Like a beast’s pelt: oaks hunched like sleeping bear

With half-hearted barking, geese announce their return

Joseph O’Brien is poetry editor and staff writer for the San Diego Reader.
  • Joseph O’Brien is poetry editor and staff writer for the San Diego Reader.

March’s Lovely Asymptotes

  • The property line melts into forest, its late winter browns
  • Like a beast’s pelt; oaks hunched like sleeping bear;
  • Beech and birch extend into ugly candid possum hair,
  • And elms and maples muster into a passel of woodchuck.
  • The air waited on first signs of spring, curling up like smoke
  • Through your lips — petals thin as pencils, yet capable of shape
  • And form; they’re forced into a smile by a late March sleep
  • That’s going too late for April showers. The ice is glassed
  • Over, bonding yesterday afternoon’s puddles into a crust,
  • The gouged march of cattle habitual for bleak pasture;
  • The frozen prints are filmy, each a black and white fish-eyed fissure
  • That gazes up from feathery hooks to ultimate grey; outside
  • We’ve come to test the meadows and taste the weather, greyed
  • As tombs. Embraced by down and wool, we try hard to ignore
  • The vestiges of conversational winter, snow that quipped before
  • In patches defers now to gelid mud. The quiet of the fire
  • In the parlor stove lives on — but questions hang in the air
  • Beyond their usefulness — the organic smell of summer cotton
  • Released as a felt presence in the room by the heat of an iron.
  • So thickly dressed for outdoors, you, woman or man; your feet
  • Deliberate with feminine pause, your eyes have decided to fight
  • The urge to ever meet on the issue but maintain differences
  • Like valleys that separate the hills with everlasting distances.
  • With half-hearted barking, geese announce their return, bounding
  • The fields with pump-handled pinions rising, falling, finding
  • Their shadows threading like dolphins through a splintered sea.
  • You look up at them and their shadows across the valley.
  • Your smile relaxes, warms up, shares the sky and ground with no one.
  • Your glance takes in the entire landscape without love, but then
  • You allow that spring may overwhelm us any moment; I gather
  • Your silhouette by heart; it is the short memory of ice. The weather
  • Is turning chalky blue. (The day’s vanishing point held us where we stood.)
  • A slight breeze stirs the sleeping forest from its impenetrable mood;
  • The cold air pushes our shadows together. We page through the horizon
  • To search for once-familiar trees, now a woodpile almost forgotten.


  • Imagine time the place where shadows grow
  • Divine, and spread like fans that winnow noon
  • From dawn — and dusk from rotting bones in snow —
  • What marks the melting margins of the sun.
  • Then conjure thoughts of breadth: from apse
  • And nave to chthonic crypt, from heaven’s womb
  • To Hades’ tomb. What fires the cold synapse?
  • (What Aprils march to February’s doom?)
  • The nothing left is less than chaff — a creed
  • Of stones. What’s gone is everything that lasts:
  • The bittersweet and many-seeded need
  • To see beyond the light that darkness casts.
  • Where ice has borrowed, spring is lent away:
  • A princess comes to live in exile’s realms,
  • Her pert magnificence at close of day —
  • Though holding fast, reveals — and overwhelms.

Joseph O’Brien lives on a homestead with his wife and nine children in rural Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. He is poetry editor and staff writer (Set ’Em Up, Joe! and Sheep and Goats) for the San Diego Reader.

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