From Winter Fires

by Thorpe Moeckel

for David & Karin Griffiths

Ashe County, NC


There were places where they looked and didn’t see
a house. Just pasture, stalk yellow. Just ridge & tree.
And the sky as if an ocean beneath, as if breakers.
So many filaments of branch made soft by lichen,
a glow less of green than wisdom, the kind weather
is a benefactor of, that a thing earns in stone & frost-
pocked soil. There the cold was liquid, the air dry,
and the cold still liquid. Ice brightened the seeps.
All day the night lay up in shadow. Only the drainages
knew erosion’s logic, the bark’s braids. Looking
on it, they were hollowed, readied for bees, a future
as bear tree. It could have been worse: no future.


Condoms, pink & frozen on the cemetery road
near Jont Mountain, and sprightly but sore, as if
eluding some mistake, some wrong done to
or by them, or both, by ignoring it or stepping out
of its reach, they climbed to a place more of memory
than presence. Everywhere the rhododendron
rattled its keys, kept time for the snow which blew
but would not bury the stumps or the cut roads,
that tangle of second growth branch-work left
to rot, some leaves dead before they could fall
chattering now, an anthem against despair
in the dialect of bark & acorns: restless air.


One night, the currents steady & south blowing,
they watched a truck light the ruts that run upridge,
and then, as though it always took something
ordinary like this – kids parking, making like kids
who they might never know, but whose blood burns
the same wax, loving’s first riddle enveloped them
as though with its breath, humid as honesty,
and they were folded a hundred times, not frozen
so much as metamorphosed, stocked completely
with fingerling rainbows, some hiding in pockets
behind their hard places, others in the undercuts,
in the flats, the log-lairs, & mud-soft bottom.


As when one makes a crowded house appear tidy,
or a raven chooses to land on this branch & not
the next, there was something in the motion of those days
that held them together – not in how the past became
each breath’s antecedent, or in how emptiness
kept swearing it would hang up the phone, then riff
on some woeful allegory of longing that began,
“I bet you can’t guess,” & ended, “isn’t that hysterical” —
but in the way night widened its road out into morning,
then underneath the afternoon; how the sun’s movement
shone brighter than its flames, how the water all day
and the next, sizzled in the heat of its ice & its play.

THORPE MOECKEL teaches in the MFA Program at Hollins University. His next book, a trilogy of long poems, will be published in 2015 by Etruscan Press.