Orion's Belt                                                                                                         —James Dott


Before moon rise
clouds tear loose along the south
open a brief window on
the bright band of three stars,
the ancient hunter’s belt,
though in other tales
those three form
the beam of a balance scale
a bison’s back
three kings, three sisters bathed in light

Mind seeks pattern
traces shapes in the scatter of stars
sees the bison’s humped back
in the crack on the cave wall
then the hand with sharpened horn
scratches in the curve of belly
fits fire to need
moving game
cooking the marrow in the bones
telling the story to its snap and crack
“In Boeotia, long ago
there was a great hunter, Orion…”

The story’s track breaks off,
resumes, forks, dead ends:
Why was he so revered?
Why consigned to the heavens?
endlessly pursuing the seven sisters of the Pleiades
or chasing Lepus, the hare,
never closing in, never falling back
Who set the scorpion upon him?
Who loosed the arrow that pierced his skull?
Artemis?
so skilled with bow,
envying of his aim
fed up with his bragging
that he could hunt down
any creature on the earth
Or her brother, Apollo,
jealous of their long hunts?

Three distant suns
brightness brings them into line
“the belt”
“the string of pearls”
“the golden grains”
names from Arabic:
Alnitak at the east,
a triple star
thirty times our sun
appears most bright
since only eight hundred years have passed
since its light was let fly
Alnilam in the middle
burning sapphire
blue-white super-giant
brightest by far
but not seeming so
being second farthest from our eye
on the west, Mintaka,
the right most, a double star
slightly fainter than the other two
farthest away, furthest back in time

The Hunter’s Moon
clears the fog along the east
clouds blown from the west
gradually shield his belt from view
the bison enters a valley hidden from its hunters
the scale’s beam teeters into, out of, balance
one by one the sister-kings are cloaked in cloud

 


Ashes, Ashes


I
My dog and I amble east
along Astoria’s rivered edge
causeways weedy with grasses
whose names I do not know
and horsetail, stork’s bill, cat’s paw,
blackberry, ivy, vetch
two cormorants fish in fog below the trestle
an eagle perches on a weathered piling
a whole tree hammered deep into the riverbed
on the mudflats a great blue heron
poises with its spear

My dog is sniffing, marking every clump of grass
I’m thinking about names
how some are deeply rooted
to what’s named
how others have crowded in like weeds
I don’t know
the ancient Clatsop name for this place
perhaps no one does
instead it’s Astoria, for John Jacob Astor
who never saw it, lost a little of his fortune here

We follow the path
into the little neighborhood of Alderbrook
where there is no brook
but plenty of alders
it would have been better named
Alderslough or Alderbank
three streets wide along the river
an ABC of trees
there are seven cedars on Cedar Street
on Birch Street there is one weeping birch
white bark poxed by mildew
but there are no ashes on Ash Street
yet another name
not tethered
to its place

II
Ashes
kin to olives, lilacs
without the fruits, the plumes of flowers
trees of balanced symmetry
branches always opposite
a cormorant, wings outspread to dry
the odd numbered leaflets
of the compound leaves,
feathers of some enormous verdant bird
come even when split
down the center shaft

Straight trunked in youth
the heron still, vigilant at the water’s edge
before the gnarl and lean of age

Winter-bleak
with all its plumage molted
so stark and seeming dead
what prayer would bring
a fallen god’s rehabitation
reverse this doom,
rinse its roots
recharge the phloem
return it full-feathered
to the height of green

Limbs that rise and dip like wings
but never soar in breeze or even gale
each seed sealed in its thin samara
when loosed will sail
equal to any wind

III
Before the missile
the bullet
before the bullet
the arrow
before the arrow
the spear
ash wood best
one end sharpened
then hardened in fire
later fitted
with a deadly head of bronze
then stronger iron
thrown or thrust
in bloody hand-to-hand
a neck pierced
a thigh run-through
gore or be gored

Ash still used in modern battles:
cricket stumps and bails, in baseball
bottom of the ninth, three runs down
two outs, bases loaded, full count
the fast ball strikes the sweet spot
on the swung bat’s barrel
rebounds, flies
out of the park

Ash wood prized too for less heroic tasks
flexibility married to strength
handles for hand tools
an axe, an adze, shovels, hoes, hammers
younger wood best
older trees favored for shapely canopies, their summer shade

The ashes of North America and Europe
the green and the white, the blue and the black
the Oregon and the common excelsior
will fall like the chestnut, like the elm
as the emerald ash borer spreads its range
the beetle a brilliant jewel of metallic green
whose larvae chew tunnels through the inner bark
scribbling out the cambium leaving each tree to desiccate

IV
May go the way of that ash of northern myth,
the world-tree, immense and lofty, of whom
the Elder Edda’s sooth-sayer, seer, the Vala, spoke
“A great ash I know
grows in a northern dale
stands always green
so lovely in morning dew.
Its name Ashtr Yggdrasil
Ash Tree Odin’s Gallows

where Odin hung, wounded by a spear,
a sacrifice of himself to himself to gain deeper powers.
Do you seek to know more?” she asks
—her listeners always answer, yes—

Odin, who carried a spear formed from the wood
of Yggdrasil that never missed its mark
Yggdrasil with limbs so wide he rode his horse along them
roots drawing from wisdom’s well
from the Hel of those who died dishonored
branches widening into the homelands
of our more ancient, imagined kin
elves, dwarves, giants
whose traits we have braided in with ours
the thick trunk reaching upward
to Asgard, home of the old gods whose traits were spun from ours
those gods doomed at Ragnarok, the end-time, when
she tells, “All will be at war
brothers shall slay brothers
sisters’ children shall stain their kinship red.
Yggdrasil quivered, shook, leaves thrown loose, scattered far
and the great trunk groaned
Fire raged everywhere
flames towering, towering blanking out the stars
Earth sank then in Ocean”
she pauses, pauses, into silence says,
“I see Earth arise, dripping, green and new
high up an eagle glides in search of fish
But Yggdrasil did not fall or burn
two humans hid within a hollow in its trunk
Lif and Lifthrarsir, Life and Life’s Body
and so the last become the first”

V
“Would you hear now of your own doom?”
—listeners always answer, yes—

“That new world
is now old
and you
having severed yourself
from yourself
fell all that is whole and holy
see the great tree lean
hear it crack and keen
feel the trunk strike earth
its thunders echo on
Thor hammering his enemy
before he dies himself
then you
halve its length
and halve each half
and halve each half of half
then tip the rounds flat to split
cleanly cleave each one
swing the axe again, again, again

so much kindling
to feed your fire

What comes after its embers
I do not see
I sink now
and cease”

VI
Ashes, ashes
we all
fall

 


Jim Dott 2.jpg

James (Jim) Dott is lives with his wife and daughter in Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River. A retired elementary school teacher, he taught in Oregon and overseas. His poetry has appeared in Written River, Turtle Island Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, and previously in Green Linden. He has work forthcoming in Blue Heron Review and In Layman's Terms. Jim is the author of the chapbook, A Glossary of Memory (Blind Slough Books), an imagined memoir in 26 poems. In October 2016 he participated in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. Visit his website jamesdott.com for more on his work. 

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