. A professor in the English department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he formerly directed the American Studies graduate concentration and also coestablished the Certificate Program in Native American Indian Studies in 1997.

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Julia PikeWhen You Know a Hard Sky

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