Nellie Hill


We comb the grasses,
those long summer grasses
long after summer has passed.
We stride over the fields
and along the riverbeds,
past the hickory trees
with their dried hickory smell,
and the low-growing yellow oaks
with their oakey leaves still fluttering.
Our boots and our gloves release
a leathery fullness, a leathery animal smell,
in the stilled days of late autumn, the stillness
of early winter.  We pass the remaining birds
with their miserable bird cheeps,
exactly the crackling sound of the thin ice
that covers the grasses before sunrise. 

And we take home this feeling
of the wildness between seasons
as if we've forgotten where we came from.
We walk into the sleepiness that comes with cold
and the quiet before and after.


The first time I see the summer house in snow
it's smothered, not breathing,
and inside the floor glares in the cold
and there's nothing in the cupboards,
not even rum or Scotch,
nothing to bring blood to the hands.

A musk smell hangs like a curtain
between then and before, then and now.
How can I move my numbed feet
from frozen memory and go
down the hill to the lake, rigid
in its winter sleep where I want to walk
the surface of this world
because the ice and the blanketing snow
have nothing to stop me,
nothing to call me back
the way in those summers
the dark water called, fragrant,
musical within the summer winds. 

What do I want with this ramshackle house
back of the little road I know so well?
Whether in summer's damp arms
or winter's heavy coat, why have I returned
among spiders and squirrel nests and the bold mice
who've taken the house for themselves
but to remember life at its source,
where one begins to store
the days for the long view back.

Nellie Hill's work has appeared in various journals including Poetry East, American Poetry Review (with an introduction of her by Denise Levertov), The Harvard Magazine, Commonweal, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Snowy Egret, as well as in three chapbooks.  For several years she taught creative writing  in the Joint Medical and Humanities Program at UC Berkeley and now has a private acupressure practice in Berkeley.



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