Slow Poke Sunday by Nils Peterson

Travel Essay/Poem:  Off, then, on my slow poking around the stone and cobbles of Sedbergh – out the back door of the manor house, up the gravel slope, through the iron gate, and poling my way along the back trail to town with my walking stick.  Great slant of a small fell on my right with a few white dots of sheep leaning against the lay of the land.  On my left a vine-covered wire fence and a drop off into the backyards of a few, modest houses sitting between trail and road.  A small dog yaps.  Nothing’s lost, nothing’s useless, I think to myself seeing thick brown circles of fungus colonizing a tipped-over tree stump beside the trail.

            Sunday afternoon – the Brits walking their bare-legged kids and short-legged dogs – we nod at in a friendly way as if we were knowing neighbors.  Warm fall day, but when the great clouds ride across the green hills, I feel the touch of the colder season to come, but think, Winter is feminine and somehow friendly.

            I’ve walked below the town now and sit on a bench eating cucumber and butter sandwiches by a road overlooking the all-weather tennis courts of a famous boy’s school.  Three Yamahas and a Suzuki lean around the bend, straighten, then lean the other way and out of sight.  To my left a line of trees along a trail – then a roll of small hills.  Beyond, a fell that towers in this proportion.  No matter how high hill or fell, a stone wall climbs it.  A hawk sweeps low across the cricket pitch beyond the tennis courts.  Three small boys play Olympic hop – skip – jump.

            A loud thump and I turn to see a large tree bursting with heavy, ripe chestnuts about to fall.  One had dropped.  Soon a small red car stops across the way and a boy and his mom gather some fallen ones – conkers,I think they call them remembering this from some British book for boys I read as a boy a swinging of horse chestnuts dangling from a string to see whose will break first..

            Dark scuds now beneath high gray-white clouds.  Time for the Dalesman, my for- the-moment local, yet it’s hard to leave these hills speaking with their low, steady, slow voices.

            And home again –

Home from a Trip

Home from a trip, trying to remember

at least the bedrooms where we stayed,

the things in them, the basins, the tables

with electric kettles, instant coffee and tea,

the cabinets, where I’d hang my coat once

in awhile.  Wallpaper? I remember it in just one

room, St. Ives, a 1930ish vertical line of roses

between thin blue stripes. Often now when I

reach for a word, it takes a day for it to arrive

through the clutter,  but images swarm about me

wanting to be seen, the angle of my bedroom

roof in the chauffeur’s flat above the garage,

the noise, clatter, and shining of the great

machines on the night shift my father

worked during the war, the smell of hot

oil against the grind of metal, now the train

station in Kentucky where I see myself sixteen and

suitcased arriving at school.  How can I see myself?


BIO: Nils Peterson is Professor Emeritus at San Jose State University where he taught in the English and Humanities Departments. He has published poetry, science fiction, and articles on subjects as varying as golf and Shakespeare, has had several chapbooks and two collections of poetry as well as a memoir, Talk in the Reading Room, in 2014. All the Marvelous Stuff, Poems and Essays, will appear late in 2018.

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