The Woods behind the Tenant Shack
Joseph Bathanti

                                                " ... it is important to realize where you         
                                                  are put on the face of the earth."

                                                --  Thomas Merton
                                                -- The Sign of Jonas

The tenant shack faces east.
From its splintered porch
I can see Mount Zion's white steeple
rising from the frozen plowsoles.

No one remembers who lived here -
only whose crop was tended.
Hail pings off the corrugated roof
and rakes the glade above gullies

where beds have swollen, then dried,
swallowing fences now no more
than brittle strings to walk across.
We head south for the confluence

of boulders, theories of map
and compass delicately
balanced between us.
Jersey puts brown eye to the wind

and, with his ounce of Husky blood,
paws the first fork of Cedar Creek,
silvered in blades of ice.
Its banks are shaved,

pocked with moonstone and muscovite.
Morels push out around ferns
and crusted moss on the white root weir.
I plunge into a wall of black stumps

and broken bricks, begin the climb,
disquieted by whispers
and freezing apparitions,
tricked again and again

by the Cedar's serpentine branches.
It is the ruse of fear to hook a man,
build a wall between him and God,
name him lost

when he is somewhere in Anson County -
night falling - with a black dog
on the trail of a hermit thrush.
I hear a whistle

from the old Willoughby Trestle
as a freighter, packed with dead wood,
reckons its milestone and hurtles
through a world of forgetfulness.

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