If Grief Was a Town, It Would Be Named After You

Trying to remember you
     is like driving from the Atlantic
to the Bay Bridge on some pot-holed
     road named after some other place—
as if the person doing the naming
     would have been more than happy living
out life in the real Berlin, or Salisbury,
     Vienna, or Cambridge.  And just as I cross
the Choptank, just up river from Suicide Bridge,
     my radio crackles like aluminum foil
being crumpled into a ball, and nothing but static
     fills the twenty-minute long stretch
between there and Easton, and no matter how
     hard I twist that slick grey knob, no matter how
many buttons I mash on the damn panel, only broken
     song scraps stutter through the airways,
and the only living thing is the winter rye
     greening before me like a planted sea.

The Pinecone

after Elizabeth Bishop

I found a glorious pinecone
and plucked it from the forest floor;
nested it in my hand, where the light
weight of it pressed into my palm
like a small bird.
It was intact.
It was perfectly complete and whole.
Looking as though it had been
dipped in chalky paint,
it was walnut towards its center,
where its seeds rested on dark wings.
Throughout, thorned petals
uniformly scattered along each edge
to ward off predators
—the sharp thorns,
pointed and ready to pierce flesh
until blood rises to flush splinter from wound—
symmetrical, except for a ragged
nipple where it had broken
from the branch
of the evergreen tree.
Prickly spiral, a wooden nautilus,
the double helix
of DNA stamped on its heel.
Bottom third half-closed—
with heat, it will open slowly
like a woman deeply loved.
Running a thumb along
its woven edge
brought it to hollow music,
the sound of wood
—scraping wood dragged
across rough pavement—
I plucked a rich petal,
a dark fingernail—a single
line dividing it neatly in half,
and thought about how the umbo,
the heavy thorn, stabs into loamy earth,
pinning it in place
for certain sprouting;
how the cone itself
is destined to fall apart,
to dissolve into pieces, yielding
nutrients to the seedling
as it deteriorates.
I admired the tiers,
the step-on-step of each of its parts
growing from smallest at the top,
to the widest at the bottom—
the winding steps leading upward,
the stratum of each dark petal,
the small beak-like protrusions
of each gray-tipped brach.
This wooden egg,
the slow uniform venting
while its sap dries
—like blinds turned to let
light inside in early morning—
growing ever larger, the cone
becoming heavy
until it can do nothing
but break from its heightened perch,
dive deep into currented wind,
feel the air sing through its hollows,
until it lands with a bounce
on rusty needled carpet,
ready again to begin.

Tara A. Elliott’s poems have appeared in MER, TAOS Journal of International Poetry & Art, Wildness, Triggerfish, and The American Journal of Poetry, among others. She is the founder and director of Salisbury, Maryland’s Poetry Week. She recently served as Poet-in-Residence for the Freeman Stage. As recipient of the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher-of-the-Year Award, she has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to education by Maryland Humanities. For more information, visit www.taraaelliott.com