Sand Roads


by Marge Piercy


Each individually offers up
privy knowledge of a terrain.
I start with the whine of Route 6 in my ears.
In a while the pitch pines close around me,
small woods few bother to know with their feet.
2. Woodcock Alley
The curious mocking of the woodcocks pursues us from the bushes,
a benign paranoia.
On an old house site the barberries
weave a barricade of intricate thorns.
The orange day lilies have been spreading
their ribbons of foliage, thrusting
their brief rough flowers to the bees
till they cover an acre: how to
measure the years
in the fibrous advance of the lilies.
3. High Toss
In the reeds the blue
heron stalks, titled great
for his height, his antiquity,
that cool old lift of the heart
when he flies over the water
on ragged sails of wing
his big feet tucked but dragging.
The black ducks are maneuvering
in flotillas. On the narrow
rim at low tide
the neat pawprints of the
raccoon where she washed her food.
The yellow-breasted chat
chucks from the briar.
Past the bridge where the
Herring River narrows
the sweetest and the
thorniest blackberries grow
in languid arches studded with spikes
trussed with long berries dripping juice
like a parable of pleasure and pain.
4.Paradise Hollow
Follow the old ruts,
circle the freshly fallen pine
broken in the last high wind,
stopping to free the young
sapling to rise again.
Follow the big friendly hands
like children’s drawings,
of the sassafras. Filé gumbo.
Follow the ax-cut path
narrower than your hips
through the labyrinth
of oak toppled years ago
in fire, the midden heap
of a farmhouse, day lilies,
broken plates of blue willow,
shells and rusted plow:
now the withe rod and sumac
shoot up wild and lacy
from the oaks’ bones.
At the core of the hollow
the brook trickles
through a red maple swamp.
In winter we can hop
from mossy gray hummock to hummock
when the briar dies back.
Follow the brook to its source,
a spring in a meadow
still grassy from the
invisible house. The old apple
trees tall now as the black locusts
offer their gnarled and wormy
fruit like memories.
5.The Old King’s Highway
The Old King’s Highway advances
almost in a straight line
up and down hill through
the white oaks and blueberry.
The banks are cut deep, erosion
softened by the curly
pubic beard of the mosses.
Rusted strands of barbed wire
hang from weathered posts
buried to their heads
in scrub oak.
Across the ruts marked
with tree roots like steps
the speckled toads hop.
Every while is a weathered
milestone like a miniature
grave marker. A blue jay
sits on one, blue
and loud as noon shouting its warning
Thief thief
6. Lombardy Hollow
Climb the hill past the beach
plums, frothy white with blossom
tinged with fuzz pink:
under the locusts where the grass
grows green and lush,
past the circular cellar hole
where they used to store potatoes,
cabbage, oysters a while
stands a forest
of old lilacs.
Walk the road in May;
the poison ivy is still squat,
red and lets you pass.
Walk with your head tilted
back and let your wise nose
draw you to that odor.
Pass from house to house
like a peddler, like
a beggar. Not a board
remains unscavenged.
Yet you will find
the old doors.
Lush as crinoline finery
lavender lace with its
strong green hearts of leaf,
its fragrance fiery sweet and sad
at its core, like a homemade
cordial for holidays,
coarse wood, longer lived
than the women who planted it
with work-pitted hands
by their kitchens.
7. The Development
The bulldozers come, they rip
a hole in the sand along
the new blacktop road with a tony name
(Trotting Park, Pamet Hills)
and up goes another glass-walledsplit-level-livingroom-vast-as-aroller-rink-$70,000-
summer home for a psychiatrist and family.
Ten months vacation homes
stand empty except for mice
and spiders, an occasional
bird with a broken back twitching
on the deck under a gape of glass.
I live in such a development
way at the end of a winding
road where the marsh begins
to close in: two houses,
the one next door a local
fisherman lost to the bank
last winter, ours a box
half buried in the sand.
This land is rendered
too expensive
to live on. We feed
four people seven months
off it, some surplus for the
winter, a kind of organic tall corn
ornery joke at road’s end.
We planted for the birds cover
and berries, we compost, we set out
trees and at night
the raccoons come shambling.
Yet the foxes left us,
shrinking into the marsh.
I found their new den.
I don’t show it
to anyone.
Forgive us, gray fox, our stealing
your home, our loving
this land carved into lots
over a shrinking water table
where the long sea wind that blows
the sand whispers to developers
money, money, money.
8. The Road Behind the Last Dune
Mostly you don’t see the ocean
although when the surf is up
its roaring fills you
like a shell,
whistling through your
ears, your bones.
Nothing stands up here
but you, in the steady
rasp of the salt wind.
The oaks grow a foot high
dry gnarled jungles
you can’t wade through
where eyes watch.
The hog cranberry bronze
in the fall, shines
metallically revealing
every hump of the sculptured hills.
The dune grass ripples
like a pelt, and around every
clump is traced a circle,
fingers of the wind.
Fox grape on the high dunes
poison ivy whose bright berries
the birds carry in their bodies
to scatter, the dune
colored grasshoppers,
the fox with fur of fine sand.
You are standing too tall for
this landscape. Lie down.
Let the grass blow
over you. Let the plover
pipe, the kestrel stand beating its wings
in the air, the wolf spider
come to the door of its burrow,
the mouse nibble on
your toe. Let the beach pea
entangle your legs in its vine
and ring you with purple blossoms.
Now get up slowly
and seek a way down off the dunes,
carefully: your heavy feet
assault the balance.
Come down on the bench
of the great beach arching
away into fog.
Lie down before the ocean.
It rises over you. it stands
hissing and spreading its
cobalt hood, rattling
its pebbles.
Cold it is and its rhythm
as it eats away the beach,
as it washes the dunes out to sea
to build new spits and islands,
enters your blood and slows
the beat of that newish contraption
your heart controlling the waves
of your inward salt sea.
Shut your mouth. Keep still.
Let your mind open
like a clam when the waters
slide back to feed it.
Flow out to the ancient cold
mothering embrace, cold
and weightless yourself
as a fish, over the buried
wrecks. Then with respect
let the breakers drive you
up and out into the
heavy air, your heart
pounding. The warm scratchy sand
like a receiving blanket
holds you up gasping with life.