After Hoagland’s Field Guide
Once, on a path around the backside of the lake,
I saw a rabbit cowering in the bramble, barely visible,
its tweed coat almost indistinguishable from the winter grass.
And I took your arm
to slow you down,
and point it out, without a sound.
Then the three of us were all
motionless, our eyes locked, wondering,
perhaps, who would make the next move,
away or toward, who might hurt whom.
But the cold was too much, the sky
too grey to pause for long, and so we trudged on
through the mud, leaving that small, wild thing
to fend for itself, as all of us must.
And we kept talking
ourselves into that hole of unknowns, joking
caustically to warm up, and diffuse
the tension of everything that is
forever at stake, distract ourselves
from the wind’s leather strap, lashing us
for the hubris of being here at all.
And the lake’s surface cracked and refracted
like so much thin ice, and we went back
to your place and ate and drank and danced and fucked.
And none of it mattered. Not much.
I think now they were swallows,
not swifts, dipping and diving
above the lake the other evening,
their iridescence invisible
in the dusk.
Every afternoon, I come home
to wreckage in the kitchen,
my two teen-aged sons
having been left
to fend for themselves
for too long.
rarely gets out of bed, says
he hates it here, hates being
alive, finds consciousness
unbearable, apologizes, can’t
wait to be gone.
The other hates me
for asking him to do the dishes,
brings me butter lettuce, young
kale he’s grown from seed
and I make a dressing
of olive oil, lemon,
Dijon and salt,
toss in some pistachios,
avocado, grape tomatoes.
I could forgive them
anything if not they me.
My small daughter wants
ice cream, wears a butterfly
mask, pretends she has wings,
flitting and fluttering up
and down the sidewalk, calling out
the colors of flowers.
A message from the vet says
their records indicate our cat
is due for his rabies shot,
and I wonder how it is
their records don’t also indicate
he was euthanized there, last month.
All of this makes me
want to call my father, makes me
want to be held, makes me
want a drink, though I had too much
the other night and so
know I shouldn’t, know instead
to swallow hard, walk
back to the lake, watch
the birds again and think on
what has hatched, what
they’re so hungry for, what
they, in fact, are.
Early Out on Beaver Lake
The sycamores, philanthropists
in late life, let go
their bronze and copper coins
along the path.
The lake lies
perfectly still, a lover
in wait of light, reflecting
rowboats’ painted hulls, belly-
up on the grassy bank, the dog-
woods’ muted maroons
and greens, suggesting
or the illusion of them—
the entire scene a Rorschach test
to determine what might be made
of a given day, what wasted.
Canada geese camouflaged in autumn
fog—a flannel cloak the morning wears,
then casts off when the sun appears—
call and respond in a native tongue
I do not speak but sometimes think
I apprehend. (Where are you? I am here.
Are we safe? Who knows, who knows?)
In the Clearing
I meant to make note
of how, during a snow-
storm a couple of weeks
ago, the south and west
sides of the lake were sheltered
by a stand of trees, the north
and east exposed so that,
when I came around the bend,
sleet and hail stung my face,
and it became an effort
to lean into the wind.
But then, out again
the next day, those same
places that had been
undercover, in shadow, were now
frozen solid, a hard crust and black
ice making the path treacherous,
while in the clearing, where
the elements had been
worst, sun had begun
to thaw the hard earth,
slush and mud an easier
surface to navigate,
a softer, safer place
to find my footing. I was sure
this meant something.
Brit Washburn was born and raised in Northern Michigan, and educated at Interlochen Arts Academy, The New School, University of Hawaii, and Goddard College. She works as a writer, editor, and Montessori school teacher and lives with her children in Asheville, North Carolina. Her poems and essays can be found in various publications, in print and online, and at www.theoryandpracticeofbeing.wordpress.com, which consists of a reader’s reflections on religion and relationship, with recipes. Her debut poetry collection, Notwithstanding, was published by Wet Cement Press November in 2019.