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 Spirit.” 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.