Kieran Egan: Two Poems

PLAYING A CEDAR’S RINGS

You can count back your years in wavering rings
on the cross-cut end of a beached cedar.
No more than a thumb’s length from the bark inward
of a stump as big as you, marks off your life.
As your finger glides slowly round each ring
you release across the sand memories of green summers,
and you release the songs of long-dead birds.
Children stop and listen all the way down to the sea,
elders remember long-ago walking in woodland.
The tree unfolds,
cracking like clouds,
brokenhearted—
the leaves,
the insects,
the wind and rain,
the singing birds.

COLD

Inside the air
clouds break open like a shell,
blocks of iced water pour out;
birds’ flight becomes
dark feathers tumbling down.

Ice-gripped fields
have snapped shut
and smashed the light
flat on smooth lakes
where elk and chasing wolves
can find no purchase,
and gasp exhaustion
over lolling tongues.

Directionless snow hurls itself up
then tumbles depleted over rooftops
pressing them to groan
and creak like slowly waking trolls
that clamber into children’s nightmares.

The sun looks like the moon.
Clouds are high, and winds everywhere
fling hats and birds and bags
around the sky like litter,
deranging travellers and their plans,
frostbitten like the trees and river.

Light is oozing from the sky,
pale, tired, it drips among the shops and houses
as dark iced air slouches into the city.

People in the streets are covered with animals,
swaddled round their flickering fire within.
With unbelieving faces, they scrape home
where they will grasp one another and wait for
the earth to bow its north to closer face the sun.

Kieran Egan lives in Vancouver, Canada. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Quills (Canada), Literary Review of Canada, Dalhousie Review (Canada), High Window (UK), Orbis (UK), Raintown Review (USA), Envoi (UK), Shot Glass Journal (USA), Qwerty (Canada), and The Antigonish Review (Canada).

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