Some cartographer’s error
and we squandered days,
a river on the map now swamp:
glacial fissures drained to marsh,
so a channel angled south goes east then north,
to halt canoes at a beavers’ dam, trunks big as cabin logs.
Millions of droplets per cubic inch, and brief efflorescence
in stalks, leaves and lacy ferns already by August
curling for an onslaught of snow. Head-high grass
spread by prows keeps no trail of keel, paddle blade or feet
as flies toil and bite, as boots spew rot from muddy sockets.
Redwings creak on cattails like farcical guides.
Bullfrogs thrum directions only a blackbird could decipher.
Who are you to the herons, to the beavers felling trees?
Who cares for you? say the barred owls,
as soft to disappear as puffs of mist.
How far to your vanishing point?
Our lives became things,
callused joints and scarlet knees,
with hair tied back to tumble behind. Six of us,
strangers since, a rank and cantankerous crew.
On day three we crossed a flowage in porridge-thick fog,
tracking island to island by compass
with twelve-foot visibility encircling each boat.
Near noon a bush plane, then growling saws.
The village on Red Lake. But remember
how the land made its own way, with no one there
Buy the book
“I like these poems immensely. What Schley has done is to reinvent the ode, especially in the nine poems for the muses. Prosodically he’s discovered an odic tone, grave but graceful, imaginatively objective. It’s extremely effective, and it tokens a very large degree of literary depth and experience.” —Hayden Carruth
Jim Schley grew up in Wisconsin and moved to New England in 1975 to attend Dartmouth College, where he majored in Literature & Creative Writing and Native American Studies. In 1986 he earned an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College. He has been co-editor of the literary quarterly New England Review, production editor for University Press of New England, and editor-in-chief of Chelsea Green Publishing Company and has edited more than a hundred books on a wide variety of subjects, including poetry and fiction, literary essays, history, art, Native American culture, organic farming and gardening, solar and wind energy, and natural architecture and building techniques. He has also been very active as a teacher with Community College of Vermont and the Vermont Humanities Council. A frequent performer with experimental theatre ensembles, including Signal & Noise and FLOCK Dance Troupe, he has toured internationally with Bread & Puppet Theater and the Swiss movement-theater company Les Montreurs d’Images. Jim’s poems have been featured in Best American Spiritual Writing, on Garrison Keillor’s radio program The Writer’s Almanac, and in Keillor’s companion book Good Poems, as well as in a poetry chapbook, One Another (Chapiteau, 1999; chapiteau.org), which Christopher Merrill called “the most beautiful book of poems I've ever seen.” He’s an associate of the journalists' collective Homelands Research Group (homelands.org) and is now executive director of The Frost Place (frostplace.org), a museum and poetry education center based at Robert Frost's historic homestead in Franconia, N.H. Jim Schley lives with his wife Rebecca Bailey and their daughter Lillian in a home they built themselves as part of an off-the-grid, multi-family cooperative in central Vermont.