On Being Wakened by a Porcupine In Maine
I get lucky, one ride all the way from
Bangor. The truck groans over dried mud
swells, springs bottomed out, tappets
clicking. The woods are so dense I can
feel the air pushing ahead of us in a bow
wave. When asked “Where you heading?”
what can I say? I share a couple of beers
at the fish camp, then I start walking.
It’s good being a little drunk out here,
weaving between the trunks. When I stop
I know that no one has stood here before,
despite the stumps and blue cutting tape.
I throw my voice out ahead, wait for a response—
nothing but night against bark. Through
a gap in the trees the sky proceeds in
a narrow band of stars toward the Atlantic,
threaded along a needle of moonlight.
Under my feet, worlds give on to worlds.
It’s not being alone I’m looking for,
but being content alone. A dog by the fire.
I follow a creek up the side of the first
slope I come to, a mountain sheared
bed-flat at its crest. Fingers of knobbed
branches and ash-dry roots catch at my
cuffs, one step back for each two up.
By the time I reach the top I’m worn out—
but there’s Katahdin, bowing the sky as
he shifts from foot to foot, nothing fixed
but the stubborn pivot of the North Star.
I imagine a line between it and me that
then crosses the little pond to loop around
a stunted pine on the opposite shore. I
swing from it in a wide ellipse, the sky
blurring and streaking, walk its tightrope
above the water stippled with light. No one
is there to see my acrobatics but a porcupine
I don’t notice, head tucked tightly under,
balled into a nest of sticks and wattles.
And Katahdin, shoulders hunched to shield
the day’s first light from the wind.
The cold laps, sifting through the zipper
of my sleeping bag. The buzz has worn off,
all I taste is the can’s metal like a bitten lip.
The stars hover and taunt, but still I will
sleep, as I slept often in those days, at arm’s
length from the rest of the world. And I
will watch, from a vantage somewhere forward
as the porcupine emerges from the brush,
sniffs the air, then follows across the sleeping
continent the warm stream of my breath.
by Jeff Ewing
Jeff Ewing’s poetry has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Chattahoochee Review, Harpur Palate, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.
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