Maxine Scates

April 25, 2017 Scates Maxine



I never remember to ask what it is
you are mowing in your fields? Is it hay?
But if it was you’d say haying
as I say watering–that and carting away
the dead branches. For years we just piled
the brush as if we were readying
a huge bonfire. After we got a pickup,
we hauled it away. I try to say
what summer has brought but seem mostly
to say that the heat has broken and now
I can get back on the roof to clean the gutters,
now we can go to the dump. I didn’t

tell you that for days I’ve been
thinking of fire, of watching the flames escape
believing as I do in whatever
survives them. But why do I never
remember to tell you how often I think
of the day shortly before you left when we sat
on the porch watching the rope of water
from the hose break again and again
over your daughter’s back? Now, she
has four daughters of her own but the water
still flows, a blue rope, through those years
when the future was still before us. Now,

some mornings out walking, I see the leaves
trembling and know rain will follow soon,
and I think I’ve learned a few things since
those years, years when you still read
the Tarot though later you told me you stopped
because you didn’t like what you saw, those
lives streaming through the cards filled
with difficulty, operatic and wailing, those years
which still explain my love of fire

though the odd thing is if we spoke right now,
what I’d tell you about is the twilight I drove
down a road in a snowstorm, the road closing
behind and ahead of me, the headlights
disappearing into the falling snow,
and though I knew the snow would not stop
I knew I would arrive where I was going–
that’s how it feels now, mid-summer,
as if I am in a tunnel of snow and when I emerge
the years of feeling yoked to what I thought
I had to do will have fallen away.


Maxine Scates’ fourth book of poems, My Wilderness, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2021.  Her poems have been widely published in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, Ironwood, The New England Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Plume, Poetry Northwest, Poetry and The Virginia Quarterly Review and have received, among other awards, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry and two Pushcart Prizes.