Nellie Hill






The Moon Again






The fifth night in a row

the moon has broken free

of  winter branches

and sits at the top of my window

a round face

looking in


And I look back into that face asking

for something of myself

although I realize what I see is

light bounced back

from rock


Then come nights of decrescendo

to the slivered portion

that rises barely noticed

and looks in upon–who cares?

as it hangs in the elm’s bare branches

no one’s looking

no one hears


An owl hoots in the fir

across the way

a tiny light reflected

in each eye







Surprise Seasons


(After Romare Beardon)


Cousins, ours, were rolling around in the grass

because it had been hot

though the sun  hadn’t shone all day.


Old ladies went to bed early,

pleased with the chance.

It was hard to remember


that they’d been young,

the same people but different skin,

no wrinkles, no sun spots.


The chickens were upset

and laid no eggs for weeks and weeks–

not in this upside down time,


hot with no sun,

then suddenly wind and cold

with chilly light.


Our sweaters were packed away.

To get them we’d have to climb ladders

high into the attic.


There behind pictures

of grandfather and grandmother

were our sweaters,


some knit by grandmother,

some worn by grandfather

with deer heads and snowflakes

over the heart.







Memento Mori


Snow covers the hills

and the light blue light

grows colder as the days

shorten and whiten.


Only yesterday we waded

through languid hours to now:

brief days, nights long,

too much sleep.


I count the pearls

on the childhood bracelet,

each marks time from then

when each luminous bead seemed


like a page of the future.

Now the pearls reflect

the changing weather

and the yawn of light.

I tend the household,

I wipe the table clean.







Learning by Fire


Our house was on the farm

where all the animals were doing it

with whinnies and neighs, yowls

and low-slung moos and grunts

and the dogs rubbing up on our legs

but we knew even the youngest of us

knew it was the animals not us

no matter how the voices floated

from our parents’ bedroom

through the house like dreams.

She was screaming screaming

and that’s why the bogey man

lived under the bed; and he was

groaning groaning and we knew

oh how we knew that the witch

was watching him from the walls.


It was our hallway and our bedroom

where the ghosts lived,

not theirs with their sheets rustling

like songs of both the unborn

and the dead twined so as

to call us up out of our beds

in spite of the bogey man

in spite of the witch

we continued

walking in our sleep

until we were awake.






Limantour Beach


Above the water

on a raised wooden walkway

we walk into an aftermath of rain,

into the salt-soaked air.

Left home quickly, left birds

stomping on the rooftop,

raccoons chewing at the eaves.


Just off the beach seals swim

back and forth along the foamy shoreline.

Waves crease in rhythm, watery logs

float and clank upon the stones.

We smell the salt long before we’re there


and in that air walk to the seals’ resting place.

They lie in mass, hundreds, tranquil in the sun,

content within the scent around them–

fish bones and fur oil.


Within the smell of sea and seal

a memory comes backside of the woods

where the packrat village grew by the stream–

round houses made of sticks.

A lost watch was found there.

It and other shiny metal things

insulate the walls.


We climb the dunes to watch

and breathe the pungent cluster,

eat lunch, take off our clothes


and wade through waves

toward a piece of fishing boat or ship

while seals bark and move together

like a carpet about to fly.







Winter Horse


The air this autumn afternoon

is perfect, the neighborhood so quiet

that the few sounds feel

like open hands receiving light.

The jet, the dog, the trees shuffling

in the bright day.

What I want and what I have

so often conflict.


I have my lists, my to do

and my to get.   I want the bluish bird

who lives in the tree next door

nestling in my hand.

And the neighbor’s puppy,

the size of a toy bear,

wriggling black and furry

in my palm.


A fly nuzzles the window

thinking it’s summer.

Tomorrow when autumn’s curtain

pulls across the glass,

the trees, the yard, the books along the wall

will fall in early darkness

into shadows of themselves,

into symbol.  And I’ll notice

everything again.


A horse looks across the fence,

a horse looks at the mountains.





The Hunt


We comb the grasses,

those long summer grasses

long after summer has passed.

We stride over the fields

and along the riverbeds,

past the hickory trees

with their dried hickory smell,

and the low-growing yellow oaks

with their oakey leaves still fluttering.

Our boots and our gloves release

a leathery fullness, a leathery animal smell,

in the stilled days of late autumn, the stillness

of early winter.  We pass the remaining birds

with their miserable bird cheeps,

exactly the crackling sound of the thin ice

that covers the grasses before sunrise.


And we take home this feeling

of the wildness between seasons

as if we’ve forgotten where we came from.

We walk into the sleepiness that comes with cold

and the quiet before and after.






No Change but Change


Each year the lake spreads beneath clouds

that arrive as always every noon if it’s a sunny day,

and the trees lean their dark green into the lake,

as if to bleed their color into the water’s depth

the way I tried to paint them those summer afternoons.

The boathouse now is falling in and the dogs of then are dead;

and my father and his buddy, Uncle Wing Walker,

who gave Earhart her flying license, they’re dead, too,

scattered into the lake, into the water’s quiet

that persists, even within its storms.


Over the years the green cloaked shores

remain the same, studded with hemlock and balsam,

fingers of birch, maple, oak, and pine; and in the mud

beneath the season’s frozen water buried leeches

wait for summer, for something to latch onto.  And the fish

sleep below the ice, some caught like a photo in the ice itself:

pickerel with their little teeth, yellow-bellied sunfish,

perch with slithery stripes.  When the birds have left,

their summer voices abandoned,  I lie awake listening,

imitating the barking owl that once I heard for a week straight.


And each year was the summer of sweet corn

or the summer of blueberries, the summer of bare feet

on the worn wooden floors of the open house in the north

in those few good days of endless light;

and the day’s brief heat full of flies; and the cold, the empty cold

that arrives so soon up there beyond where anyone would want to live

unless they could wait and wait all winter long

for each brief summer as we waited for years

before we saw the moose swimming across the lake for lily tubers

or the paw prints of a black bear on our daily road to town.






The Air Was Stormy


The air was stormy, thunderous and loud

and nothing echoed back.

I stepped sideways across the lawn

avoiding rocks and dampness,

the dog’s bark, the bird’s cry from the tree.


I cleaned the house while birds stared in

as if they knew me, watching every move.


Then back outside, raking through the grass,

searching for the lost watch and ring,

all the while looking down so as not to see

the reflected hand–my own,

the scraps and seeds. Myself,

first inside the house, then out





Winter Dusk


A mist rolls in from the hills

and covers the yard and windows

in darkness with so much moisture

that the roof forms bubbles

as if it were breathing into the sky

and the sky were turning inside out

until the sun’s disc settles

into the darkened water

leaving shards of light in the chasms


And now absence of light is the image

and each time I tell myself like a mantra

this emptiness is temporary


Some nights those bits of light

form shapes of the tales of

sailors and shepherds, stories

etched in stone, paper

and the rolling rhyming song


Retelling leads back to the images

and  scattered light
















Nellie Hill’s  work has appeared widely in literary journals including The Naugatuk River Review, The Harvard Magazine, Poetry East, Psychological Perspectives, Commonweal, Arroyo, The Belleview Literary Review. She has two books, and two chapbooks, most recently My Daily Walk (Pudding House).   She  has an acupressure practice in Berkeley, CA.



Nellie Hill

16 The Crescent

Berkeley, CA 94708



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