My friend Jeff Jentz is a great North Dakota poet, now living with his wife Karen in Shiprock, New Mexico on Navaho land. His poems are deeply informed and inspired by his Baha’i faith and his visionary nature. Here are three:
The Bird Nest
How each brilliant feather
intertwines down a robin’s breast.
The bird is so small. If it unfolds
its drooping wings, it will vanish
into the deep valleys of the box-elder trunk.
The world seems so vast early
in the morning. The road tunnels
on, dominated by a web of grey branches.
Yet the ancient bark of trees
opens like doors. I trace my hand
across the braille pages of its history.
Soon it will be too light. Already
a white cat divides the long summer grasses.
I began only with the discovery
of a bird nest hanging over the road.
But now it has all grown too fast.
I cannot turn back to find it again.
The thread is missing. Clouds ran
so thick, so dark. They wove
a purple blanket of consolation overhead.
Something so precious I seek
the road the trees the sky the nest
When the Beggar Mounts the Horse
“When the beggar mounts the horse, the hard times hit fast behind.”
I am descended from a people who set onions
On the windowsill during certain seasons
To trap the stingy souls of landlords, when the first snows
Singed the mottled fur of weasels and of wild sheep.
His Hungarian aunt overheard Drindl muttering to the wind,
Absently carrying his empty bucket from the well
To help her scrub the caked-on vines from potatoes.
Aunt Zdenka still kept her long fingernails and agate necklace.
She gathered his mood, plucking at a skein of thoughts
As he told her a dream about a man in rags
Who made a roan stallion whirl through rainwebbed hills and gorges.
Could he recall a country he had never seen?
Here in North Dakota the ground turned anvil hard.
Drindl’s grandfather was only a drifting seedpod
In the midnight homeland of his mother’s womb,
When, in 1863, a steamship brought the family to the dock.
How should this youth know of tales and customs
That had all been swept away by a broom:
With the Magyar tongue and signs scattered in the dust
Like partridges drumming and etching their tails on the once-wild road?
The New World held a spirit without any compass East,
A spirit that wanted to claim all five directions
And that wanted to clutch the topsoil itself
Rather than roam around the sun-wheel of the seasons.
But the youth made Zdenka remember.
In her veins rose again that rootlessness she’d harbored
After her brother let loose the ways of the road
And settled down to homestead and grow red wheat.
Now, Drindl’s brown eyes chased the horizon of matchstick wheat.
Once, she had caught him staring into his palm.
But when she grabbed his wrist and asked why,
He only walked away down a thinning harrow-scar.
The youth made her remember dim nightmares
Tasting her own sweat all day in the coppery field
That first summer: abed, she dreamt over and over
Of a disheveled willow tree stripped by a dust storm.
Her brother and his wife, imagining coins, saw nothing
Further than the furrow in front of them.
But she must help Drindl steal a horse and go.
It was too dry this year, and the potatoes were small.
In Quest of the Star-Shawled Woman
Her yellow-haired daughter stands before the procession.
She looks down, bent over the grave
Pitched upon crests and swells of leaden prairie.
And so, we had to use dynamite to open the ground.
The water rose up to about the depth of a hand mirror.
She steps back, reflected in pools
Left by old snow melting off the field.
Withered roots of a memory gleam in her Baltic eyes
Which do not blink.
Now we nine mourners in sheepskin coats ring around her—
Two of us bearing on our shoulders the body of her
Mother, in pasque-like form.
Wilted into the yawn of winter.
And when lowered, the casket
Will fit perfectly.
The daughter will sow tears to appease the land.
We mourners must seal the pit with dirges,
Then trail away, keeping silent, carrying our spades.
But even as she shuts her eyes, hovering
Above her shadow
A deep vein runs through wood pierced by the last nail
And she drifts with these designs in her mother’s shawl.