Sestina In An Autumn Field - Poem by Deborah Cameron
This field in autumn is quiet, awaiting a winter death
to be interred beneath a skyless vault in the shadow
of woods that creep and stretch to touch the cooling earth.
The ground gives up heat without a sigh, turning in to hold
the heart safe from frost. Below, a dark burrow
lined with fur already smells of sleep.
I come here to name things: blackberry vines matted in sleep,
wildflower ghosts, weed-flower faces surprised by death,
hollow grasses that bend close to conceal the burrow
where small mouths suck life from a dormant form and shadow
is lost. Seasons move through a tunnel of moons. Thistles hold
the tilted spokes of a spider’s web, a wheel above the earth.
I come here, sovereign in this place, and claim the earth
when it is quiet and turned away, defenseless in sleep.
a frightened quail whirls up at my feet where leaves hold
the shape of her body, a whisper of heat. She sees death,
I think, dark wings above the field, the wheeling shadow
of a hawk in breathless search of a nest, a burrow.
A furred body slips past seeking shelter. Its burrow
beneath this skin is the warm place where earth
keeps her own. There, away from the circling shadow,
the twitching dream begins. Animals of prey, in sleep,
must still run. The underground rings with echoes of death
imagined, flights of the flightless in a predator’s hold.
Long nights begin the season of equinox. The skies of autumn hold
neither rain nor snow nor sun. The earth-dwellers burrow,
hoard seeds, pods, summer’s dry fruit, against death
in the hungry winter. I resist the urge to pry into earth,
uncover the secret cache and hold it in my hands. In sleep
sometimes, I have wings, feather-stroke, a hawk’s shadow.
small bodies jerk in the dream of the circling shadow
that passes overhead. Here is where I always wake, hold
myself still, remembering the bones cracked in sleep,
the warm marrow sucked from my fingers. That dark burrow
is real; I have been there, sleeping beneath the earth
among spring-born rabbits. Dreaming, there is no death.
I come here to elude death. This autumn field in shadow
draws me to the quiet earth, turning inward to hold
safe the heart in a fur-lined burrow that smells of sleep.
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