On the first day in the mountains,
we climbed up to the tree line
and stepped out onto a stone ledge.
We could see across the valley
how the river had worn its way
to the horizon, its ox-bows carving
a hand on the chest of the flatlands.
We sat staring, high above the prairie
and when the sky began to cloud,
I followed you back down.
You started to talk again, telling me
about your sister and your father
how you learned to read his shadows
when he crept the hall to your bedroom.
You stopped until we came to the clearing
and started again, walking ahead
so I could only see your back.
You told me how you learned to disappear
when he came into your room,
rising above your body
like the pictures of the saints
your mother hung in the hallway.
We crossed the meadow
to where our tent’s blue peak
edged just above the grass
and through the night with all its folds,
the steady din of rain drumming the tent skin,
we laid inside on a bed of field grass
listening to the wind rush the trees,
counting the seconds between
the light and the sound.
BEFORE THE RUMOR SPREADS
Up in the night again,
on my knees feeding the fire,
I watch the bone light
creep over the mountains.
The moon hangs higher
than I’ve seen all year,
glistening the lake, the dried fields,
all that will be here when I am not.
My father’s broken-glass voice
drifts back from the day he asked
where I thought he’d be going.
He asked as if I knew
how to save
what he’d gathered from his days,
the earned wisdom that’d be lost,
how to cure burl-wood for turning,
pack it in salt for a month
and draw out the warping moisture,
how to season canning brine with dill,
setting the stems in apple vinegar,
how it’s always the peonies
that come to spread
the rumor of fall rains.
MARK BURKE's work has been published or is forthcoming in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Southern Humanities Review, Sugar House Review and other publications.