This poem reads like a slice of experience from Lisel Mueller – scenes from a family road trip, repeated year after year, so that the changes become obvious, like in a series of photos of the same scene taken over an extended period of time. And it is a picture of the gradual abandonment of the countryside, the people of the small villages and settlements giving up on their rural lives and leaving for the city, where life is easier. And so the mark of humans fades and decays and over time, nature reclaims what humans tried to put in place.
Year after year, the scenic route perhaps becomes more scenic, but poignantly so, as human hopes and dreams become irrelevant.
Someone was always leaving
and never coming back.
The wooden houses wait like old wives
along this road; they are everywhere,
abandoned, leaning, turning gray.
Someone always traded
the lonely beauty
of hemlock and stony lakeshore
for survival, packed up his life
and drove off to the city.
In the yards the apple trees
keep hanging on, but the fruit
grows smaller year by year.
When we come this way again
the trees will have gone wild,
the houses collapsed, not even worth
the human act of breaking in.
Fields will have taken over.
What we will recognize
is the wind, the same fierce wind,
which has no history.
The first two stanzas evoke what the poet has already seen by passing through this place year after year – the process of decay and isolation has increased, the buildings are becoming more dilapidated, the fruit becoming smaller. The final two stanzas look forward, to the end of human imprints on this remote countryside, and nature reclaiming its territories. And the wind, that force of nature which humans could never tame, will remain, blowing across the land as it always has and always will, always in the present, leaving no trace for history.
The Poetry Dude