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Prairie Schooner 77.3 (2003) 128-132

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Three Poems

Liz Ahl

The New Light

After days of darkness: light
thin as an invalid's broth, first
rationed out by slow spoonful
then sipped from the cup, swallowed
by the very hunger it has reawakened.

Clouds thin as light thickens,
revealing weak china blue, pale
but distinct. The new light reminds
the trees of their dimension,
their shadows. Across the fjord,

mountains reappear, from nowhere.
They look fresh as if they'd sprouted
overnight from long-dormant bulbs,
and hard-whitened with the shine
of new snow. In the kitchen,

you draw a blade through a tomato,
making lunch against this emergence.
Voices from the mountains want to pull
you from the thick stupor, coax you
back onto pills you've long refused.

Once, this weather could make you manic.
A mountain of store-bought tomatoes
could become, under the flashing knife,
salsa enough to last till the garden
could offer its own, fresher wares. [End Page 128]

But it's now, and there is only one
tomato. And you are suspicious.
Look how the clouds can't quite
give out; how they shadow the world
with their promises.

The Thousand

In memory, cranes have wings -
but in the now, this one's flightless,
its wings somehow folded safe
inside the wrinkled body.

Some folds seem familiar
like streets I've driven twice,
but with the inevitable wrong
turn, the incorrect fold.

He taught me to fold them
with a trained patience,
talked me through and showed
my fingers what his already knew.

I thought I'd fold a crane a day
until I hit the thousand -
transcendance, wishes granted,
the number of will and desire. [End Page 129]

Like other plans, this one
never took shape, never fleshed
out past the mere bones
of an idea. Today, though,

I'm suddenly needy for it,
wanting to do it, or just
to know I know how to do it -
but I can't call it back.

I remember so much: the wristed
trick of cat's cradle, the folds
for hats, boats, and the squared-off
finger fortune tellers from school.

But not this simple skill, a gift
of one winter afternoon
when I asked and he agreed
and he was my teacher.

The thousand cranes I never
folded? The wish never asked for
or even imagined? Maybe today
they call to me, try to remind me

how to gather and fold -
this crease a beak, that fold
a wing - an envelope
that's closed and open, containing

and becoming the wonderful news
of itself. The paper-thin whispers
of the not-yet-cranes, and the fingers
of my brother, folding. [End Page 130]

Prescribed Burn

Sometimes, you've got to burn to stop a fire

Out West, the hot shots light off season blazes
to burn away the brush and undergrowth
so when the lightning sparked wildfire rages
next summer, this line will be drawn and fire
will starve and die like a trapped animal.
These prescribed burns clear out the understory
so fire-adapted tree saplings, shrubs, grasses
and wildflowers can grow. Somehow, burning
the landscape renews it. Fire's irony eats oxygen
and would just as soon fry you as your food.
Like, somehow, spraying cold water on the apple-
orchard buds will save them from a late, hard frost -
freeze the future fruit in little jackets of ice
so they don't freeze. Like cutting back the rosebush
to its quick, to make it grow.
            Like the cigarette
I prescribed myself at sunset, a strong one
after months without - the head rush, the body
buzz - in celebration of a good meal and the start
of summer. The guilty pleasure, smoked deeply
in the kind of ritual obliterated by the uncontrolled burn
of addiction. And, even later, two faces flicker-lit
by candles, long after the campfire has burned
itself out, the understory of one last night together.
Or the sunburn I'm nursing that scorched me, dis-
believing, into summer, and the lotion prescribed
to heal it ... but...


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pp. 128-132
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