Claire McGoff

THE ARTIST                                                                                                            

Five years of week-ends our father works his art,

carves thumb-sized, jewel-shaped designs, hundreds,

in the pine beams that separate the loft

from the living space, dabs each with careful eye,

in robins-egg blue and tulip red.


For the walls above the fireplace and sunken tub,

he hand digs the granite pieces, placing each in relation

to the next, moves us when the snow trickles

and wild raspberries set on, from the city into a one-bedroom cabin,

so high you can see the western continental divide.


We unpack onto hand-sanded shelves angled against the A-frame walls.

Outside, the tar roof hidden among the Ponderosa pines,

whose branches bend and spring with the night wind surges—

those that rush our blood, keep  my sister nestled to my back

in our new built-in bunk.


Little more than a closet-sized kitchen,

no neighbors, and eight hundred square feet soon grow

too small to hold our mother's misgivings,

the songbird clock too slow.

Suppers turn silent, bedtime voices grow louder


and louder through the beams into our room. A year November,

while he is away, we gather matching coats

and all we can fit in the trunk, head east down aspen-fringed roads

toward prairie and dormant winter wheat,

the scent of pine in what we take.



They flutter in spotlights of sun beneath eastern hemlocks.

Their shadows tag ripples of water, daredevils,

nearly dip their dusted wings, and only ten feet downstream


winter's melt falls, has fallen for so long, so hard over the edge

onto the flat rock below, holes have formed, one perfect

for plunging our bodies and we do, over and over,


a little less startled by the cold each time. The water,

warmed ever so slightly by our play, streams back

into the pool, our eyes level with the slippery moss.


Above us, the small cloud of moths gathers

in this time we call September,

in clusters, four-leafed clovers, bleached, and small


as the sky divers in white at the air shows

we watched at the shore. From cocoon

to the first open wing of July, the white lichen moths


seem to know nothing of what they are not. I would catch

them with my eyes as they darted like a game or survival

in and out under ledges of bluestone along the bank,


four or five, way below the shade of hardwoods

that gives the conifers life. Alone, the last moth would vanish,

like a sleight of hand, in the measured closing of the day.


Claire McGoff lives in Silver Spring with her husband and six children. She has been a member of the Writer's Center for several years, participating in a number of workshops, including personal essay, memoir, and poetry.



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