(The California Drought, years later)
The only clouds we see are
useless as smoke. I walk alone
on blistered roads crisscrossed in veins
of tar. Few cars pass.
The sky above us is burning.
My water bottle shimmers,
a liquid jewel. When I set it down, tree limbs
bend, shading the spot above my head.
Perhaps now, the peeling eucalyptus will begin to heal.
We should have fixed this years ago,
gathered the water in ancient pots and cisterns
as desert dwelling peoples have always done.
Now oak tree limbs are exposed bones
and the people have gone.
Nomads, heads bent under broad hats,
shielding sunburnt faces
return in tens of thousands
to the states of their parents
and grandparents, understanding only now
what their grandparents understood
from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.
Some moments should never be forgotten.
When a stranger with parched lips
lifts his head, let him drink.
Pour the last drops of water on the mound
below the tree trunk. Sprinkle drops on exposed roots
and whisper: it’s raining. Thirsty leaves curl inward,
catching precious blades of water.
It’s raining. Soon the sky will wash away,
this empty sky scorching our hills,
until we are all laid flat and bare,
and the rain washes over our faces
and pours into the open palms of leaves,
a singular blessing: first a sip, then a drink.
Breathing in Water
I was nine when my mother took me fishing
and taught me how to use live worms as bait.
Impaled and wriggling on a fishhook,
their last moments of life
were as cruel as any death sentence
handed down in a human court.
They were caught in the indifferent jaws
of fish, who would meet death by suffocation
at the end of a line, thrashing
and rippling waves behind them
threaded in blood, pierced by the hook
as Christ was, by a centurion’s sword.
Yanking hooks from slippery bodies
we dropped them into our pail.
Feeling sorry for these fish
with their gills rising and falling
in currents of air when they
should have been breathing in water
we tossed them back.
No one mentioned the puddle of
red that appeared behind their fins
on the water. No one thought of
the predators who would be drawn to that blood
by our careless hooks.
Doesn’t it hurt? I asked on behalf
of worms and fish who would never speak.
My mother shook her head. Worms have no feeling.
Why then did the worm’s head curl and twist,
and bunch lower in my fingers whenever
the metal point of the hook drew near?
My mother had no answer.
The tree is a lens, an ancient eye
blinking, a web of frost
melting in an empty socket,
a pond disturbed.
He can feel it burning.
Sleet scars the bark in icy lashes; he circles it with his hands.
The tree is a throbbing vein; he can hear it breathing.
The woodsman laughs, and lifts his axe,
dreaming of a house flickering warmth,
a candle tucked among snow drifts.
Soon his children will scramble onto his lap,
a daughter and son
who know nothing of trees and sap
their arms and legs, tender as branches
Mallards and Blue Geese rise up from their streams
as the axe falls and the trunk splits into halves, then quarters.
Two hawks circle the sky
and a field mouse sniffs the wind.
A shadow of a wing catches the man by his foot,
a shadow of a wing drops over his head.
The tree is a heart.
To save himself he must slow its beating,
lift the axe once more.
A deer emerges from the woods and blinks at him.
a single horned owl perches in its trunk nest.
The woodsman coughs and raises his hand to shield his face.
From behind rocks and under branches,
he can feel their eyes
on his boots and the back of his neck.
The forest is a cacophony of cricket song and scratching claws,
hooves advancing in new snow
and the mournful howl of wolves.
Eyes moist and teeth bared, glinting in the moonlight,
they are waiting for the axe to swing
the wrong way,
and the woodsman’s leg, to fall–
severed from his body
sky throbbing red in his ears.
Robin Dawn Hudechek received her MFA in creative writing, poetry from UCI. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications including Caliban, Cream City Review, Blue Arc West: An Anthology of California Poets, Cadence Collective, Gutters and Alleyways: Perspectives on Poverty and Struggle, East Jasmine Review, Hedgerow: a journal of small poems, Silver Birch Press, Right Hand Pointing, Calibanonline and work forthcoming in Chiron Review. She lives in Laguna Beach, CA with her husband, Manny and two beautiful cats, Ashley and Misty. More of her poetry can be found at robindawnh.wordpress.com