21 June 2012

Arcadia in the Catskills

Neither sheep nor shepherds populate the canvasses
of the Hudson River School of painters and Mom
concurs in her renderings of river banks where spring-
flowering apple and cherry orchards turn to small fruit
by the 4th of July when the corn is knee high and heat
tricks maple leaves into early oranges among pine-needled
forests where grew The Climbing Tree.   

Mom drew the long-limbed pine while I watched 
chipmunks and fairies run and hide from me 
in reindeer-mossed hobbit homes under the brown-skinned 
roots of the ancient tree surrounded with rattlesnake-filled
stone walls where cows once grazed in the old days. 
I climbed quietly to a still low limb to scout until pine  
tickled my nose into A Sneeze.

Later I dreamed untamed forests full of elves, lost
ghosts knocking on our walls and windows, and magic
so loud I couldn’t sleep--indeed the morning footprints
dotted across the driveway could have been ghost horses
not the deer trespassing to chew lettuce
with the rabbits, little Peter Cotton tail in the lead
as they ran before The Morning Sun

I leaned my rake against the fence, clothes pinned
the towels on the line until they swept the ground,
and scolded the crows and red-winged blackbirds,
robins, starlings and swifts not to eat
the mulberries over the fresh wash and to leave
some on the tree for me to have with milk before
I visited the climbing tree.

Was it gone?  Did it Brigadoon away when the night  
moon played tricks on pathways and tree limbs?
One more rise to climb and then another—
I knew it was closer yesterday but not as close as when
my older brother or mom came along to play or when
the faeries slipped a dime under my pillow
in exchange for a tooth.

Where did the faeries put the teeth?  I scuffed
the thick mat of rusty needles to find them,
reached into nooks and climbed higher to see
if they used my teeth up in the tree –and I knew
mom laughed at me, but she also told me stories
of when my grandfather’s geese chased her,  bit her
heels and she ran home

Then  Rip Van Winkle started bowling and skies
turned angry with fat cheeks blowing hard to shake us
from the limbs--and this time everyone ran: elves
and faeries, mom and brother and me, deer, rabbit,
horses, ghosts, leaves and rattlesnakes just like
the cards in Alice’s trial leaping and falling for shelter,
towels, naps and dreams.

Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast
Chosen for book 11/2013

Heart in hand, I just posted this to dVerse's "Where in the World AM I?-Meeting the Bar."  
In the picture I am the Scout-look-alike on the right.


  1. A big smile on my face as I shared a bit of time with you in the Catskills and in a world touched with fantasy. Your descriptions helped it all come to life.

    1. Oh Victoria! I am so glad you like it!

  2. Wonderful walk in your wonderland. It had everything. Loved asking all the birds not to eat all the mulberries and Leave some for me.
    This all made me smile as I could see it all in my mind's eye. :)

    1. Now you've got me giggling. I threw away many scraps of paper in figuring out how to make the moments speak in this one. Thank you.

  3. smiles....well crafted piece susan...and some wonderful refs worked in as well...brigadoon and rip van....alice....hobbit...peter....i could go on...but they do add some magic to the already wonderful description you give...had a nasty storm here tonight....we were running for sure...smiles.

    1. I feel a storm coming. What a relief it will be. As for the allusions--I credit the banks of the Hudson in the northern Catskills (and the little library in Coxsackie) with nurturing my imagination.

  4. Susan! This is outstanding! I really enjoyed this; first line til the last. If I take you with me to the pub next time, please read it! (I'm buying!)

    1. OK, but I buy the second round. Thank you for "outstanding" and for enjoying this, empty glass and all.

  5. A lovely remembrance, nicely framed in the first stanza with painters and ending so wondrously with Alice. Your ability to capture the time and place of your childhood captures beautifully the letter and spirit of the prompt. These are real people, and I can feel them breathing their lives into your spirit as you recall them to life then and now. Sergei Bulgakov once said that eternity is not the abolition of time but its instantiation forever. I always understood that to mean that the best memories of our lives would live once more, but eternally. This poem has that tenor of time beyond time.

    1. Great quote from Sergei Bulgakov, who I at first thought was Mikhail Bulgakov who has a marvelous scene of money falling into a crowd that has echoes of the Alice scene--at least to me. "Instantiation forever" reminds me of Shakespeare's "lines to time" in "Shall I love thee like . . . ." As it happens, this is one of my True poems though I moves people around somewhat. It was a private world that insisted upon being written, and it/I thank you for this rave!

    2. No, I mean Sergei, the theologian. I do love Mikhail too, though; The Master and Margarita is one of the funniest books I've ever read.

  6. Such a lovely pastoral and that last line--I can just see it like Alice's cards. . .

  7. so much childhood magic in this...love all the touches...immensely enjoyed your piece susan

    1. Thank you, Claudia. There was childhood magic for some of us, along with the hard stuff along the way.

  8. Frothy and joyous, full of the currants and raisins of childhood remembrances.

    1. mmmm Thank you! I like "currants and raisins." Someday I'll write about elderberry blossom pancakes.

  9. Susan, your description is so rich with detail. Yet, it read like a dream I wish I'd had. Enjoyed reading it so much.

  10. This is a delicious blend of childhood fantasy and adult perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  11. The country of childhood comes vividly to life here, with all its fantasies and pleasures...I love that tree!--and the personalities both of family and self, nature and imagination, populate it like the elves you invoke--love this phrase "magic/ so loud I couldn’t sleep.." just perfect.

  12. Just lovely - you capture that faery aspect of the Catskills so well. I spend a lot of time there and it definitely has that feel, as does the Hudson River School. Really fun. k.

    1. So you know it--it's not as if fantasy rules life which can be hard, but the woods! Where do you go? Parts of my family still live about 30 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River while I live near Philadelphia.

  13. This is amazing. It was like I was right there. Wow!

  14. i love this, Susan... thank you.

    seems that child in us is trying to call on us today... these days. let's listen right?

  15. Arcadia in The Catskills is the type of poem I want to read, reread, and then examine for its myriad language treasures…
    Oh, what powerful imagery! Watching chipmunks and fairies run and hide from you in reindeer-mossed hobbit homes under brown-skinned roots of ancient tree surrounded with rattlesnake-filled stone walls where cows once grazed …
    What an imagination you had, and still have Susan! The images so clear I can see every one: lost ghosts knocking on your walls... I may have never imagined magic this loud!
    Every writing student should study this poem – and mine will!

    1. Why, thank you! And it is fine to use it locally in your classes, but for any larger use, please ask. I loved writing it, finding its details and believing it. I'm not sure it's in its final form, though, because I do not think the first stanza flows like the rest. With it, I felt I had an Arcadia, without it, I felt I had the Climbing Tree but no forest. Still thinking that through.


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