Woolly Bear By Tammy Armstrong

This fall everyone looked to the bands on a woolly bear caterpillar, and predicated as usual the direst of dire winters
                                                 – Annie Dillard


We walk here enough
.           as far as the bridge
then stop for the pause, the woolly bear comma,
inching from one side of the quad trail to the other
between pea stone and beer tabs. 

This little banded em-dash, Turk’s head knot, two-stroke engine
        signs blindly from my palm:  fine-fine-fine-fine
so here I drop it to deer beds, the ditch’s verge. 
        Thistle. Hawk-weed. The tug of rhizome. 
Let it travel roly-poly from its pantheon of minor creatures 
toward the sort of hibernation that freezes a heart.  

More than song or sign or mark
the woolly bear’s prophetic recoil bristles parable
.          a black and copper hoop snake with the fight knocked out
still willing to forecast late-autumn’s unsure closure
.          bring nothing to the frozen zero. 

We’d meant to come out before now
        but the work and mail
the tea bags hovering through boil and steam 
like the rusted hems of jelly fish.
And now the chickadees call to last-in-the-day
agree with black cap nods
.          when one door closes, a window opens. 

Just there, up ahead, 
the skies cloud up with November.
        One divides into two: 
a bird with burning feathers
a bird of sooty scrub. 
.          Promising, promising more long winters
more knotted woods that mean no harm.  

Shall I promise as well?
.          Call your name
say bad news passed us by again today
say something sulky and unwarranted stands us still
though we carry on through the thinking and the stops?             

We must go in. The fog is rising.
         Dark shapes made for smoke press in.
Their silence runs beneath them. 

Be still, little Lazarite, 
we too were giddy once
carried over rooty earth 
.            in and out of other’s lives 
one by one by one. 


Copyright © Tammy Armstrong. Originally published in The Varying Hare (Frog Hollow Books, 2018).


Tammy Armstrong has published two novels and four books of poetry, as well as the chapbook, The Varying Hare (Frog Hollow Press 2018). Her work has also recently won the iYeats International Poetry Prize, Geist’s Postcard Story Contest, Prairie Fire‘s Bliss Carman Poetry Prize, the Cafe Writers Poetry Competition, and is currently a finalist for the National Magazine Awards. In autumn 2018, she will be a Fellow at the International Writers’ and Translators’ House in Latvia. She lives in a lobster fishing village on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

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