After Mahler’s Songs of Night and the Earth

It is late summer fast changing into fall,

half-lit shadows at dusk, birds aloft

in the dying light before the pall

of darkness descends, the sunset soft

as the flames of candles flickering

through trees, tinting their leaves

oak orange, maple red while a breeze

blows through the forest with the sting

of October.  Cicadas, katydids, crickets

lustily sing their last, raspy choral

music, its buzzing rattle like some skeletal

part scraping bare bone so sharply it sets

the nerves on edge as their dying cries echo

off the hushed walls of woods.  What do they know

before we do about tomorrow?  Of night songs and their call?

Granitic black beetles lumber under rocks.  Ants

in tribes, white grubs, milky caterpillars,

slick footlong bloodworms.  Twining plants,

creeping ivy, honeysuckle, wood fern, shrub junipers

threading in and out of brush land.  A spider

knits its web among dew wet twigs that glint

in the moonlight.  A snake, still awake, slithers

toward water.  A creek ripples.  There’s a hint

of winter in the air, like the glow of a forest after

first snow.  Remember, a whippoorwill flying over

my head sings to me still, remember me, child,

when you’ve grown old and suspicious of the wild

places in your heart you thought you’d lost.  Remember

what you’re leaving.  Insects’ buzzing.  Gusts stirring through poplar

trees.  The rustle of night creatures intoning forever forever forever.

Spare Change for the Crossing, A Last Hike In,  and  A Last Look Back compose a trilogy of books, recollective in several senses and thematically intertwined, which Peter Weltner wrote in his eightieth and eighty-first years.  He regards them together as his final book, a kind of culmination of a lifetime of thought and experience.