James Brasfield teaches in the English Department at Pennsylvania State University. During 1993-1994 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine. His poems and translations have appeared in a number of magazines.
1/ Point Reyes
We stand on a narrow plain
at dusk, see where the mountains
begin, a farmer, cows grazing.
He hoes a fertile pattern on the hill.
Taut-winged, a hawk
grows toward us, turns where it will,
flapping up momentum,
becomes the black speck again.
We turn and face the sea:
the waves, fired by sunlight,
shiver toward shore. Gulls
and spindrift rise at the cliff.
Cormorants wheel over the brink,
settling themselves along the rocks.
The horizon reddens on the water
a place for the weakening sun.
The stars are spindrift, caught, unable
to plunge, I say. And you, Spindrift
is like the trails of light we sometimes see
drift between the stars.
2 / North of Pescadero
A tall mist interdicts
the sunlight on the cliff
that lofts to sea the sea's cold hush.
The day is right for obsequies,
but isn't, though we find
a dead gull wound in line.
We can drive from this,
yet what we witness
will stay with us,
whether time will
abandon us, or we
The gull remains.
A day comes back.
3 / Big Sur
Late spring, yellow jasmine, sign of summer—
up the dry trail, scrub oak this far
shield against the sunlight. The serrated
shadow of a raven, its sudden pall, tells us
time is about to take the afternoon.
If I've learned something,
it's that stones are poor keepers of paths.
cool air moves through the redwoods.
At the falls, a sound we heard
before we reached it,
water over granite becomes a creek.
Down beside it, dry thatches
of leaves line the banks,
another sign of summer…
On the summit
heat burned from the dust.
We looked out on the shapes of the world—
two hawks circled the tallest trees.
The hill of yellow grass behind us
shone as if the sun were planted there.
A mile away, cloud cover
removed the ocean. It was
the breeze that dried the sweat from our faces
and the finch that lit in the brambles
that gave the momentary
and limitless feeling of belonging…
We step down to the bark hall of evening
and hear the scattered owls.
I imagine a sea
lapping beached keels,
jagged rocks bollards for black hulls
beneath a cliff, the scent
of cedar burning, stars standing watch
round their moon
and Venus as she was
above a wooded ridge.
And we are almost happy
when we remember
the little Italian boy who shouted,
"La finale," at the summit,
his father breathless behind him.
But here nightfall comes between us,
filling in daylight left
too high above the trees.
We never know truly
the distance we travel
till we arrive at the place
of our direction—
at a hill's edge, a cabin,
the light we left on inside.