Rural Hours, by James Gurley

— Susan Fenimore Cooper, naturalist and author of Rural Hours
after the death of her father, James Fenimore Cooper, returns
to their favorite haunt at Lake Ostego, late September, 1851 –

I gather asters, everlastings, golden-rod, carry

them to the shore. I hold a hand up against the sun,

catching this dissolving view, where our carriage

stops by the spring feeds these waters, as you wish,

father, a drink to cleanse the coppery tang coats

your mouth. Relieved, you hand me the cup. I sit

beside you, as I indulge myself, quenching my thirst

in this wilderness you made yield to your works.

My journals of the seasons’ courses, my own

careful, trifling observations upon rustic matters

in Rural Hours, you rule, won’t make a strong book—

feminine, charming, yes, but the world—you caution—

won’t fathom what to do with this volume, or me.

Letting the lake chill divert me, I drop the flowers

into the shallows. They float past, caught by currents.

The lake’s indulgence enough for one day. I walk

through wheat fields cut, fallowed for winter. Aspens

all but leafless, the balm of Gilead poplars too,

once prodigal in magnificence. I come to a hunter’s

camp, abandoned, its wooded aspect, fire ash,

this frontier, father, I call mine, golden-winged flickers

sounding through maples. Deer and fox tracks.

Cottages, trading-houses, taverns, not what they were.

Old rural names echo in this trek. Soon sharp frosts,

grayer, rainy days. Toward evening along a green brook

I meet a solitary thrush. Shy, quiet, as if forgotten.

My appearance on his path begs an unsettled ardor.


James Gurley’s collections include the chapbooks Radiant Measures and Transformations, and the book Human Cartography, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize published by Truman State University Press. His poems have appeared recently in Asimov’s, Measure, Poet Lore, and Redactions. He lives in Seattle, where he works in the aerospace industry.