John Heath

John Richard Heath teaches at American University in Washington, DC. He has recently published poetry in Pendemic, Horror Sleaze Trash and the Boston Literary Magazine. 

Rambling the High Hillside

We ramble the high hillside,
Dordogne a silvery worm
in the valley miles below.
Skywards, in the tractor’s wake,
raptors conned shaved grass for mice
as we addressed ham baguettes
lightly garnished with blown straw.
Dusty trees stuck in landscape
stunned by sun, farmer transfixed
in his high cab. Cursory
wave as he rounds the last lap
heads down the chestnut-lined lane
to the hamlet of Aujac
where later we find ourselves
gazing down the throat of the
same dark doorway we pass each
year. The fool, sitting on a
fly-blown terrace, his mother
stern behind him in washed-out
apron, face in shade. Again,
a desultory exchange,
pleasantries unvarying,
the long distant war reprised.
Hugolin, a maquisard,
long dead, his widow standing
abashed before us. Summer
of '44, the Boche dropped
by on this dry hillside where,
sixty years on, the plums pop
willingly into ripe hands,
fruit full of the weight and heat
of countless summer days.

Vigils: Holy Cross Abbey

First to open the door, Binh,
the Vietnamese brother,
keys the spots, lights the chapel.
Three-thirty in the morning.
Bell marks the start of new day.
The brothers drift in. No rush.
Each bows to the hanging cross,
hinging at the waist, torso
parallel to floor, a state
that Brother Jerome affects
permanently—spine gone, he
glides in on the Zimmer frame.
Hood up, hunkered in the stall,
Vincent frets: his cat is sick.
The Abbot scratches his nose.
Matters temporal weigh on
his narrow shoulders: Will the
novice buckle down and will
the bakery break even?
The brothers rise to recite, 
“Glory to the Father, to
the Son, and to the Holy
The reading today: “I have
become like a pelican
in the wilderness, my days
vanish like smoke.”
Far away, a freight train lows.
An insomniac dog barks.
Beyond the river, deer freeze.
Flung across the firmament,
A skein of stars.


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