The Usefulness of Stars
Ivy vine thick enough to strangle. Well, that's its job. Someone cut
this one off three feet
from the oak's root base, left it
forked as a divining rod, going white, lichen laden,
brittle as an old bridle. Even dead
still clinging. In Kentucky
unmortared stones laid by hand run chest high for miles. It's easy
to love the world's heavy-labored, useful
work. Also the ones who do it.
When a stallion breaks down, they give it
a shot, then the dates go up in brass on the stall:
Secretariat: March 30, 1970 - October 4, 1989.
Too much early grass, maybe. I try to leave
the world a little bit
each day. Rilke said it will feel odd
to be dead, suddenly no longer
among the accustomed, but I don't
know. Maybe the afterlife
has simple instructions
since we'll be starting over
again. That ivy
bugs me. Why hang around after? But I'm not one to talk, always
looking for signs, divining rods
for the soul. Where it's buried is somebody's secret.
I've noticed it's good lately
to leave large blank spaces between things. As they do
with racehorses—big winner, then
gone. I'd like to mention my father
how he loved the usefulness of stars: In order to properly navigate you need
a precise point of departure. Orion, other stars I forget the names of.
What do you suppose
those men were thinking laboring over the miles
of fences they fit together by hand? They probably didn't look too far
down the road. Definitely
to look at those slabs they hoisted up, snuggled down, fit into place.
Then the next
one. They might never have looked
at the stars, never wondered whether that silver cup from the Civil War
lay buried beneath their feet. Useful men,
there at some point
on the earth, then they died. I bet they didn't notice
crevices of their lives. I'd like to be those men, see what it feels like clinging that hard
Virginia Slachman is the author of two collections of poetry, recipient of the Elliston Prize in Poetry, an Ohio Individual Artists prize, and publishes in magazines such as Salmagundi and River Styx. She currently serves as associate professor of English at Principia College.