Alison Koffler’s Mythical Beasts

I’m partial to Alison Koffler’s mythical beast poems because I was present at the inception. For the first, we gathered on a gray winter Sunday at the Pond House downhill from Slabsides, John Burroughs’s historic writing cottage nestled on a forest preserve, “a tract of wild land,” as he wrote, “that contained a secluded nook and a few acres of level, fertile land shut off from the vain and noisy world.” In warm months our small group had met on the Slabsides porch to schmooze and do writing exercises. Winter chased us indoors. In contrast to the cottage’s rustic charms, which ranged from a rope bed to furniture made with branch legs, the Pond House felt rather Puritan with dark wooden benches and white walls, but it was warm. To prompt us, Rich Parisio read William Blake’s “The Tyger” and a Pablo Neruda poem composed of questions. “If all rivers are sweet” for example “where does the sea get its salt?” In the next half hour I came up with nothing worth recalling. But Alison launched into a poem that still thrills me.

The Animal of Blazing Stars

Where is the animal
of blazing stars,
O granite teeth
of the higher summits?
Relentless beast, too old
and essential to be jaded,
padding on dark silent paws
through the forests of frost.

Your heart pumps its familiar
and ancient message. The belly
of the house is warm, rumbling,
but a path leads outside, over ice,
razor’s edge of evening
on a horizon of dark trees.

Black oak, hemlock and yew,
trees of death and winter.
The beast leaps weightless
among the branches,
red smoke with jaws.
Where are the eyeteeth
that can drill the skull’s bone,
lifting you from the earth?

Strong stink of ferrous metals
in the branches, animal tracks
in snow below. Put me down,
soft mouth, gentle catcher’s mitt
of fangs. Only the cold will burn,
I tell you, fabulous animal
of blazing night.

Our second occasion was a “Hike and Write” up to Giant Ledge as part of the Catskills Lark in the Park in September 2010. We stopped near a spring below the final climb to settle on some flat boulders beneath the trees and listen to Rich read another Neruda poem. We heard water percolating under the boulders but hadn’t quite reached the spring itself. Again, even though I found the water spout, I got nothing. Well, I did get a chuckle for my first line, “Spring pipe exhaust pipe,” describing the metal tube jammed into the rocks as shiny as hot rod chrome. But Alison, who remained on the big rocks, came up with another knockout. A Bronx native who works all week with New York City school teachers and weekends in Woodstock, she may have a sixth sense for the mysterious forces in our forests that I’ve lost with familiarity. More power to her. We’ve let science claim nature long enough. It’s time to bring back the enchantment.

Beast of the Turning

Kneel. Sun on your
right shoulder,
shadow on your left.
Crawl into the hollow
of striated boulders.
She will accept
your offerings.

You must place
on the bare ground
a tattered matchbook,
a spotted leaf, and a
smooth white pebble.

Press your forehead
and palms to cold moss.
Hear the roil and fall
of under-stone water
ring dark chrome bells.

Down below
in a litter of dry leaves
and worm-scored wood,
she turns restlessly,
ready to birth winter
from the belly
of the earth.

This entry was posted in Poems and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.