The Great Black Heron
Since I stroll in the woods more often than on this frequented path, it's usually trees I observe; but among fellow humans what I like best is to see an old woman fishing alone at the end of a jetty, hours on end, plainly content. The Russians mushroom-hunting after a rain trail after themselves a world of red sarafans, nightingales, samovars, stoves to sleep on (though without doubt those are not what they can remember). Vietnamese families fishing or simply sitting as close as they can to the water, make me recall that lake in Hanoi in the amber light, our first, jet-lagged evening, peace in the war we had come to witness. This woman engaged in her pleasure evokes an entire culture, tenacious field-flower growing itself among the rows of cotton in red-earth country, under the feet of mules and masters. I see her a barefoot child by a muddy river learning her skill with the pole. What battles has she survived, what labors? She's gathered up all the time in the world —nothing else—and waits for scanty trophies, complete in herself as a heron.
By Denise Levertov, from Sands of the Well. Copyright © 1996 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.