TWENTY-FOUR POEMS by Scott Lennox
The quiet countryside near and along the Brazos River has fascinated me since I was a boy. It was there I found my first sense of freedom and mastery, and a spiritual connection to the land that I could feel but not yet verbalize. I discovered open country and deep silence that resonated within me. I felt protected by the thick trees and high bluffs. I could feel the river carrying me along as cicadas droned in the woods beyond the river’s edge.
There were well told stories by evening campfires. There were deep nights with the songs of frogs and owls and nighthawks and coyotes and crickets. There were more stars than I had ever seen in the city. I could actually see the pale cloud of the Milky Way. And often, I awakened early in the morning to the low sounds of cows on nearby farms and ranches, and to mist that hung over the water as I cooked my breakfast over a small fire. I knew that I was surrounded by living Texas history and by something that stood, somehow, outside of ordinary time.
Now, nearly half a century since that first connection, I am still finding pieces of myself along the way. My current work grows out of a slow and continuing process of recollection and rediscovery—of connecting spirit and feeling and daily experience with that part of Texas that still moves me the most.
A few years ago, I deepened my relationship with the part of Brazos River Country that lies to the south and west of Fort Worth. I went there more and more, and began to explore it in drawings and paintings and poems. Yet what I found was deeper than words or images could express. To use one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words, I became intrigued by the inscape of the place, by the way this area reveals its uniqueness slowly over time in the quiet of the land and the flowing stillness of the river.
Come and take a quiet walk with me and see what you discover. — SML
Barns and other things
Moon won’t wait.
She calls to me
to watch her,
slipping down the west
and peeking one last moment
through the trees along the river.
As birds awake in song,
I think I know her,
even tell myself that I remember.
But then I see her,
really see her,
and she reaches in
and takes me by the heart.
washed and smoothed by time.
Perfect instruments of wonder.
Low above the water,
we side-armed them
one by one,
skimming them over the shallows
and out across the deep.
I counted as each one danced
between water and air.
“…thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…”
faster and faster,
before gravity took them under.
On those days,
we were champions of joy,
masters of such necessary frivolity
as keeps a boy alive
inside the later man.
and proud to be on the river for the first time,
I built a low fire near the end of my tent,
cooked my dinner,
and later, watched the licking flames
as I drifted off to sleep.
And in the drifting,
followed the smoke-enshrouded sparks
rising, merging with the stars.
“The same,” I thought,
sparks and stars,
smoke and Milky Way,
I had seen what I could not possibly explain,
and knew that I was right.
And know it still, yet deeper.
All of life circling in a great hoop,
hanging in the languid morning mist
that drifts above the glistening river.
In The Live Oaks
After twenty years of watching from the road
or standing at the gate,
today, I crossed the fence
and walked among the live oaks,
aging guardians of the open plain.
I know the rancher.
He knows I come to visit, and there is trust.
Walking around them,
I touched them and counted aloud,
“…eighteen, nineteen, twenty.”
For so long, I thought them ten or twelve.
I laugh at what I thought I knew.
And they are older than I thought by far,
showing the passing seasons in crack and crash,
in twist and gash and cow-rubbed bark
that has laid bare the outer trunks.
Hoof prints and manure tell of shelter and shade,
of sanctuary, of hollowed ground
where calves have slept unafraid
beneath the strong and spreading arms.
Yet, in what seems a placid place,
In bits of fur and feather and bone,
strewn about the cadmium green of soft winter grass,
nature’s balancer has left its calling card.
The barn is long abandoned,
yet, holds her eaves outstretched
like a hen’s spread wings
to gather her scattered chicks.
But there are none to gather.
Who will tell me where they went,
the ones who cleared this land
and built and settled here?
Or of their efforts,
their losses and successes?
That loud wren cannot.
That swooping swallow cannot.
That high-circling hawk cannot.
The distant cows cannot.
They all go on about their business,
leaving me to wonder.
And what of the passing of time
since her beginning?
Of cattle drives and wars?
Of the Great Depression,
and of the greater promises
in Fort Worth and Dallas
or cities farther yet then they?
Who will tell me?
Not this barn.
Surrendering to her own winter,
she keeps her secrets
more closely than she once held hay or grain.
Today, only silence.
Not because the muse has left.
She has placed her finger on my lips
and bids me listen—
to the stillness,
to what is in-between,
to what is not said,
to what is more clear,
more filled with possibility
than words or sound.
She bids me watch—
to see what is beneath the surface.
To watch and wait
for what emerges on its own.
and sinking deep
as I walk the river’s edge.
one slender thread of hope,
pierced the clouds
and touched the
turning it to gold
beneath a darkened sky.
one angelic voice
rose high above the chorus,
one incandescent embrace,
fleeting in its passing,
yet warming me
Stepping through old oaks
and the sleeve-catching twist of brush and briars,
I stumbled across them, growing in profusion
along an abandoned fence—
black as crows,
larger than the end of my thumb.
Don’t ask me to tell you with certainty
if they were blackberries or dewberries;
I still can’t tell them apart.
Ask me instead if they were wild and sweet.
Ask me if the ripest ones surrendered,
tumbling into my hand.
Ask me if a copperhead,
sly and voiceless hunter,
lay curled among the thorns,
waiting for an unsuspecting hand
or a careless appetite.
Ask me if the interrupted Jay
fussed loudly in the tree above me.
Ask me if I stained my shirt
reaching too far for just one more,
fatter, riper, sweeter.
And then ask me of this still-steaming pie
cooling on my window ledge.
Days Like These
I walked today in grass, knee-high
and new Spring green,
tender beneath my not-wanting-to-crush-it steps,
then down along the stone-stacked hedgerow wall lined with Phlox
to the lower pasture’s pond,
where a Heron, grey as weathered wood,
waited for my arrival before she announced herself
and lifted with slow, deliberate beats
into the clear air and out beyond the distant trees.
In the cattails, a Red-winged blackbird swayed and sang
above the hunting snake,
dark-eyed, smiling ribbon
gliding, silent, at the water’s edge.
And moon, rising pale and almost full
against the late afternoon sky,
arrested me again—she always does—
the way she hangs there,
softly watching, knowing something ancient.
Days like these weave me like a braid
into the silence,
into the music,
into these fields;
Deer At Dusk
In fading light,
the Brazos whispered its way south,
and I stood studying,
trying to grasp the strength and the delicacy,
the quiet and unyielding power of the water,
the living lace of the vines and oaks on the farther bank.
I didn’t know it, but I was not alone—
another watcher, a yearling doe, was very near.
Startled, she leapt from her hiding place,
crashed through the brush
and out into the shallow river
where fish darted for cover among the rocks.
She stopped, mid-stream,
turned, and watched me in perfect stillness,
then snorted loudly,
taking in the crisp air with deep gulps,
her breath hanging in front of her.
Then, just as suddenly as she had appeared,
she flew with utter grace
into the trees on the other side,
stopping for one last glance
before she disappeared.
For a long while,
and a while again,
silence embraced me.
Though I watched it
half a century ago,
that ripple still glides
through the water
behind my canoe,
a lazy S swirling
at the tip of the paddle’s blade,
disappearing into itself,
a liquid snake
slipping beneath the surface.
What the River Taught Me
I’ve learned a thing or two by looking back
at what the River taught me—
high and low,
fast and slow,
yielding to its own rhythms
in every season.
I’ve learned a bit
after years of straining,
too often overflowing my own banks
and finding parts of myself
strewn among the litter and broken branches
in a country where I clearly did not belong.
I’ve learned of holding on,
and letting go,
alive to where the path is leading.
I’ve learned at last to be that stone
nestled into the riverbed,
even in flood time.
And that long after I am gone,
the Brazos will still be flowing.
B I R D S
Was it still raining?
I couldn’t tell.
Either way, the cardinal
didn’t seem to mind,
tee-you, tee-you, tee-you
from the branches
beyond the window,
jubilant and strong,
hopeful and sweet.
Herons On The River
Each keeping to its own side,
two herons stalk the Brazos in silence,
They hunt with slow steps
in quiet waters,
and the still-dripping fish
glistens for a moment in the air,
a briefly celebrated trophy,
then is swallowed and gone.
As strong winds carried you
up the face of Kyle Mountain,
you took the air
and never flapped a wing.
High above me,
you swam the invisible river in the sky,
circling, rising, circling again.
I longed to soar with you,
to mount the stacked clouds
and look down on the silent valley.
Summers passed before I found a way.
Running hard, heart pounding,
I jumped the gap
that deeply split the mountain’s face.
Heart pounding, scared but proud,
I toed cliff’s edge and waited,
then laughed out loud as you shot past,
heading upward, close enough to touch,
wings wider than my outstretched arms.
That day, I felt your freedom.
That day, I left behind what I had known
of earthbound steps
and took a new name,
Even before it was finished,
that new bridge on Dennis Road,
the Cliff Swallows were at work by the dozens,
skimming low across the water
then swirling through the air,
beaks wet with Brazos mud
to spit, little by little,
their bowl-shaped apartments—
open-mouthed Ansazi dwellings,
the coming generations
who will carry on
no larger than my thumb,
where did you find such a voice?
Your cry has filled my garden,
has warned from far off down the river,
has taunted from the cactus thorns.
With your giant’s heart,
you announce yourself,
push other voices aside.
larger than life,
what engine drives you?
From her watchtower,
high in the trees
and almost out of sight,
an owl, silent and unmoved,
the haste in the cities
beyond this place,
watches scurry and panic
and life without direction,
the falling of leaves and grasses,
the rising of concrete and steel,
watches people hurry
they know not where
to do they know not what.
and the world is new again.
and her dreams take flight.
and the river flows.
All through the night,
the dove cried piteously
from her nest outside my window.
She slipped in and out,
weaving herself into the fabric of my dreams.
It was not the music of lost love or lost hope.
Such things are not for birds.
They were sweeter songs.
Perhaps secrets to her awaited chicks,
whispers of winged flight
or the colors of the dawn.
she sits lightly on her eggs,
unmoved in a steady fall of rain.
Chuck Will’s Widow
Just before sunset,
from the trees across the river,
you cried, over and over,
the call that speaks your name,
You knew what we did not.
A sky-blackening storm was boiling
up over the land behind us.
And still you called,
First came the sky’s pale green,
then, with a vengeance,
thrashing fists of hail.
I dived beneath my upturned canoe,
and for who can say how long,
clutched it tight,
hoped that it, and I,
would not be blown away.
Then all at once,
I crawled back out to find things wet and battered,
my canoe hammered, pock-marked,
my tent in shreds.
I listened for you,
wondered if you had survived nature’s shotgun blast.
Sure enough, you were still there,
celebrating your life.
I stopped along a farm road
and walked toward the fence
to study aging barn
and waving grass,
From a wire overhead,
a scissortail dived at me,
a feathered bombardier,
each swoop closer,
just out of reach.
You do not belong.
And though I meant no harm,
had no intention to intrude,
though I saw no nest,
nor hatchlings to protect,
I bowed to its tenacity,
and backed away
in peaceful surrender.
At the river’s edge,
the hawk let go of the branch,
took the wind into its reaching wings,
danced weightless with the sky.
Against a gray
two crows dance
and look for food.
swirl new-fallen snow.
Crows don’t care.
They are unbothered
by such things
Night on the river,
and this heron flying home.
But where is home
to such winged freedom?
It is everywhere and nowhere.
And where is home to me
in a fenced world?
Here on the river,
it is nowhere
From My Field Notes:
Thanksgiving Day 2004
behind Cindy & Butch’s house on the Brazos
mid-afternoon 66 °
geese calling high overhead
It is Thanksgiving Day, and the Brazos runs shallow and so slowly. From a hundred yards away, back up at the house, come the smells of turkey and dressing, vegetables cooking, and pies, pungent and spicy. And there is talking and laughter and music.
But here on the river, there is quiet mostly and music of a different kind. I hear the light touchings of bare branches in the breezes and the whisperings of dry grasses. Just now, I hear the collar bells of the dogs guarding the goats that wander the ranchland across the river. And high above me, geese are wheeling and reforming in their uneven vees as they wing southward, their voices clear, but growing fainter as they move further from my sight.
Now I become aware of the trickling and gurgling of the river as it slips over the rocks and through the countercurrents. When the wind changes, I get a faint waft of piñon smoke from the chiminea up at the house, mixing in with the smells of the land and the river’s own scent, not fishy, but curiously alive. The fish are here, hiding. I’ve been watching two of them holding still in an eddy behind a line of rocks that juts out from the river’s far bank. They wait patiently for their dinner in the slow-moving current.
The Brazos seems secretive now, but still she offers resonances with a spirit beyond my senses, and mysteries, too, cumulative and particular. Sometimes, I wonder if I should even want to know why it is that I am so drawn to this particular time on the river, this seemingly dead time when even the colors are mute—all umbers and siennas and dusty browns with touches of Naples yellow.
I know that even now, where I am standing, things are quietly changing beneath my feet, and that Winter will come, and then Spring, bringing with it growing warmth and a fresh new world. For now, maybe it’s enough on this Thanksgiving day that I do just that—just feel it and be thankful for all of it.