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Retrospective:
“The Pick of Pikestaff” (current)
Items selected from The Pikestaff Forum
and The Piklestaff Review

 

Elizabeth Tallent—

from The Pikestaff Forum #2 (winter 1978-79)

circles around the sun

“one raven holding a scattered light
on the planes of her wings”  —this was first.
In an empty white sky two ravens lifting and falling
away like oars in the hare air near the sun,
while below
the desert is an orchard of tense stone
supple air and cuneiform shadow.

A man rolls up his sleeves, tilts
a bucket, drinks. Splashes his wrists
with dirty water, watching the sky.
“It was something my grandmother told me,
who got it from her grandmother before her.
And who knows, maybe even the one
before that. Old women go all the way back.”
The voices of ravens thrown away
like pollen in a narrow wind, from an empty roof
—that means something coming. He leans
on his shovel, breaks off the points
of an old cholla near his knees.
The other workmen stop, and listen
to the rasp of ravens tightening their wings
in circles around the sun. “My grandmother
said—” in the distance oil rigs
vertical nets of close metal
ring chill as harmonicas full of spit
a windy light getting loose in the holes,
men waiting.

A spur of cloud above the mesa. Listen,
you know this the way you know
the dead leaves, the sticks and things
in last year’s cornfield, poking up
through dirty snow—

Their silence falling in bitter strokes
like glass, in brief accidental edges
warned the archaeologist. She paused
on her knees in the faint square of shadow
that rimmed one wall of an ancient room.
Impatiently, she clicked her trowel
against the sandstone masonry, listening
for the chink of the workmen’s shovels against stone.
She waited, hating the thing they held
like the blood in their wrists, too easily.
Silence accumulated like the rooms of spiders
weighing down dead branches. In her corner she heard
the wings of ravens scratching the dry air.
She stood up. The men followed with their eyes
the knots in the wind, the old lines around the sun.
Her voice, veined like a cicada’s wing,
brushed against their silence.
“You men, what’s wrong?”
Eyes carefully evaded hers.
She tasted the bitter wind,
and shook her head. “You’ve got to get back
to work, if you want to get paid on Tuesday.
I thought you understood. We’ve only done
three rooms so far this month—”
Their shirts blew bright as scarves
from their brown arms. They turned back
to the neat lines of trenches.
Bright shovels edged into the earth.

The archaeologist knelt
in a bare room, searching the dark
fringes of fresh-turned earth for painted sherds,
the fragile blue thorns of turquoise, dry tongues
of coral twisting in the palm of her hand. Dust
fused with her hair like smoke. The sun-littered
blocks of fallen masonry held a pattern
clean and bladed as numbers, sheltering
the wizened skins of snakes in edges of shadow,
cracked drinking cups, handfuls of corn,
a child’s wooden parrot, painted green.
The voices above her fell
in syllables rich as blood
and men parted the earth with short shovel-strokes
from the walls and the hard-packed floors of the pueblo.

Then, crouching against the dusty wall
she felt the silence cut again
this time a little too near
the bone. The clatter of shovels was hushed.
Anger burned in the narrow places
between her ribs. She rose slowly, her eyes
unaccustomed to the light, seeing finally
the men strung like sparrows on a wire:
on the far side of the ruin, staring
down into a narrow room. Beginning to chatter again; something
of fear in their voices, and recognition.

She ran, scattering them
as a coyote in yellow grass
wrecks the patterns of quails

         and saw: a fragile dome of ivory
         polished and smooth as the disk of the moon
         a delicate skull with eyes full of blackness
         in the center of the room.

The air was thick with dust and centuries.
She knelt before it

the bone pale as the inside of an old seashell,
                                                  and perfect.

No wind had scoured the milk-smooth bone,
no rains stained the pure cool ivory.
In ancient symmetry of shell and jet
         the flawless teeth had mocked the sun
         a thousand secret years.

The Navajos, from a little distance
         stood mute and watched
         while she took her trowel and smashed
         each perfect tooth from the empty mouth
                                                 into the waiting sand.

 © Elizabeth Tallent

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Raymond Roseliep

from The Pikestaff Forum #1 (winter 1978-79)

Five Haiku

walking the shore
in her high heels
       waves        waves

 

along the row
of turnips        two . . . three
auburn hairpins

 

this sudden shower:
the woman in the window
drier than I

 

leaving her dead child
the woman walks slowly
through the robin’s world

 

kids ringing church bells
for the hell of it
and the music

© Raymond Roseliep

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Rebecca Ellis

from The Pikestaff Forum #3 (1980)

Accident

The shattered headlights
blur back through a darkening film of snow.
My father and I limp
away from the broken car. The iced metal
of a chain-link fence glitters ahead,
separating us from three rough mounds
nearly as tall as my father.
In a dream, his thinned voice says, Buffalo.

Puffs of white lift
from muzzles dipped into the dark
sea of trampled snow. Their huge heads
bow down to the solitude of a flattened
prairie, and now the accident—my father’s hands
stiff and stupid on the paralyzed wheel, the raw
black squeal of rubber and splitting steel—
has not quite happened, is almost on the other side
of these steep backs cutting high into the wind.

On all sides the storm
spreads its blindness. This silence
is a tiredness like any other. My father’s winter coat
hangs loose with exhaustion, the deep wrinkles
gray as twisted metal or years. Snow and sky mesh
in a monochrome dull as breathing, and the buffalo
disappear down long blank pews of drifted snow.

The whitened arms of my father’s life
sleep in his pockets, dreaming
of some deeper warmth. Silently, we watch
the weather pile up between us.
My father thinks of repair bills, overtime,
his boots filling with dry snow.
I dream of him again and again,
the unchanged season, and I wish
these small words streaking the white page
were rain.

© Rebecca Ellis

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