QUESTIONS ON HOME
after Elizabeth Bishop
Tina Mozelle Braziel
The ferns are unreal here, huge in their unfurling.
Fairytale-thick moss softens boulders and weaves
around each bough until the oaks are sleeved giants.
Pale green moss sprays sea foam where twigs fork.
From tree trunks, old man’s beard hangs in long strands.
The tall sentient firs are elders and I am only a girl
wearing red or I am Gretel unsure of the ravens’ caw.
I have lived here: climbed Spencer’s Butte, scrambled over
its rocks, stood above the hawks’ spiraling swoops, called
the snowy peaks sisters or by the names of presidents.
On Thanksgiving, I drank hot cider with a stranger.
She hauled a camp stove and kettle up the steep path
so she might warm hikers. I listened to a brass band
playing among the boulders last summer. Think of this
valley as real or not unreal. Must the verdant belong
only to fables? Why is it astounding for wild turkeys
to saunter down West Broadway, their gaggle blocking traffic
and making me laugh? These are real lawns: dotted
with miniature daisies, filled with drifts of cottonwood blooms,
and crossed with walking trails that reveal the relative
distance of sun to Venus, to this earth. I have lived here
among those cultivating gardens of artichokes
between sidewalk and street. I reside within
the fantastic. What perversity causes
the unsurprising to seem real and makes me
feel at home only in the ordinary? Downtown, I didn’t fall
for the drunk woman’s old joke. I refused her,
when she swung her sagging cleavage
too close and asked if I wanted to meet her twins.
I trust the beggar whose cardboard said “anything,
even a smile, will help,” will grin back at me.
Why do I hesitate to a call this place home?
When I grow weary driving to the coast on a road
that meanders along the river (the only way through those hills),
there’s a moment when I believe I’ll journey
through swells of land forever. Though each hill
is moist with mist and rills, I am certain all water
has been gathered into dry land. I see a vast ridge ahead,
without a break in its green for the river or road
to cut through. I watch its green turn blue, its rise
become the fall of the horizon. Then I know the Pacific.
I drive to the coast for the moment I see water as land,
the low as rising, the real as fairytale still. I don’t call
this place home because I want to feel that again and again.
TINA MOZELLE BRAZIEL, author of Known by Salt (Anhinga Press) and Rooted by Thirst (Porkbelly Press), has been awarded the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, an Alabama State Council on the Arts fellowship, an Eco Poetry fellowship from the Magic City Poetry Festival, and an artist residency at Hot Springs National Park. She earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon and directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building by hand on Hydrangea Ridge.