Bill Hoagland‘s poetry has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Nebraska Review, Poem, Seneca Review, Writers’ Forum, South Coast Poetry Journal, The Hollins Critic, The SHOp and many other journals, as well as in the anthologies The Last Best Place, New Voices, and Ring of Fire: Writers of the Yellowstone Region. He has published a chapbook of poems entitled Place of Disappearance, was shortlisted for the 2014 Words on the Waves competition, and has been the recipient of two Wyoming Arts Council awards in creative writing—a Fellowship in Poetry Writing and a Neltje Blanchan Nature Writing Award. Originally from Illinois, Hoagland holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts and taught creative writing and other courses at small colleges in Montana and Wyoming until his retirement in 2013. Today he lives in Cork.
Buddhist Monk in the Airport
No baggage to check. No baggage.
He scans his passport, inserting it
like a leaf into a crevice as if to find water.
Everything in modernity is miracle.
Note the scripture of departures,
the kindly public address voice
inviting someone to a courtesy phone.
The escalator slides, an eightfold path
to the second floor, Security
where the monk removes his sandals.
“No watch or wallet?” they ask, twice,
watching as if he may disappear
behind his smile in the x-ray booth.
The kashaya robe glows like sunset.
Latex hands are doves circling invitations.
They pat him down. They press
palms to his small waist, his chest.
Their magic wands detect nothing
but gentle forbearance. We all watch,
of course, unprepared. The rich
going first class suddenly envy his freedom.
Businessmen are eased of their burdens,
nodding to one another respectfully,
touching their hearts beneath their suits.
Three bearing backpacks cease their texting.
The pilot and co-pilot now may board
ahead of us, relieved and confident.
Every passenger is lighter, prepared for flight.
A Solemn Copse
Afternoon on the hill, but sudden
evening when we drop to forest,
leaf canopy layered overhead
like a patchwork tent, trunks
dark from rain and moss, vines
strung like hangman’s ropes,
ferns implying mourning.
This is a place that calls
for whispers—even when we find
one stem in flower, red thumb
that takes away the breath,
advising, pass by in reverence.
I hunted wild asparagus in spring.
I knew where to look—along fences
or beside irrigation ditches
in the moist hummocks of grass
where the previous year’s stalks
leaned, broken by wind.
Bright sun and May rains
call us up from the soil.
My models, the poets I read
again and again, also went searching
for treasure. They found it
in attics and cellars and forests,
out beside their rivers, down alleys
where echoes reverberate
with private meaning, coins
made and found to be taken up,
sometimes as green spears,
sometimes as music in wind,
but always with blind hope
that some things will be shared
wherever the word work goes.
Concerning the View
If not subject,
If not style,
But if both, words
like cold water
to tighten the throat.
Think of a glazed mug
be my guest, and drink.
Admire the view,
a red mountain tilted,
now greened by June.
The long high view,
a half day’s walk away.
Yet you may touch it all—
go ahead, touch it all—
rock, and lichen, and sage.
Rounding Meditation, Wyoming
Sunset at your back, you pose
a sudden challenge for the will
as if the thought is not your own:
pivot, halt, and stand,
pause and calm the breath,
stare until the view ahead is pure.
Commencing in sky above the basin,
your sight rounds down
pink lines of snowpack in the Big Horns,
down green forests, black canyons,
down tan foothills to chalk mists
swirling on the river.
Then up the long expanse,
vision pulling in, a slow ascent
by flats stepped through the fields,
through shelter belts,
by sheds, by toy-like houses,
grain bins glinting sunset’s signal fire.
Up through the nearest field,
up rows of barley seedlings
split by silver rivulets,
the neighbor’s irrigation
against the rounding current
of your scan, which closes now
upon your feet and legs,
across your hands, your chest,
up to your burning eyes,
blind now inside
their white of meditation,
turning further inward, silent, still.
One Hidden Stream
That I would crash through dead branches,
weaving my rod like a needle
where I am the thread that follows,
twisting to waist-high portals of space
between limbs, turning my shoulders,
pushing my pivot foot from the ground,
lifting the other over a fallen trunk
and hanging there like a tired shot-putter
frozen briefly at the point of release
until momentum carries me streamward
because I smell the spray rising
from a cold cauldron below boulders.
And then beyond the last deadfall
where sky spreads and earth plunges
to a springy bog where watercress tints the air
before a thicket of sedge willows
I must crawl beneath on hands and knees
to follow a tunnel slick with matted grass
until the stream frees me from my
feral flight, and I can stand
and check my wounds—a bruise on one knee,
scratches on my hands and arms
and one above my upper lip that oozes
salty to my tongue.
That I would say these things to listeners
who might hear me now and see me
as I study my one hidden stream,
knowing its power over me, this place
I can never reveal, this stream-song
my own: here is the danger in heeding
the flow of my feelings, that I would wait
to claim myself inside my calming breath,
the lulling beat of my heart, to winnow
my thoughts until my vision clears,
to see myself not as the fish sees me,
but to see that I am the fish.