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.