Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, with his wife, avoiding fires, floods, and shaking earth. He works in mental health, and won the 2019 Heart Poetry Prize.
I wasn’t good at listening, my mother said,
though I could hear just fine,
because listening meant obeying,
and other times it meant understanding in the moment
and then obeying tomorrow or whenever
that moment came again, or listening meant
a revelation could occur if I was quiet
and sitting still, like waiting for the crush
of a hoof on a leaf and then seeing a deer
poke its nose out of the arbor.
Truth was like that sometimes, she said,
not like a math equation where it solves
all kinds of problems, or a science discovery
that cures or changes how we are with things,
not the pulpits shall and shall nots,
But like Dr. King when his voice pierced the rain
from underneath his umbrella
and a glimpse of sunshine came from his words,
or listening to the way Rudy Schwartz sang
head bent over left with a wide-open mouth
and his shoes bent from tippy-toes.
When you listen, you’ll think of purity, she said,
of the clear cold water of the artesian spring
by the creek by the mill
just after it crosses under the highway
on the south side of the hill on a warm day.
Summer leaves hang like rags and a hot wind dehydrates.
Hydrangeas slump like old men after a long lunch. By morning they will rise.
I’ve stepped into the dwindling creek and luck tickles my feet,
a crawdad clawing for a moor finds my big toe, clamps, holds.
My children dabble with sticks downstream making alphabets
in the sand that disappear as they are written except the Capital L
Ferns rise out of dirt like small pineapples.
Flexing strength, firs raise their own roots.
Hangers on, my father writes, of death even the faithful fear,
hold resolute to life, hoping they will be bypassed.
And here as well, suspended from the sepia shine of the sunset,
all life sticks to another, fronds and their hidden spores attached to white socks
hoping to bloom next spring in the fragments of dark soil,
the crawdad now pocketed between worn boulders,
my wife leading me by hand from the creek up the steep trail
into the last light pouring from the foundry ladle of the sky.