Tales Of Our Times: Different Words Tell Similar Things

Tales of Our Times
By JOHN BARTLIT
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water

Different Words Tell Similar Things

All our tilling here once a month has earned a winter break from the work of green concerns and the weight of varied prospects. For the holiday, I offer a poem by Peggy Pond Church.

Peggy Pond came to the Pajarito Plateau in 1914 as the daughter of Ashley Pond Jr., the eventual founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School. In 1924, she married Fermor Church, an engineering graduate of Harvard, who had come to teach at the fledgling school. Most of us know of the Ranch School and the role that its buildings and grounds came to play in World War II and after.

In the course of change, Fermor Church came to be a founding member of New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air & Water and was the first treasurer. Peggy grew as a southwestern poet of substantial acclaim. 

This month I bring a poem titled “December,” which Peggy Church wrote in 1961 and which appeared in her 1976 book, New and Selected Poems.

The brisk “metaphor in the shape of a butterfly” that ends the poem relies on what readers make of the metaphor in that shape. Do you think of Nature’s promise? The New Year? The turn of time? The links of life? What may befall? A more translatable world? More than would appear, people’s thoughts differ more in wording than in meaning.

Thank you for reading the range of views we bring from time to time.

December

On a smoothed off hilltop
among the granite outcrops
I am sitting this December morning
observing among the random
and wrinkled stones at the base of a
juniper a colony of mushrooms
with caps the color of warm toast.

No bigger in circumference
than a dime and most of them
smaller, they are
gathered in clusters like a game of jackstones,
or like stars on the sphere of a
child’s eye.

The sky is pale blue, the wind
like an invisible herd with horns in velvet
goes butting among the rough trees.
My skin rejoices
in the bright prick of winter,
warmth and cold joined
like a pair of
lively dancers. 

The white dog, Poli-kota,
runs on spiraling errands in her loose flesh;
she is a collector of footprints,
of urinal smells draped over
bushes and low tree branches.
Her curled tongue
delivers damp messages
to my cold cheek.

She is unmindful of mushrooms,
treads them down blindly
as a quadruple disaster.
My heart cries
to think what like death
may someday befall our planet;
not anyone’s purpose,
no one will mean to do it,
something random to us
as Poli among mushrooms.

Still
on this hillside
where dying and coming to life
go hand in hand together
I cannot mind long.
Here is a bone I have found,
perhaps a steer’s vertebra
once hidden in gliding flesh.
Now weathered and whitened
it rests in my hand
like a wordless metaphor
in the shape of a butterfly.

                                1961

Printed with permission from Kathleen Church.

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