Bob Ward – Frontiers

Bob Ward

Halfway up a mountain we stepped from a swaying cable-car onto a narrow platform, a transfer point where uneasily we boarded another swaying cable car which would take us near the top. It was difficult knowing where a steady point in the world might be.

The mountain was the Zugspitze which straddles the frontier between Austria and Germany. As an act of amiable diplomacy, an Austrian Emperor had gifted a spare alpine peak to his German counterpart who could lay no claim to any mountain reaching 10,000 ft in altitude. A line was given a nudge aside on the maps.

We were making our approach from Erwald, an alpine village on the Austrian side. The second cable car brought us to a mountain hut established for skiing, still in Austria. Our intention was to walk into German territory, then make our way back down the mountain to our base. What that involved was unexpected. We had to pass through a dimly lit tunnel hewed from the solid rock. When we set out the walls were slippery with ice. There was only just enough head room as we walked in single file, on and on. Then we reached a plain blue wooden door, which we needed to pass beyond. It opened readily enough, and we entered Germany. This was the frontier: no border guards, no passports, no delays. Deep in the bowels of a mountain we had moved from one country into another with its distinct legal system, even if the language was held in common.

How deeply do national frontiers go? At the centre of the Earth they must all converge on a point and become irrelevant. Conversely how high do they rise? In outer Earth-space there seems to be a free for all where anyone can toss up a satellite.

Eventually we came out into daylight at the top of an enormous scree slope dropping away in front of us. As mountains weather under the action of frost and snow, ice gets into cracks in the rock and flakes pieces away. Trying to find secure footholds where the scree was liable to shift, we picked our way down the slope, noting that even at this altitude in such a barren terrain a few plants managed to grow.

Our immediate destination was a mountain hut, (currently assailed by bedbugs). Refreshments would be available there, much needed after what was already becoming a strenuous walk. So, this was indeed Germany, for some of us a first entry. To mark the occasion, at the hut we made sure to sign the Visitor’s Book, a trivial sort of act yet it felt significant at the time. When arriving in the USA I had to allow the border official to take a mug shot but I didn’t leave my signature anywhere to show that I’d been.

After a rest we spent the rest of the day descending the mountain on foot to return to our base. Rough paths led us up to a long ridge, an arête, which must have provided the frontier, though not marked in any way. This was the back door into another country. The route up to the ridge was steep. On the other side the slope fell away sharply. We had to edge down a series of steps holding onto a reassuring fixed rope. But the final step proved very deep and at that point the rope ran out which did nothing for the more nervous members of our party. Beyond that we just had a long trudge descending to Erwald, where the cows were let out in the mornings to saunter along the main road down to their meadow. Later in the day they would return unaccompanied to the security of each one’s own stall, just a stone frontier between them and the humans next door.

Bob Ward – Down the Seg

Bob Ward
Down the Seg

Come inside if you must
   accept the supposed risk.
Not much to see, is there?
Blank walls, cardboard furniture
   – the barest of necessities.
I’m banged up here for my own
   good riddance, you might say,
   since I fell down a crack in the law
   that’s becoming a cesspit.
Then a guy in my last place,
   having a grudge against me,
   put out faked-up rumours
   that roused hyenas on the wing
   – they’d catch you in the shower.
Though the system’s eased me on,
   those rumours followed me,
   the pack still on my trail,
   so, I’m cornered in the Seg.
The Warder’s got me a 15 minute
   watch but I’ll not be talking
   suicide – at least, not yet . . .

Just do me a favour:
   when you’re clear back outside
   breathe in some fresh air for me.

Note: In prison lingo ‘Seg’ refers to the Segregation Unit, where disruptive inmates are placed to cool their heels and th0se at risk go for their own protection.

Ann Cefola – The Beauty of Distorted Vocals

Ann Cefola
The Beauty of Distorted Vocals

       — After talk box in Frampton Comes Alive! double album (1976)

I could have said no.

Continued winding up the marble staircase of the library facing the green,
its circular window an eye on the blue smudge of Long Island Sound.
Bust of Christina Rossetti at top, students asleep or reading in chairs.

I choose a carrel, pull out my poetry or French book and write

an explication du texte. My destiny to be a Plath who lived, in my sweater, kilt,
and penny loafers. Crushes on my brother’s friends; yes, also there that year.
What I want is their confidence, selfhood. Why Christina — what did she write?

I glance at blank alabaster eyes,

work on a literary journal whose hard-drinking editor models himself after Jack Paar.
Interview Daniel Berrigan, who hates my freshman pluck, argyle knee socks.
Plan to study poetry with William Meredith when

she asks me to come home.

I am her best friend. I feel out of time, not daughter nor student but bust of an unlived life.
I read the Bible. Something about honouring one’s mother. Apparently I am Ruth,
telling Naomi I will go wherever she wants. My brother and father shake their heads.

I remember the wah-wahs of Frampton,

talk-box electric along our spines on the amplified green where girls in paisley glide;
guys diving for far-tossed Frisbees, leather fringe and sunlit locks flying.
It is still the ’60s although mid-’70s.

We were on the edge of our lives, Christina.

Something inside me wild and free but more stone within a comet flung off course
by heavenly bodies it neither knows nor understands, sparking unheard,
that freezing, scatters and burns.

Alida Woods – Swallowing Glass

Alida Woods
Swallowing Glass

All night the rain pounded
doors and palms bent against
gravity. By morning the wind
muscled its way through chinks,
lifting corners, everything out of place.

For days, dire predictions
held us hostage as we nailed plywood
over windows and prepared
for the worst.

Driving north on 95,
my wife escapes.
I stay and wait,
as the storm tears
into the trail of tiny islands.

Roads as rivers reroute
our lives – a box of drenched Pampers
churns past my dinghy on the way
to collect Sonja and her two-year-old
stranded on the 3rd floor of
The Sanibelle, and there is her mother,
Dolores, 92, just arrived from Haiti.

On the raft beside me
an elderly man clutches
a tattered valise. He is drinking
from a bottle of
river coloured liquid. Water laps
in languid slurps at his feet.

In my boat a case of clear
bottled water is ballast for the
light load I carry. I twist
open a bottle and when I drink
it feels as though I am
swallowing glass.

Alida Woods – My Mother Declines Death

Alida Woods
My Mother Declines Death

When her husband died,
                he met her at the mouth
                of the river–cordgrass
                anchored in pluff mud. Her feet
                held fast to the bank.
                His pull dissipated
                into the updraft
                of an osprey’s wing.

After her son died,
                he found her crouched
                at the foot of the elm
                where her children caught
                fireflies and smelled of summer.
                He urged. She declined,
                holding fast to
                feathered branches.

And when her daughter died,
                he lured her into the crow-filled woods,
                surrounded her in darkness
                and the indifference of the wind.

                His case for leaving was as solid
                as the rock slid over the grave.
                She pulled back even as he held her
                in the dark humming night.

When breath returned
she felt the fire,
burning like compost, her own
aerobic energy amassing
in her heart.

                She turned and with her
                broken body rose.

Simon Brod – Measure of Hope

Simon Brod
Measure of Hope

Mr Nordhaus chopped and burnt wood,
relearned ancient arts as best he could,

and tested antique lamps with a Minolta light meter,
recording how flames flared, and rose, and weakened.

He concluded that in Babylonian times,
while human hands built gardens in the sky,

a day’s hard work produced enough to light
in fragrant night, putting the stars to flight,

a room for ten minutes. By the end,
chasing the dregs, careening round the u-bend

of the twentieth century, the return on a day’s labour,
digging for fuel, drilling holes from poles to equator,

had improved from ten minutes of light to ten years,
a truth Mr Nordhaus treasured. Let’s be clear:

that is the kind of progress that gives one hope.
But, Mr Nordhaus, are we heading up, or down, the slope?

Author’s notes:

In the above, the words in italics are from Tim Harford’s column ‘Let’s innovate our way out of climate change disaster’ published in the 12 October 2018 Financial Times. This poem, and the words used in it from Mr Harford, are used here with the permission of the Financial Times.

William D Nordhaus of Yale University was (jointly with Paul Romer) awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for ‘integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis’. Earlier in his career, Mr Nordhaus published a ground-breaking paper ‘Do real-output and real-wage measures capture reality? The history of lighting suggests not’.

Simon Brod – Horizon

Simon Brod

I saw you try to draw it close,
not content with what every sailor says:
that the mind’s eye always finds its line,
that even when the sea conceals it
with a wall of water or a steep hollow
or a glassy mirror that only shows the sky,
man still knows
how to be upright, how to lie,
how to set a boundary for his eye.
And I saw your shoulders stiffen with unease,
your eyes grow restless, more and more distressed
that others never see things straight and true,
that their perception just can’t stretch
to see what your eye sees,
till deeply vexed
you had to show the proof, own the truth:
you fetched it, fastened it,
anchored it, slanted it,
made the world tilt, incline to fit your view
and I, who for years stood steady as one of your crew,
found myself at an angle too skew to scale,
lost my footing and fell overboard
as you sailed
and vanished over the edge.

Meryl Stratford – On the Southern Border

Meryl Stratford
On the Southern Border

          Who in a nightmare can help himself? — Anne Carson

what it means
to be a stranger.

A stranger is someone
who comes to Manitoba
in the dead of winter.

No one
comes to Manitoba
in the dead of winter.

A stranger walks many miles,
tramps through frozen farms
hoping for refuge.

A stranger gets lost
in waist-deep snow,
loses fingers, loses toes.

A stranger is one of many.
They keep coming.
The winter is harsh.

Some say the strangers are evil —
if they weren’t evil
they wouldn’t be strangers.

A stranger is poor,
desperate, afraid of
being turned away.

A stranger arrives
without documents,
fleeing chaos and war.

Open a door for the strangers
who have no door of their own.

Meryl Stratford – In Berlin

Meryl Stratford
In Berlin

What begins like war,
like warden and warning,
like weapons, wolves, and woe?
It cost one hundred million marks,
lasted twenty-eight years, two months
and twenty-eight days, wandered
one hundred fifty-six kilometres
through Berlin and its outskirts,
with one hundred eighty-six watch towers
and a death strip, with mine fields and
border police and orders — shoot to kill.

A church was demolished to ensure a clear view.

Janice S. Fuller – a town became a granary

Janice S. Fuller
a town became a granary

We pass Harrold, South Dakota,
a prairie town that’s now a granary.
Hardly any houses.
It faded, nearly disappeared —
a fragment floating
in a farmer’s eye.

The grain
has seized this town,
rules in silos and fat granaries
that point at the prosperity
of feeding the world
and fuelling its movement
with ethanol.

Harrold disappears
as we drive from Minnesota
through dust that coats our car
on the way to celebrate a birthday,
mother’s 95th.