One of my favorite spots in the woods is Walnut Run, where a stream rushes from its springs in rocky waterfalls down the South Mountain making its way to the Susquehanna River and finally the Chesapeake Bay. Winter and spring it’s pretty easy to get to; there is a path that hikers and horse riders use down the mountain to where and past where the stream is. As spring becomes summer, this path gets overrun with sumac and thorns, fallen trees you have to crawl under or above, and there are a lot of ticks. But the lovely buzzards soar and when I get to Walnut Run and see the stream splashing among the prehistoric rocks that have tumbled down and all around, I feel I’m at the source of happiness.
Easter 2003 I wanted to see the stream. I was on holiday, spending time with my parents. The Iraq War had just started and I was very frustrated. Though the Iraqis had done nothing to us, we had gone in and completely blown up any shred of civilization they had going for them. Iraqis were dying no matter what George Bush or my brother or my uncle said. “Why argue with them? You’re not going to change their minds,” my mother told me privately calling George Bush a murderer, but making no public announcement of it. For me, a girl bombed in Baghdad, one of the first collateral damages, paraplegic for the rest of her life, hovered in my mind. I was not powerful enough to stop the war, or make that girl walk again, and my hatred for George Bush wasn’t poisoning him; it was poisoning me and making me sick.
Walnut Run was an antidote when I saw skunk cabbage and ferns coming out of the cold ground, and budding leaves on the tips of every branch, not an ending but a beginning. Soon sonnet two was coming out of me. Writing poetry is a healthy thing: to look at what you feel with perspective, and by putting it together perhaps it puts (keeps) you together, at least a little bit, and every little bit helps. For awhile I had stream be the last word in the first line: Every time I come it is the same stream which would scan out just fine, and stream rhymed with gently sharing a long e, which completed the poem’s pattern, but I liked the first line ending with same; the stream was still there, even if invisibly, finally to appear as the last word in the poem. And who knows what it means, but the Iraqi War is gone and the poem is still here.
Every time I come, it is the same
Running without end, down the mountain stairs
Rocks, giant eggs and heads of dinosaurs.
Elegant woods, soft, expanding gently
Over everything, a promised dream
Of health, happiness, not bombed little kids
Without limbs, politicians getting rich
Off suffering—Away! I want to be
Among unfolding ferns and skunk cabbage
Where the warm bright sun thaws the ground still cold
Like Christ raising Lazarus. As I grow
Old it seems possible to really love
Even the startled snake scared in the leaves
But man—Who threw this bottle in the stream?