Poetry

Is It Because I Know the Word “Duff”?

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik.Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.
Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik.
Licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.
Could I walk this beach bluff
without the word? How would
I tell myself? I love that woodsy scent?
I love wafting specks from soft needle death,
mix of fir and spruce? I love this frail fragrance
of decay, of lacy, one-time leaves?

I know duff and love
how it is brief.
I love its buff-brown sound.
I love its rhyme
with so-differently-spelled enough.

Like snag and nurse log, this underfoot stuff
shelters growing things—spore, and dung-pitched seed;
feeds mycelium, grubs, bugs, centipedes,
lichens—foliose, crustose, fruticose,
and broad cedars’ roots; and holds close warm air
and rain. Words change our brains.

Softer, browner, bouncier
than duff, a rabbit leaps, leads
us as we step in amongst the trees,
Has she hunkered under a shrub?
I try to be, like her, without words,
in presence of scent. Without duff.
Before duff. Younger. Smaller.
Blanker. Be above sandy shore,
on beige cliff, bob in green ocean of fern
with no color words. Words
change our brains.

But duff lodges in my mind—needly
leafy layer upon layer,
upon layer, rug
upon forest floorboards, settled
over centuries, perhaps, even peat,
over millennia, perhaps, black coal.

Duff also means steamed flour pudding,
coal dust, slack, TV-Homer’s quaff,
your behind, to miss a ball in golf,
to steal or bluff, yet—no more
than Magritte’s painting is pipe
or Carlos’s poem, wheelable barrow,
is duff, duff.

Brown rabbit, who led us down this wonderpath,
has no words to tell. Where is your hole?

These woods I love and ask.
These woods I think I know.

Words known and lodged form
our questions and loves.

I say, I love this smell of duff.

Pamela Hobart Carter loves Seattle as much for its water and mountains as for its bustle and creativity. She explores the Emerald City daily while walking her dog. Carter used to be a teacher who wrote on the side. Now she is a writer who teaches on the side.