In the beginning, a word, move;
then a plan and then the reasons,
which I do not remember exactly.
I remember clearly only the clothes
we were given for the journey
and the last, silent meal we ate.
We left the place as lightly as we
had come, so many years before.

From a sunlit state of innocence
where white sheets were hung
to dry like clouds over paradise;
from eucalyptus-scented earth,
a red house with a yard swung
between dreaming hills, pillaged
by raccoons, framed with lilies
like trumpets of the archangels,

we moved: into history, a river
slowed by many bends, a village
of peacocks with a hundred eyes;
a low house among fields, with
an iron stove, a winter shrine;
a fireplace blackened by time,
the fragile bones of a sparrow
frozen in the shape of its flight.

When father played his trombone
in the attic, schoolchildren tittered
in the street. In the late afternoon,
the cows assembled at the gate,
witless, waiting for a farmer's son.
Home, the children conjugated
verbs, found variables and drew
diagrams of the human heart.

Evenings, the round kitchen table,
lit by a low Dutch lamp, summoned
poets, players, horsethieves, to glasses
of jenever. An incense of gossip rose
slowly, blackening the walls. Outside,
horses pawed the darkness, breathing
delicate feathers of ice. We courted
the favors of spiders, mice and moles.

Our words grew small and porous as
fossiled bones, our gestures groaned
with the cold. The will-less world of
water, wood and stone taught us when
to yield. When it came time to move
along again, we were four strangers
waving at each other, in slow motion,
across a deafening expanse of ocean.

More Poems by Alissa Leigh