July 2014 Sestinas
Jennifer Highland’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Josephine Quarterly, Quiddity, the Quotable, Sow's Ear Review, Atlanta Review, and elsewhere. She practices osteopathy in central New Hampshire.
Panning for Gold in Rumney, New Hampshire
My palm barely registers the tiny weight.
Lois passes it to me with careful fingers,
a small irregular lump that softly settles
between my life- and heart-lines, a yellow swirl.
Lois guides me under the lamp to show the gleam
of an unmistakable metal she pulled from the river.
That afternoon years ago on the Baker River,
sun-drowsy and growing tired of the weight
of an almost-empty pan, she saw a gleam
in the water underfoot. With pen-knife and fingers
she dug and pried until sand rose up in a swirl
that washed downstream to find a place to settle.
This is no Klondike. Those who came north to settle
the fertile land along the Baker River
three centuries ago saw the powerful swirl
of water as a way to move the weight
of fresh-cut logs to mill. Their sweat and fingers
were sacrificed to the sawblade's silver gleam.
Those men didn't chase the fleeting gleam
of gold into the hills. Instead they settled
for steady work in the timber and three fingers
of whiskey come payday. Along the river
smoke rose from chimneys, bereft of weight,
plumes drifting downstream in a dark swirl.
Today weekenders wade in the current to swirl
old-fashioned pans full of silt – hungry for a gleam
of yellow among the heaviest grains, whose weight
pulls them down through the dross in the pan to settle,
while what lacks heft and value sweeps downriver,
washing away in plumes between wet fingers.
I turn the little nugget in my fingers.
Black-and-white gold rush images rise and swirl
through my mind: fortune and heartbreak and lonely rivers
that churn their wealth to the sea, all shimmer and gleam.
Lois retrieves her treasure and lets it settle
back into her purse, a small familiar weight.
Later, I go to the river and dip my fingers
so the water takes their weight. The sun drops a swirl
of gold -- a gleam that falls through my hands and settles.