“THERE’S NO THROUGH TRAIL” —HAN-SHAN, TRANSLATED BY GARY SNYDER
/ Five Poems

Five Poems

by Jennifer Atkinson

Tinwash River

How many years of patience—patience like a rasp—
To grind, to quarry a mountain down? 

Stone bridges, their moss-tagged undersides lush,
Arch just over the water—
Motion and rock, spume and static. 

Where the paved road stops, the path begins.
Briar, scruff aster, little heaps of goat dung.

Our days are as short as the sparrow’s,
Tufts of goat fur in her beak.
Near the edge, near enough 

To taste the stone and the river,
The rush and cold water rinse our words clean,
Even those we’ve not yet spoken.

Will’s Meadow Road

“Long live the weeds and wilderness yet”

–G. M. Hopkins

Downstream, the quick-with-snowmelt brook 
widens, flattens the grasses, plumps
the moss, softens the ground, and goes quiet.

April’s spate slacks and stalls, 
swamping land that once must have been
some luckless farmer’s pasture and cow-pond, 

slumped in, abandoned, and long overgrown. 

The water stands, a soup of rain 
and seep, a murk that turns here
and there to sheen when the light 

slants in just right. Flitches of fern,

buttercup spatters, nothing worth 
the slog in to see. Just as well.
Let the wood frogs and peepers sing 

a while in broad midsummer’s peace. 

By August, the sumps and little vernal ponds 
will have shrunk to puddles, scummed and muddy, 
dense with larval lives. The lees

of the brook gone onward, underground
to the river or ghosted cloudward to rejoin
the sky—a remittance of mist-turned-ice, soon

rain for wherever the wind winds up.                    

Why Grieve

the way forms morph 
from form to form 
like thought leads on
headlong to thought or
pollywog turns to leaping frog, 
the way the moth
becomes the mantis, 
the shrimp the pink
in the salmon’s flesh,
the easy way the river
slows to oxbow lake or
ocean warms, swells,
shallows to tall-grass prairie, 
the prairie to cities
and fields, a golden
roadside ditch of dock
and mormon’s tears,
the way the fragrant evening 
vine overtakes in time
the trees or trees retake 
a bombed-out road? Why 
grieve the way momentum’s 
rush through change 
toward further change,
the way a touch
to a vibrating string 
sets off a note’s
harmonic afterlives—
milkweed seeds in the wind?

Whale-Fall

Drowned in the arctic swells off Newfoundland,
a whale carcass floats 
among icebergs, loose 
drift-net and plastic flotsam; 
pelagic

shearwaters peck at its broad, lice-scarred back
until the orcas 
and the great whites break 
into the flesh from below.
The huge lungs 

deflate, the gut fills, and the once-whale slips
beneath the slick surface.
Once those predators
are sated thousands of others 
come to feast

on the body as it begins its slow 
descent through sunlit 
greens down to deeper 
twilit cold—a ghostly, dim
nether-realm 

of mute, sightless lives, whose hearts blink neon-
blue on-off, on-off
inside transparent 
bodies. They feed on what falls—                    
bits and dis-

integrating flakes, motes of flesh, a blizzard 
of what’s still left of 
all the billion lives 
that gave life to the whale. Rich  
dust falls past 

midnight depths and down into absolute
dark, where chemical
not solar, power
fuels a vast unexplored
underworld 

of sulfur-dependent forms—a peaceable 
kingdom, where prey and
predator, bone, ash, 
rock, scavenger (and plastic)
come to rest.

So Many Ends of the World

apricots fall ripe 
 are left to rot  
under the trees the wind 

that shook the branch 
is the same wind that unclouds 
the light that carries the scent 

over the orchard wall  
a crow descends shadow-first 
from a cottonwood tree 

throws back her head  
swallows the sun  
and its almond seed 

Jennifer Atkinson

About Jennifer Atkinson

Jennifer Atkinson is the author of six collections of poetry—most recently A Gray Realm the Ocean, which won the 2021 Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press. She is newly retired from George Mason University, where she taught in the MFA and BFA programs in Poetry Writing. She lives in northern Virginia.

Cold Mountain Review is published once a year in the Department of English at Appalachian State University. Support from Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences enables CMR’s learning and publications program. The views and opinions expressed in CMR do not necessarily reflect those of university trustees, administration, faculty, students, or staff.