Nine Steps to the Shed

Most every morning
it's out the back door to step,
mug in one hand, curiosity in the other,
down to the first of nine
off-round uneven Caithness slabs
roughly the size and shape of mammoth's footprints
that stomp across uneven, soggy grass
dividing house from shed,

And it's true I feel myself following in the bulk
of something vast, patient, fissured —
the deep past, say, or the world yet undeclared —
on this short transition from one dwelling to another.

What's down there today? A fresh splatter
from passing gull, faint stains of last week's nosebleed,
the snail lurched sideways in its crunched house,
and something between an image and a phrase that earlier
fell on my bowed head in the shower:
plenty to be going on with!

These stones are split
from the bed of Lake Orcady
that swelled and shrank over these plains,
fresh water, salt, dried up, fresh again, salt,
this happened many times and the stony shades
of shell-fish and minnows now lurk among
the delicate flout of fronds and weeds, squashed
with utter delicacy and irresistible power
by the swaying weight of stars passing overhead
(tiny crunch of that snail in the dark last night),
as the few memories from the vanished
lake of a life are left distorted, flattened,
set in stone as we pause on the way
to the place of reckoning —

So small a place to contain
the vast gone pachyderm, the fossils and the lake,
the trail of stones that led you here
to pause with one hand on the door.
Take a last look at the world you are in,
small fry with time pressing on your neck
even as you bent under the shower's benediction;
look back at the stepping stones, this staggering line
between one dwelling and the next,
then step into the gloom, the different light.

Last updated March 28, 2023