artwork for AE Reiff's poem Elk and Aspen

Elk and Aspen
AE Reiff

I saw a road-splintered river of water
melt and reform.
I saw myself come to a fire burning
covered with stars.
I came prepared to horn and cup
Bugle and grunt, pretend to rut,
but for refusal to bring death to the bull,
lest the worst be believed, the best be suspect
where the rack sticks up and there is no denying
road closing elk-falls at evening,
the body fills a pickup, not intending to tell.

I heard the psaltery and the harp,
blue night singing that whet hoofs upon the Rock,
saw the pale bark turn and fall,
but not weather the storm
and the strike of the lightning’s paw.
I walk the ridge at night to seek the lost,
sketch out a note of bone and heart
to sky-spruce mullein stalks,
logs before splitting, upright trunks of being.

I come as a leaf to adorn the grasses,
winds before snowfall has come.
I dress like a leaf, fire gold in orange,
white hair aches on my trunk.
I climb the ridge to the top of aspens,
On pine cones deep in the green dew of moss,
Going up, the tree girths thicken
with lichen on slate blue rocks.
Chipmunks flicker like winter down trunks,
white head the blue-stem, leaves ripple rocks.

Climb to the tops of aspens
under yellow blood my brother,
Walk with feet under heart shaped petals
those heart-shaped petals of trail,
shadows where I hide and run like water
on wind feet shadows avail
a good tree for Jay eyes and bark,
red bark pine lace, mouse stripe bather under clouds,
a raucous touch in the evergreen mind.
branches fall, the wind blows,
bright aspen bark and pine.
In green gold clumps
The white bark splits and red sap hardens,
splits the grove with the cold.

Whose life is this, this one and this?
Yarrow stalks question, hearts flutter tips,
low limbs fall in the cold,
Aspen leaves carpet the gold,
Branches fall, wind blows,
then splits the grove with the cold.
I put on a shirt to wear the vermillion,
dress like a leaf, cold fire gold,
white hair arches my trunk
Like a leaf to adorn grasses,
To pluck five centers of gold.

Red gold sap clusters, white bark shaped aspen
The heart shaped limbs of stars,
Wind spruce on green, the white bark aged,
The one who was going there whistles the age.
Maybe one leaf flew when stars hung on boughs,
the ecliptic sticks in the Plough.
The dead limbs are gone before snowfall comes,
good log burning shadows fall,
the bark is thick with weather splits,
last leaf out with the old.
Sun burned cold aspen, pale on a veined stem,
each leaf a flamed colored frieze
Spread out a law of variation,
the heart-shaped next to the gold,
loose as lightning, sheltered as an elder,
yarrow caps ready the old.

I sit among aspens, loose in my clothing,
the elk are headed down.
I sit among aspens, loose in my clothing,
the heart-shaped spruce decked gold
That showers night limbs under stars,
I put on a shirt of gold to match white barks
but have to shield my eyes.

We arrive one day at this center
where coyotes howl in the long train of stars
and wind drives over the cities of forest
their crisp littered aspen floors.
The white barks are turning all the day long
and all night gold rains down
fountains of light before dawn.

* * *

When in basements our masters among phone lines,
live on their heads and wave feet at the stars
I turn up the news to you,
my Sustenance and first love
To you I sing this song of my reward.
Green gold sticks in my pants and shirt,
the black remains of pruned branch,
Boys run the field, panting with effort,
throw down dull logs to the ground.
Sparks catch flame,
Green gold age bares plunder,
my finger drips blood on the green.
Good log burning leaf shadows fall,
gold sawdust, dread limbs are gone,
bark shorn pine cones, green needles dawn.

Aspen leaves carpet the gold,
last year’s leaf out with the old.
Cast offs drive season, yarrow stalks, question!
Pluck us! ask five centers of gold.
Hearts flutter scarlet tips,
Whose life is this one, this one and this?
the bark is sap hardened with weather slits,
The lower limbs fall in the cold.

White bark aged, the tree caught flame,
Wind tossed red on the green
That this is the last age of flame.
Sun burned aspen, veins pale on dry stem,
each leaf a tongue flame in still air.
As trucks go down road for stumps
White hair aches on my trunk.
Raven calls winter to elk.

Green ages, gold, the perfect heart-shaped to gold,
Maybe one leaf flew this morning
when stars hung legless on boughs,
pruned branch the ecliptic like frozen ice sticks,
butterflies deep in the Plough.
Spread out the leaf variation,
sheltered as an elder loose as lightning,
yarrow caps for the old,
green gold sticks, umbrellas of croton,
I sit loose in my clothes.

We arrive one day at this center
where coyotes howl in the long train of stars,
where wind drives from the cities of forest
their crisp littered aspen floors.
The white barks are turning all the day long
and all night gold rains down
fountains of light before dawn.
Boys run the field panting with effort,
carry logs, toss dull thuds to ground,
the elk are headed down,
branch clean the yarrow stalks plunder,
drip amber blood on the green.

I don’t know when the fireworks ended,
The rancher moved his cows, owls took wing.
The ravens chase the buzzards,
chase the ravens, chase the demons,
screech owls light in the animal sounds,
Coyotes chase the buzzard’s sometime vision,
the community of infantry and cong,
struggles in claw and pitiable snorts,
fur or feather, carrion and beggar,
The night sky silent with logs,
Splits and cracks of the shadowless
Buzzard showdowns of fog and frost,
crow devoted coyote songs, elk praises.
The onion around us, ants descend heel scars
Past a happy optometrist asleep in his bed.
His vision asleep or dead.
I wake one day among aspen.
Here comes the sun they say to each other,
fur and feather, dark and light,
to the one that surrounds them all,
The charter tree, roof, leaf, branch-trunk
Bark-sun edge in the silence,
yourself the grindstone, yourself the silence
connect the lives of coyote, elk, deer.

* * *

It looks like the start of day, beginning of night,
like children back from the woods,
Maybe a human sound, knife whittling,
tapping woodpecker, peace camp
where the white tail points the silent chow,
and ax cuts log. A man between the pieces cut,
rejoins the log the tree logs split.
Listen the wind throughout.
The tree goes up opposite the timber that falls
to no such call separate from the man
who splits his wife’s legs for a child
to rejoin the rest, to connect the lives of coyote, elk, deer
that the ax head sunders test.

Like a constant breeze fells the man of sin
that the watchdog paves with green,
The enemies of pine sticks, sap legs and log maps
through timber throat warning spread
hand claps of aspens to rest, flow humors of ax.
The charter of tree, root, trunk-sun of years,
a shadow cloud over sun, burn fire bright vowel,
Voice trigger pulse, leaf, branch
while they covered their heads from the stars
on the road of ice in envy or store,
who drove no car among those who sang night
Who ask of the meadow and day,
have you seen any elk?

I nailed these mottoes to a tree
At the bed of sleep where they lay,
Unreached by obesity,
Who ask of the meadow and day,
have you seen any elk?
That little silent road of ice
That road of ice. Here is the reason,
They overrun boundaries.

Who hunts the predator but himself?
The crime was ice, I saw it melt
Who came to a burning,
snake thick in a valley of ravens,
coaxing terse leaves of spruce logs
insulting thick in a valley
where Logs stood up for blue X’s
and marked the heli-tongued axes.
See the mold lined discolorations,
lichen infested hearts?
They are precursor parts now in silence,
The wind declines aspect toward sun,
the enemy, light, brings death
Still silent, too late to run.

You prowl by night, the enemy light
brings death to morning, rifle crossed sight.
Light, the enabling, all seeing light
that danger it comes,
While it is here, when it is gone,
all light yet wonderful
but for the death smoke ravens coax.
You were sentient, poetic
For the radical non-think in headlights,
blind intellect to reconstruct,
shot with insult, super struck,
blamed for continuation, excess of fire trucks,
meadows with tire tracks, stone stumps like tree cats,
chopping and cutting
the species plowed believers believe.

Who has not seen the empty hearth,
the abandoned wife, rejected son,
discolored lichen, then absent again,
caravans of smoke from fire down road
follow the contour.
A neighbor dons caps of beer.
Dust rises to smoke.
Wind and aspen applaud,
then you disembowel a deer.
Flame-tipped Osiris, fish bone toothpicks
Black with initials diabolist.
I heard you curse night,
when you lost your plant at the
Bark Road Brewery.

He was like us but became himself,
Soul creature with a storm.
Did you say elk had soul
when it mounted its mate?
Sapience of hunger ungulated its belly,
Thirst, joy when it sang, cared for its young?
Men are masters of disguise
Las Casas said, discerning soul
In Indians, elk, and slaves,
Not alone in Spanish men.
The soul that sinneth it shall die.

Shoot the gun, make life more fair
Than angel, leaven, evolve to be,
Only at night unseen the elk retreat
At a far ridge, turn and fling
Das erde lied their solo.
All next day guns fall silent.
You might be simple enough
to give up life to live
the image
of being wrong.
Give up pleading, deflate the line.
Think about it,
It’s all the same.
Do you want to live
without intention?
Change is an act of forgetting.

AE Reiff’s Comments

“Elk and Aspen” was written to the clap of aspen leaves turning gold before winter at 9,000 feet on Mt. Baldy. Among ravens, porcupines, mountain bluebirds, elk, and coyote singing all night long, punctuated with gunshots at dawn, accompanied with two black wilderness Chow Chows, sons, and a daughter, we walked the mountain shoulders of the White Mountain Apache border.

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Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022