You know what it is to be born alone, Baby tortoise! The first day to heave your feet little by little from the shell, Not yet awake, And remain lapsed on earth, Not quite alive. A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean. To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would never open Like some iron door; To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base And reach your skinny neck And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage, Alone, small insect, Tiny bright-eye, Slow one. To take your first solitary bite And move on your slow, solitary hunt. Your bright, dark little eye, Your eye of a dark disturbed night, Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise, So indomitable. No one ever heard you complain. You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little wimple And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four-pinned toes, Rowing slowly forward. Wither away, small bird? Rather like a baby working its limbs, Except that you make slow, ageless progress And a baby makes none. The touch of sun excites you, And the long ages, and the lingering chill Make you pause to yawn, Opening your impervious mouth, Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly gaping pincers; Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums, Then close the wedge of your little mountain front, Your face, baby tortoise. Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head in its wimple And look with laconic, black eyes? Or is sleep coming over you again, The non-life? You are so hard to wake. Are you able to wonder? Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the first life Looking round And slowly pitching itself against the inertia Which had seemed invincible? The vast inanimate, And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye, Challenger. Nay, tiny shell-bird. What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row against, What an incalculable inertia. Challenger, Little Ulysses, fore-runner, No bigger than my thumb-nail, Buon viaggio. All animate creation on your shoulder, Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield. The ponderous, preponderate, Inanimate universe; And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone. How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled sunshine, Stoic, Ulyssean atom; Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes. Voiceless little bird, Resting your head half out of your wimple In the slow dignity of your eternal pause. Alone, with no sense of being alone, And hence six times more solitary; Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages Your little round house in the midst of chaos. Over the garden earth, Small bird, Over the edge of all things. Traveller, With your tail tucked a little on one side Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat. All life carried on your shoulder, Invincible fore-runner.
For Robert Lowell
This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,
rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars—
planets, that is—the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,
or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,
receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.
Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair
of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.
The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,
and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!—a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.
Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
1 In late winter I sometimes glimpse bits of steam coming up from some fault in the old snow and bend close and see it is lung-colored and put down my nose and know the chilly, enduring odor of bear. 2 I take a wolf's rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears. And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth. And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world. At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl-marks where he lay out on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice I lie out dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists. 3 On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise and go on running. 4 On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind. I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died. I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep. 5 And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan. 6 Until one day I totter and fall— fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance. And I lie still. 7 I awaken I think. Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway. In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue. And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out, the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?
Right under their noses, the green Of the field is paling away Because of something fallen from the sky. They see this, and put down Their long heads deeper in grass That only just escapes reflecting them As the dream of a millpond would. The color green flees over the grass Like an insect, following the red sun over The next hill. The grass is white. There is no cloud so dark and white at once; There is no pool at dawn that deepens Their faces and thirsts as this does. Now they are feeding on solid Cloud, and, one by one, With nails as silent as stars among the wood Hewed down years ago and now rotten, The stalls are put up around them. Now if they lean, they come On wood on any side. Not touching it, they sleep. No beast ever lived who understood What happened among the sun's fields, Or cared why the color of grass Fled over the hill while he stumbled, Led by the halter to sleep On his four taxed, worthy legs. Each thinks he awakens where The sun is black on the rooftop, That the green is dancing in the next pasture, And that the way to sleep In a cloud, or in a risen lake, Is to walk as though he were still in the drained field standing, head down, To pretend to sleep when led, And thus to go under the ancient white Of the meadow, as green goes And whiteness comes up through his face Holding stars and rotten rafters, Quiet, fragrant, and relieved.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little lamb, I'll tell thee;
Little lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,
Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.
Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.
Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.
The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.
Ten minutes later I dropped the mother. She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next. O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.
There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form. I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
I had a Donkey, that was all right, But he always wanted to fly my Kite; Every time I let him, the String would bust. Your Donkey is better behaved, I trust.
Suppose the Ceiling went Outside And then caught Cold and Up and Died? The only Thing we'd have for Proof That he was Gone, would be the Roof; I think it would be Most Revealing To find out how the Ceiling's Feeling.
A funny thing about a Chair: You hardly ever think it's there. To know a Chair is really it, You sometimes have to go and sit.
A Head or Tail—which does he lack? I think his Forward's coming back! He lives on Carrots, Leeks and Hay; He starts to yawn—it takes All Day— Some time I think I'll live that way.
The Time to Tickle a Lizard, Is Before, or Right After, a Blizzard. Now the place to begin Is just under his Chin,— And here's more Advice: Don't Poke more than Twice At an Intimate Place like his Gizzard.
Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.
For Grace Bulmer Bowers
From narrow provinces of fish and bread and tea, home of the long tides where the bay leaves the sea twice a day and takes the herrings long rides, where if the river enters or retreats in a wall of brown foam depends on if it meets the bay coming in, the bay not at home; where, silted red, sometimes the sun sets facing a red sea, and others, veins the flats' lavender, rich mud in burning rivulets; on red, gravelly roads, down rows of sugar maples, past clapboard farmhouses and neat, clapboard churches, bleached, ridged as clamshells, past twin silver birches, through late afternoon a bus journeys west, the windshield flashing pink, pink glancing off of metal, brushing the dented flank of blue, beat-up enamel; down hollows, up rises, and waits, patient, while a lone traveller gives kisses and embraces to seven relatives and a collie supervises. Goodbye to the elms, to the farm, to the dog. The bus starts. The light grows richer; the fog, shifting, salty, thin, comes closing in. Its cold, round crystals form and slide and settle in the white hens' feathers, in gray glazed cabbages, on the cabbage roses and lupins like apostles; the sweet peas cling to their wet white string on the whitewashed fences; bumblebees creep inside the foxgloves, and evening commences. One stop at Bass River. Then the Economies Lower, Middle, Upper; Five Islands, Five Houses, where a woman shakes a tablecloth out after supper. A pale flickering. Gone. The Tantramar marshes and the smell of salt hay. An iron bridge trembles and a loose plank rattles but doesn't give way. On the left, a red light swims through the dark: a ship's port lantern. Two rubber boots show, illuminated, solemn. A dog gives one bark. A woman climbs in with two market bags, brisk, freckled, elderly. "A grand night. Yes, sir, all the way to Boston." She regards us amicably. Moonlight as we enter the New Brunswick woods, hairy, scratchy, splintery; moonlight and mist caught in them like lamb's wool on bushes in a pasture. The passengers lie back. Snores. Some long sighs. A dreamy divagation begins in the night, a gentle, auditory, slow hallucination. . . . In the creakings and noises, an old conversation --not concerning us, but recognizable, somewhere, back in the bus: Grandparents' voices uninterruptedly talking, in Eternity: names being mentioned, things cleared up finally; what he said, what she said, who got pensioned; deaths, deaths and sicknesses; the year he remarried; the year (something) happened. She died in childbirth. That was the son lost when the schooner foundered. He took to drink. Yes. She went to the bad. When Amos began to pray even in the store and finally the family had to put him away. "Yes . . ." that peculiar affirmative. "Yes . . ." A sharp, indrawn breath, half groan, half acceptance, that means "Life's like that. We know it (also death)." Talking the way they talked in the old featherbed, peacefully, on and on, dim lamplight in the hall, down in the kitchen, the dog tucked in her shawl. Now, it's all right now even to fall asleep just as on all those nights. --Suddenly the bus driver stops with a jolt, turns off his lights. A moose has come out of the impenetrable wood and stands there, looms, rather, in the middle of the road. It approaches; it sniffs at the bus's hot hood. Towering, antlerless, high as a church, homely as a house (or, safe as houses). A man's voice assures us "Perfectly harmless. . . ." Some of the passengers exclaim in whispers, childishly, softly, "Sure are big creatures." "It's awful plain." "Look! It's a she!" Taking her time, she looks the bus over, grand, otherworldly. Why, why do we feel (we all feel) this sweet sensation of joy? "Curious creatures," says our quiet driver, rolling his r's. "Look at that, would you." Then he shifts gears. For a moment longer, by craning backward, the moose can be seen on the moonlit macadam; then there's a dim smell of moose, an acrid smell of gasoline.
Under this loop of honeysuckle, A creeping, coloured caterpillar, I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray, I nibble it leaf by leaf away. Down beneath grow dandelions, Daisies, old-man's-looking-glasses; Rooks flap croaking across the lane. I eat and swallow and eat again. Here come raindrops helter-skelter; I munch and nibble unregarding: Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm. I'll mind my business: I'm a good worm. When I'm old, tired, melancholy, I'll build a leaf-green mausoleum Close by, here on this lovely spray, And die and dream the ages away. Some say worms win resurrection, With white wings beating flitter-flutter, But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care? Either way I'll miss my share. Under this loop of honeysuckle, A hungry, hairy caterpillar, I crawl on my high and swinging seat, And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign, Sails the unshadowed main, The venturous bark that flings On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings, And coral reefs lie bare, Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair. Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl; Wrecked is the ship of pearl! And every chambered cell, Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell, As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell, Before thee lies revealed, Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed! Year after year beheld the silent toil That spread his lustrous coil; Still, as the spiral grew, He left the past year's dwelling for the new, Stole with soft step its shining archway through, Built up its idle door, Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more. Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee, Child of the wandering sea, Cast from her lap, forlorn! From thy dead lips a clearer note is born Than ever Triton blew from wreathéd horn! While on mine ear it rings, Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings: Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul, As the swift seasons roll! Leave thy low-vaulted past! Let each new temple, nobler than the last, Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, Till thou at length art free, Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!
The saris go by me from the embassies. Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet. They look back at the leopard like the leopard. And I. . . . this print of mine, that has kept its color Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so To my bed, so to my grave, with no Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief, The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief-- Only I complain. . . . this serviceable Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns, Wavy beneath fountains--small, far-off, shining In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap, Aging, but without knowledge of their age, Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death-- Oh, bars of my own body, open, open! The world goes by my cage and never sees me. And there come not to me, as come to these, The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas' grain, Pigeons settling on the bears' bread, buzzards Tearing the meat the flies have clouded. . . . Vulture, When you come for the white rat that the foxes left, Take off the red helmet of your head, the black Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man: The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn, To whose hand of power the great lioness Stalks, purring. . . . You know what I was, You see what I am: change me, change me!
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done—
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"
The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead—
There were no birds to fly.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"
"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
"0 Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said;
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head—
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.
But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat—
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more and more and more—
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."
"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.
"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—
Now, if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."
"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said,
"Do you admire the view?
"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf—
I've had to ask you twice!"
"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick.
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
"0 Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none—
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds, Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding The last tumultuous avalanche of Light above pines and the guttural gorge, The hawk comes. His wing Scythes down another day, his motion Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear The crashless fall of stalks of Time. The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error. Look! Look! he is climbing the last light Who knows neither Time nor error, and under Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings Into shadow. Long now, The last thrush is still, the last bat Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom Is ancient, too, and immense. The star Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain. If there were no wind we might, we think, hear The earth grind on its axis, or history Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Above the concourse, from a beam, A little warbler pours forth song. Beneath him, hurried humans stream: Some draw wheeled suitcases along Or from a beeping belt or purse Apply a cell phone to an ear; Some pause at banks of monitors Where times and gates for flights appear. Although by nature flight-endowed, He seems too gentle to reproach These souls who soon will climb through cloud In first class, business class, and coach. He may feel that it's his mistake He’s here, but someone ought to bring A net to catch and help him make His own connections north to spring. He cheeps and trills on, swift and sweet, Though no one outside hears his strains. There, telescopic tunnels greet The cheeks of their arriving planes; A ground crew welcomes and assists Luggage that skycaps, treating bags Like careful ornithologists, Banded with destination tags.
The world below the brine, Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves, Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle, openings, and pink turf, Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water, Dumb swimmers there among the rocks,coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers, Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom, The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes, The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray, Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do, The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere, The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.
Memory: I can take my head and strike it on a wall on Cumberland Island
Where the night tide came crawling under the stairs came up the first
Two or three steps and the cottage stood on poles all night
With the sea sprawled under it as we dreamed of the great fin circling
Under the bedroom floor. In daylight there was my first brassy taste of beer
And Payton Ford and I came back from the Glynn County slaughterhouse
With a bucket of entrails and blood. We tied one end of a hawser
To a spindling porch-pillar and rowed straight out of the house
Three hundred yards into the vast front yard of windless blue water
The rope out slithering its coil the two-gallon jug stoppered and sealed
With wax and a ten-foot chain leader a drop-forged shark-hook nestling.
We cast our blood on the waters the land blood easily passing
For sea blood and we sat in it for a moment with the stain spreading
Out from the boat sat in a new radiance in the pond of blood in the sea
Waiting for fins waiting to spill our guts also in the glowing water.
We dumped the bucket, and baited the hook with a run-over collie pup. The jug
Bobbed, trying to shake off the sun as a dog would shake off the sea.
We rowed to the house feeling the same water lift the boat a new way,
All the time seeing where we lived rise and dip with the oars.
We tied up and sat down in rocking chairs, one eye on the other responding
To the blue-eye wink of the jug. Payton got us a beer and we sat
All morning sat there with blood on our minds the red mark out
In the harbor slowly failing us then the house groaned the rope
Sprang out of the water splinters flew we leapt from our chairs
And grabbed the rope hauled did nothing the house coming subtly
Apart all around us underfoot boards beginning to sparkle like sand
Pulling out the tarred poles we slept propped-up on leaning to sea
As in land-wind crabs scuttling from under the floor as we took runs about
Two more porch-pillars and looked out and saw something a fish-flash
An almighty fin in trouble a moiling of secret forces a false start
Of water a round wave growing in the whole of Cumberland Sound the one ripple.
Payton took off without a word I could not hold him either
But clung to the rope anyway it was the whole house bending
Its nails that held whatever it was coming in a little and like a fool
I took up the slack on my wrist. The rope drew gently jerked I lifted
Clean off the porch and hit the water the same water it was in
I felt in blue blazing terror at the bottom of the stairs and scrambled
Back up looking desperately into the human house as deeply as I could
Stopping my gaze before it went out the wire screen of the back door
Stopped it on the thistled rattan the rugs I lay on and read
On my mother's sewing basket with next winter's socks spilling from it
The flimsy vacation furniture a bucktoothed picture of myself.
Payton came back with three men from a filling station and glanced at me
Dripping water inexplicable then we all grabbed hold like a tug-of-war.
We were gaining a little from us a cry went up from everywhere
People came running. Behind us the house filled with men and boys.
On the third step from the sea I took my place looking down the rope
Going into the ocean, humming and shaking off drops. A houseful
Of people put their backs into it going up the steps from me
Into the living room through the kitchen down the back stairs
Up and over a hill of sand across a dust road and onto a raised field
Of dunes we were gaining the rope in my hands began to be wet
With deeper water all other haulers retreated through the house
But Payton and I on the stairs drawing hand over hand on our blood
Drawing into existence by the nose a huge body becoming
A hammerhead rolling in beery shallows and I began to let up
But the rope strained behind me the town had gone
Pulling-mad in our house far away in a field of sand they struggled
They had turned their backs on the sea bent double some on their knees
The rope over their shoulders like a bag of gold they strove for the ideal
Esso station across the scorched meadow with the distant fish coming up
The front stairs the sagging boards still coming in up taking
Another step toward the empty house where the rope stood straining
By itself through the rooms in the middle of the air. "Pass the word,"
Payton said, and I screamed it "Let up, good God, let up!" to no one there.
The shark flopped on the porch, grating with salt-sand driving back in
The nails he had pulled out coughing chunks of his formless blood.
The screen door banged and tore off he scrambled on his tail slid
Curved did a thing from another world and was out of his element and in
Our vacation paradise cutting all four legs from under the dinner table
With one deep-water move he unwove the rugs in a moment throwing pints
Of blood over everything we owned knocked the buckteeth out of my picture
His odd head full of crashed jelly-glass splinters and radio tubes thrashing
Among the pages of fan magazines all the movie stars drenched in sea-blood
Each time we thought he was dead he struggled back and smashed
One more thing in all coming back to die three or four more times after death.
At last we got him out logrolling him greasing his sandpaper skin
With lard to slide him pulling on his chained lips as the tide came,
Tumbled him down the steps as the first night wave went under the floor.
He drifted off head back belly white as the moon. What could I do but buy
That house for the one black mark still there against death a forehead-
toucher in the room he circles beneath and has been invited to wreck?
Blood hard as iron on the wall black with time still bloodlike
Can be touched whenever the brow is drunk enough. All changes. Memory:
Something like three-dimensional dancing in the limbs with age
Feeling more in two worlds than one in all worlds the growing encounters.
Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us, And black are the waters that sparkled so green. The moon, o'er the combers, looks downward to find us At rest in the hollows that rustle between. Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow; Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease! The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee, Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.
About the Shark, phlegmatical one, Pale sot of the Maldive sea, The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim, How alert in attendance be. From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw They have nothing of harm to dread, But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank Or before his Gorgonian head; Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth In white triple tiers of glittering gates, And there find a haven when peril’s abroad, An asylum in jaws of the Fates! They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey, Yet never partake of the treat— Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull, Pale ravener of horrible meat.
The elephant, the huge old beast, is slow to mate; he finds a female, they show no haste they wait for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts slowly, slowly to rouse as they loiter along the river-beds and drink and browse and dash in panic through the brake of forest with the herd, and sleep in massive silence, and wake together, without a word. So slowly the great hot elephant hearts grow full of desire, and the great beasts mate in secret at last, hiding their fire. Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts so they know at last how to wait for the loneliest of feasts for the full repast. They do not snatch, they do not tear; their massive blood moves as the moon-tides, near, more near till they touch in flood.
The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on and the horse looks at him in silence. They are so silent, they are in another world.
For weeks he’s tunneled his intricate need Through the root-rich, fibrous, humoral dark, Buckling up in zagged illegibles The cuneiforms and cursives of a blind scribe. Sleeved by soft earth, a slow reach knuckling, Small tributaries open from his nudge— Mild immigrant, bland isolationist, Berm builder edging the runneling world. But now the snow, and he’s gone quietly deep, Nuzzling through a muzzy neighborhood Of dead-end-street, abandoned cul-de-sac, And boltrun from a dead-leaf, roundhouse burrow. May he emerge four months from this as before, Myopic master of the possible, Wise one who understands prudential ground, Revisionist of all things green; So when he surfaces, lumplike, bashful, Quizzical as the flashbulb blind who wait For color to return, he’ll nose our green- rich air with the imperative poise of now.
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. Í say móre: the just man justices; Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is— Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.