The Salisbury Crags
Along these crags, near Arthur’s Seat,
you watch your own slow tourist feet
connect the dots of random stones,
sidestepping falls and broken bones.
Then you look up and see—complete—
an epic realm. Green hillsides meet
a gray stone castle; down the street,
a palace preens. A Forth wind moans
along these crags,
chastising those who fear defeat
by pebbly paths. Small perils greet
the hiker, while time’s rigor hones
a city’s pride: the thistle throne’s
high heather nods, and lost hearts beat
along these crags.
Dad bought them at the junkyard. They lacked chains,
some spokes and pedals, in one case a seat;
they bled with rust and rattled with defeat.
But he spent days reviving them, took pains
with sprockets, frames, and rims, and earned grease stains
and scrapes and sweat. When his work was complete,
I think we thanked him, then rode down the street
too quickly. Now I know the other strains
that made him sweat, while we sailed off, carefree:
job woes, Mom’s health, the weight of each dime spent—
but he made sure that we had bikes. He knew
that brakes and balance, gears and gravity,
would teach us more than how to pay the rent;
he also knew to paint mine aqua blue.
(Louise Farrenc’s Quintet in A minor for Piano and Strings, op. 30)
Fluent in realms untroubled by translation,
four strings vibrate robustly, diving down
to meet the keyboard’s bass; a conversation
begins where ordinary talk would drown.
Five voices break the surface, splash and kick,
float effortlessly, and again descend,
colluding to command the currents, lick
the sea floor, salt the air. Their strokes were penned
by one whose name is rarely heard or read,
a woman hardly known to history
despite these swells of song. How were we led
to such a lapse? This fluid colloquy
and others—trios, etudes—celebrated
in her own day, have sunk to something near
oblivion, dismissed or underrated,
though finer splendor seldom bathes the ear.
Seas change, along with everything they hold;
tides ebb, and pretty shells have been consigned
to sandy graves—but silent, weedy cold
should not inter the pearls she left behind.
Jean L. Kreiling was the winner of the 2013 String Poet Prize and the 2011 Able Muse Write Prize; she has been a finalist for the Frost Farm Prize, the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, and the Richard Wilbur Poetry Award. Her poetry has appeared widely in print and online journals, including American Arts Quarterly, Angle, The Evansville Review, Measure, and Mezzo Cammin, and in several anthologies.