by J. Kates

I’ve stopped. The stick I cut
from a maple sapling three decades ago
lies on a glacial erratic black
with rock tripe, and I haven’t decided
to go forward or back.

Twenty-five years I’ve walked these trails,
until even the dead wood winter dropped
won’t turn me aside for long.
Wherever I try to lose myself,
I can’t go wrong.

A single oak leaf lifted by the wind,
an old story hardly my own—
the words I turn it into crisp, curl
and crumble in my fingers,
sorrow or sorrel.

No work even for woodpeckers
on a noon like this, a dry branch falling
through the foliage both a sign
of life and a memento mori,
neither of them mine

for the moment. For a moment
I barely endure the lush absence
of meaning, direction, purpose,
the vagrancy that brought me here
in the first place.


“Spleen (II)” has been published in PN Review.