By Diana Whitney
The big winters come in threes,
& so we are due.
Summer died last night. I was driving
fast down Cemetery Road —
my high-beams carved a white tunnel through the black,
swept the edge of the corn
with their x-ray fury, the corn
flashing by like a bamboo forest, so huge & leafy
I didn’t recognize it.
Home. No porch light:
forty degrees & dropping fast.
The gardens were uncovered & the coyotes
whooped it up, the cat out hunting, the dog out cold
but trembling now & then, whining in her sleep —
what kind of dreams will bring a dog to weep?
I wanted to be the kind of woman
who always has a bag packed, a small bag
with underwear & potions
ready for the road at any moment.
I planned to follow my life
like a divining rod, & where it dipped
I’d stop for a while. Dig for water, drink.
How could I know that a stick would root me
here, at the crossroads of dust & corn,
here in the boreal forest of change, the winter
coming on like a freight train roaring,
pulling its rattling months of cold?
And me on the dark road, parallel to the tracks,
racing that engine to the river.
Diana Whitney writes across the genres in Brattleboro, with a focus on feminism, motherhood and sexuality. Her first book, “Wanting It,” became an indie bestseller and won the Rubery Book Award in poetry. For years, she was the poetry critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she featured women writers and LGTBQ voices in her column.
Whitney’s essays, poems and book reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Longreads, The Washington Post, The Kenyon Review, Green Mountains Review and many more. Her latest project is a diverse, inclusive poetry anthology for teen girls, forthcoming from Workman Publishing in 2021. Find out more at www.diana-whitney.com
I felt drawn right into the changing energy of “Divining” and its shifting settings, even as it takes place solely near the dusty roads and cornfields of the speaker’s home. Feelings of tentative acceptance and contentment live alongside a sense of restlessness and desire for movement. All of this is present from the start — with the impending winter, with the speaker’s fast drive down the road toward the home that, at least for now, roots her. But even as she heads toward home, the cornfields appear briefly to her like bamboo, an image of more far-flung southern places.
This tension of staying put versus moving on is one many of us experience, especially as we move through youth into middle age, but really at any age. Most of us feel pressure to settle down, to slow down, choose a place. This works for some. And for many, it works for a while and then something calls — work, adventure, artistic pursuits or a spiritual restlessness — and we need to get moving again. This is the path of seekers and pilgrims of many kinds, which we all are down deep, whether we recognize it or not.
I have encountered many times the idea that we have internal rhythms lasting roughly seven years, and then something urges us from inside toward change. This might precipitate change in work, relationships, place, calling or something else. It might mean the end of the old, or more a shift within one’s current situation toward deeper alignment with our true path.
I admire how the speaker in the poem has an eye and ear out for her own life currents and rhythms, even while her “divining rod” has her rooted and seemingly content “at the crossroads of dust & corn.” Whether this other energy in the poem is general restlessness or a deeper connection to her internal rhythms, it seems a good thing. She seems to know well this part of her that perhaps never quite stopped moving — this part of her that responds so strongly to that great freight train coming, which feels like it represents much more than winter.
Perhaps the train suggests something to outrun, or to get away from. Or perhaps, something to run with, even jump aboard and ride. In any event, its presence carries great movement and energy, a desire to get somewhere fast, even if it’s just to the river. But what then? Rivers — another powerful force, one that listens unerringly to its rhythms and energy, feels its way, divining itself over and over and over.
“Divining” originally appeared in “Wanting It,” published by Harbor Mountain Press in 2014.
Susan Jefts is from Ripton and the Adirondacks of New York. Learn more about her work at her website: manyriverslifeguidance.com.