SPOTLIGHT: A Break in the Spine by Jess Levens


All bones and brains in battered boxes—
my father’s ashes lost at sea.

Starless, we search and rudderless, ride;
bobbing along indifferent tides.

Then collide, we curl on jagged shores.
The crashing plows my dust with yours.

Now jellied mud, merged, the tides retake.
All bones and brains left in our wake.


It’s a common road, about three miles long—
a quick left not far beyond the heart-scarred
sycamore where I carved my name plus hers.

A serpentine street, it slithers between
piled lines of kneehigh stones—the mossy bones
of dead farms, reborn wild and overgrown.

The canopy labors under winter’s weight.
Chilling hilltop howls break down weary boughs
as I slow and crawl to a twinkling veil.

Cascading crystal mist opaques my path.
It dangles for a breath, and with a breath,
diamond drizzle fades back into the dawn.

Creeping past the clearing’s throat, silver sun
slips behind the pines and prints zebra stripes
along the crumbling, snow-white blacktop.

As floodplains flank, a bridge spans the river.
Calm, she flows in the morning’s flooding bright—
this place where too many fish slipped my hook.

Then again, I’m swallowed whole by the wood
and its towering dark. Flickers of light
bombard the glass as I squint toward the end.

I approach a colonial kirkyard—
a hill built by bloody bold and the husks
of the New World, hopeful, but dead too soon.

A perfect terminus, but not yet mine.
I turn around and drive back down the road,
plunging headlong into the blinding gold.  

Farm Cemetery (Moss)

Headstones rest behind fieldstones;
hand-hewn rows to foot the pines.
Cloven hooves scar the snow
and show the greening calm of life.

Hug me down, O tender moss,
in your sweetly supple trap.
Make of me the stuff of earth.
Make future from my past.

1652 Pastoral

The late farm is older than our witches;
laid on land of the old, New World.
Wind rattles incantations through the leaves,
and I follow beyond the gate.

My feet float along the red, needled floor,
guided by a stacked stone backbone.
Walking, walking—away from time and self;
deeper, walking under a spell.

A break in the spine invites me off-path.
Back behind a felled pine, I find
a quaint pond, framed by roots and mud-embossed;
topped with slush like porcelain skin.

Do springtime bass and bream await my bait
below the mirror’s frosted glaze;
or did the tears of Salem trickle south
and form a barren pool of grief?

A subtle ascent up a rightward bend,
past a down birch’s pulp and curls—
a hawk shrieks through my veil of quiescence,
and I drift back into myself.

In circles, circles—spiraled down the day;
now amber ash paints the ridgeline.
I circle back below the crowning moon
and in the darkness, reach the gate.

Last Snow in a Small New England Town

The gold and silver meld morning splendor,
projecting cold warmth and glowing shadows
at the dawn’s fleeting in-between.

As the day grows long, winter’s longer gone;
its grey goes blue, stippled with pops of green,
and trees cry white in varied states.

This bittersweet is the Bard’s sweet sorrow.
My walls are streaked with stains of teary chalk,
and only salt adorns my walk.  


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