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Song for Walking
Poetry by Roberta Tennant

Know Thyself

Slaughter house woman
apron red?
Wolf on the border waiting?
Goat? Sheep dog? Herd owner
in the big house
fatting off chops and wool?
Yes. Unicorn.

Sunday Morning in Orchard Lane

This is the morning of the steep rock steps,
white flowers scattering on old damp stone.
This is the unbelievable morning of Orchard Lane.
It is the morning to come up each step
as slowly as the wind moves the blossoms,
to spread your arms wide and take it all:
light insistent wind, sweet momentary smell
of incense cedar, torn and dying in its fragrance,
cool shadow-leaves on faded brick.

Slowly, slowly, for the end of this drowsy world
is hot yellow hills and flat blue sky.
Slowly move, tender and vulnerable,
for it is like that, like that same fresh passion.
Let it all rush in: dim window flicker through the birches,
rustles in the withered ferns,
secret ways under broad leaves and starry leaves,
the ways the cats know.

These flowers don't need bees, an old man says,
weeding and waiting, looking down,
while you, the hard sweet climb over,
remember the press of branches near and narrow,
the blossoms and the steps fading down,
and step onto the hilltop,
the bright open hilltop.


Walk and see birch white and red against a river.
Choose an autumn path towards a lonely rock.
Sit and feel the wind
Waving yellow stems about your feet.
See the light go down the valley, wrapped in larksong
and the pulse of lupines.

Now the moon is full upon the oaks.
Now stillness is everything.
Now all the valley world and warmth are cold,
Cricket sound and shadow play.
Turn to the road but do not look behind you.
The moon is wandering from cloud to cloud,
alone as you.

Bells at Sunset

The peals of the chimes drifted
far above the dreaming village.
Their silver chanting pierced
the clinging drops of mist
and floated for a moment in a sky
glazed blue no river, sea, nor eye
had ever held.

Their voices echoed hollowly one instant,
pealing through the ice-blue air.
They faded and fell down, among the mists,
gleamed one second's flash against
the rose-gold tinted mountains' snowy slopes,
and then like falling, icy stars they scattered
on the small carved houses' slumber,
and all grew dimmer, secret, dark and still.



Bright-shelled, empty, the old moon lies
Bleaching on a vast and unseen reef
Of elemental coral, while all the universe
Of slippery, blinking planets whirl
In splashing orbits foaming out to lap
What rock, what cliff, what vanished ship's rough musseled ribs?
Eyeless phosphorescent stars, serene and chill, possess with surety
The black supernal currents of the teeming sky
Or sea...which is the dark and bubbling sea,
Or which the glass green sun-pierced sky,
Or which the shore, the pale, the deadwood haunted sand?

The Schooner

One night I followed city streets,
dark streets, with footsteps dark and hollow.
Gray waves splashed, echoed from the walls.
Splintered pilings rose,
rough and built of fog.

Silence. Then water was all sound, far off.
And all the webbed and rat-watched gritty streets
held puddles full of wind-gray sky.
But I saw
a schooner at the dock and she was sea towers,
bubble-topped, bays of yellow coral, surf-silver things alive,
and blues, ice-blues, all blues.

The schooner scraped her rough wood prison, churned
the oily water, thick with sand.
Held by buildings, ropes, concrete, she sailed
through watery street lights, motionless against the pier,
her captain lost, her crew deserted, sold for show
and awful rest at one long port.

The ropes were thick with knots that I untied to watch
all grayness vanish into shining sails.
Before the tide, among the sorrowless dank waters,
wandering from wave to wave she vanished, sails unfurled
like ancient hair, while I stood watching in the shadows.

Gray now myself, in pale new light,
I followed streets toward the city.
My back was to the sea, the rising moon and clouds,
the ships of silence.


Sun's rising is
an elementary miracle
is warmth to dry
the new child's birth-damp
Sun's dark drowning
end of an archaic cycle
is a daily primal fear

When this bright eye closing
dies beside the mountains and the temples
shadows of columns and of arches are afraid
they lengthen
running to escape a night of mourning

As the moon comes up effaced by clouds
a bright stone in a deep clear pool
the last sad pulse of daylife
flutters and expires

Then the human mind spins
like a dying Orca turning to the west
thrashing silently in the white city
the white city turning red

The Snow-Wolf

In the snow-night the great wolf ran.
Shoulders, haunches heaved from side to side,
as head down, he crossed the ice.
Blue shadowed hills, black branches, and the wolf
stood in the wind.
Ice formed on his fur and hung in glass drops.
Every flake was hard lace, cold, bright diamond lace,
that shimmered on his furry shoulders.
The white snow-wolf did not look up.
He stood, stiff-legged, silent,
eyes gleaming silver past the falling snow,
hushed breeze, and frozen air.

The Witch's Song

In praise of Night I sing
drawing in the cool dark air,
gasping out my words in hunted breaths:
Yes, you are the territory free and unprovincial,
not the domain of the tender-souled,
nor the easy open walk for cat haters, owl-shooters,
and level-headed men,
the kindly generous practitioners
of numbers, money, guns.

No, you are not easy and (forgive me)
you are not beautiful
in the same way that a hill,
bright-lit and clustered with sweet grain,
is beautiful. We are outlaws, you and I.
We know what the wolves sing: better to be feared
than mastered. How empty is my praise!
You write your own song
in a smooth black hand.
Once it is emblazoned on my eager throat
I will not cry again.
Better to be feared
than mastered.

The Changeling Comes Home

I'll come for you, my little boy
when moon is red and sun is black.
They will not see me, will not know me or
the Witch's Horse upon whose back
I scout and scour, riding through the mazed throng
of childish faces staring. I will right that ancient wrong
and pluck you from their withered grasps,
these mortals full of jealousy and greed,
bring you gasping to my velvet bosom,
plant anew the blighted seed.

This time will I nurture it
close to my heart, now sick with love and fear.
This time will I hoard it, guard it safely,
let no Philistines come near.
You, the tanned, long-legged one,
your back alight with golden whorls of hair
that march in whirlpool rhythm endlessly,
the pattern of the galaxies is there.

They will seek us both too late,
we will be far and gone
among the dripping night-sky pines,
along the hollow granite ruins.
My Warlock lover, he that sired you,
(his hair as raven black as yours is gold)
will keep watch by the cedar night-fire
his strong brown hands have built against the cold.
There you will grow up again, my boy,
and we, in wild Witch song and dress,
shall teach you lessons of your strange old soul,
and what our newborn souls can still confess.

Museum of Natural History

"The material for this group
was secured
near Eagle Peak, Modoc County,
California." And here they stand,
hooves nailed firmly to the floor,
white tails motionless,
antlers poised and ready,
living out the long calm days.
Patiently, they scent the deadened wind;
tirelessly, the huge ears lift to catch the rustle
of painted leaves. If now and then
a strange remembrance of living woods
should glitter in some stony marble eye
the visitors do not notice.
They pass in whispers, marveling
how skilled the artist was.

The Siege

Wren's whistle in a log
quiet by the pond, fish walking
through the water
and the sky in lavender.
When we have gained the rock
and the bushes are still again
we see that we have won a place here,
sitting in the midst of where we didn't belong.
If we hadn't been so humble
and scratched our arms and legs on stubborn branches
we'd have never seen it all from the outside.
Now we are in.
Now we have stormed the glade and won it.


Quick wing flash at twilight
torn the small brain with marked desire:
"The leaves are sere
the aching Yule begun.
What is my chance in flight,
what my small forest purpose?"
And the meadow's icy grass encloses now
frayed bright wings,
the small beak cries perpetually in silence.
The withered claws still curl as if to hold
tightly to a branch of willow tree.
The wind calls softly.


Come to the party.
You've nothing to think or do (he said)
but only to wear your costume
(your small-you shiny dress
red or green)
You're just to wear your costume and come.
Come to the party.
Come to the party in the dark.
Blurred lights.
Come across the leaves.
Thin voice leaves if it's raining.
And I'm not to worry.
I'm only to be ready
and to open the door (he said)
and come (to this bright party, bare floors,
empty rooms, wet and cold the lights)
Come to the party.


Festival air, you are
a brilliant roaring gasp.
If there was radiance in the drunken sky
it was the time of day,
and the time was fruit and fire.
There is a light gone out now;
rise and fall in soft breath,
small velvet breast.
You are faint and would rest,
but still wait.
Wait awhile for the Grand Procession.


At night, when the windows were dark mirrors,
she passed through the empty, staring room.
A drape was moving in and out, billowing,
because a door had somehow gotten open.
On this last night, she walked up the canyon road.
It was October in the canyon and in the world,
and the air was leafless, cold, with rain coming.

The wind was the signal. While it blew
from the long deserts, across the ice of mountains,
she would want to see where it had been.
And when she knew that now
she would not stop walking, ever,
she imagined that wherever he was waiting, he too
would get up now and come with her.

Just before she started down the trail,
the tense wind holding her, its thousand-mile goal,
she inclined her head to the city,
waiting for messages from the world.
And when the lights of the world said nothing,
she turned and went on, remembering:
"I used to believe that deer were silent, until
I heard them pawing in the rushes,
breaking the branches in their wild courage,
in their lonely, trackless walking."

I Would Be a Cat
(A Transmigrative Dialogue Between Two Souls)

The First:

I'd lie all day before a fire,
on a slithery silky cushion,
eat milk and sugar and flesh.
My purring would be
a sought-for favor,
gained by sensual attentions to my jeweled eyes,
and by stroking me, for mutual pleasure
and for human joy at caressing a thing
inscrutably content.

My ageless, sexless days would be balmed
in warmth, watching and wordless thought.
Some hours I would stretch,
extending, gaping, till you'd think
that I would snap my tendons, burst my heart.
At other hours I would make myself cat-clean,
and others I would posture on my stomach,
clawless pads drawn into my fur,
and I would demand a silence, absolute.

At these times my eyes would remind men
of something primal, of cats in lapis lazuli
sleeping under Gizeh's sands.
I would see them turn away, uneasy.
But always they would come back,
compelled to play speaking worshiper
to my mute goddess.

The Second:

There is a board fence outside
and every night, the cats slip by,
different cats, averse to silk and light.
Joining this procession through the dim night leaves,
I would walk in places where no one else can walk,
except the small felt-furred mice,
to whom it is a fearful path.
The branches and the moss would bear me up,
floating like a painted cat
stalking a bird in far-off, ancient Crete.

I would pad in exultant silence through narrow cracks
whose rough edges would just admit my flanks,
or bound up dwindling paths till they become
trails in a forest of emerald fern.
Starry flowers, mottled pebbles,
and ephemeral glass-winged flies,
only these miniatures would be real to me.
And O most blissful would be the beatific night!
I would stalk through bayberry leaves at sundown,
ring wolfsbane and hyacinth around my neck.
And as the last light darkened,
the sleek ruff of my shoulders would bristle
in anticipation's lovely fear.

Stone steps and dripping, phosphorescent boards
would be my singing places. I would run
swiftly over danger-open spots
of moon paled meadow.
My eyes like drops of cold green glass
suspended in the murk, I would spring across shadows,
dance after white witch moths and fallen stars.
I would be
the spirit of the bleak and icy black,
the fair sweet night,
and switch my dark tail in Hecate's bewildered face.


It is
a tiny kite hanging upside down
from a rusty wire
high above the road,
an extremely tiny kite,
gray, torn and endlessly resigned.
For three years it has dangled
at this junction of wind and wire.
In all that time,
I wonder if it has become in any mind
a bright question, more than what it really is:
a tiny kite hanging upside down
from a rusty singing wire.

Song For Walking

This is the best way.
Now don't be afraid, for you will move easily at first,
While early sun is gleaming through the pines.
The river will be green with moss and tiny wings,
And you will walk sweet and dry.
But later, my children, the land will tilt,
Imperceptibly at first, past overhanging lichened stone.
And though your eager padding feet will try to slide
Along the bark-rough trail, they will be hurt, I know.

You will begin to run despite yourself,
Your haunches working until you burst out
Panting into open wind: a granite mountainside.
You may slip, and the rocks are steep,
But do not clutch and cower! Young roots are frail
As you, and want to live as much, or more.

Incredibly, my children, a fine mist at the last
Will wet your eyes so that you cannot see
Through dripping lashes, but only feel the way.
And now you finally stand above the falls
And see dimly the immortal water
Which will immerse you in sparkle and brilliance.

You laugh and jostle at the edge, but do not hurry.
Only wait, until the last of you has come.
And as we wait, I see that it was hard,
Because your feet are heavy, and sound and light
Push and batter at your ears and eyes.
Yes, it was hard, I know, the hardest and the cruelest way to walk.
But the best way. It was the best way.

Daniel In Our Garden

Rain damp leaves, sand dusty path,
Flower-mist, expressive of a glory
Through which he walks: the dazzle and the sprinkle shine
On my heart, my son, my love's sweet name and mine,
On him, ourselves' new story.

He is today what is forever mine,
Along white pebbles to the gate,
Eyes beyond us all, his back a small straight line,
Toward the unbelievable and fine
Journey, which neither turns nor waits.

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