A Hermit Thrush
Nothing's certain. Crossing, on this longest day, the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up the scree-slope of what at high tide will be again an island, to where, a decade since well-being staked the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us back, year after year, lugging the makings of another picnic-- the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified fig newtons--there's no knowing what the slamming seas, the gales of yet another winter may have done. Still there, the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree, the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass and clover tuffet underneath it, edges frazzled raw but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding. Whatever moral lesson might commend itself, there's no use drawing one, there's nothing here to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue (holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or any no-more-than-human tendency-- stubborn adherence, say, to a wholly wrongheaded tenet. Though to hold on in any case means taking less and less for granted, some few things seem nearly certain, as that the longest day will come again, will seem to hold its breath, the months-long exhalation of diminishment again begin. Last night you woke me for a look at Jupiter, that vast cinder wheeled unblinking in a bath of galaxies. Watching, we traveled toward an apprehension all but impossible to be held onto-- that no point is fixed, that there's no foothold but roams untethered save by such snells, such sailor's knots, such stays and guy wires as are mainly of our own devising. From such an empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us to look down on all attachment, on any bonding, as in the end untenable. Base as it is, from year to year the earth's sore surface mends and rebinds itself, however and as best it can, with thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings, mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green bayberry's cool poultice-- and what can't finally be mended, the salt air proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage of the seaward spruce clump weathers lustrous, to wood-silver. Little is certain, other than the tide that circumscribes us that still sets its term to every picnic--today we stayed too long again, and got our feet wet-- and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps, a broken, a much-mended thing. Watching the longest day take cover under a monk's-cowl overcast, with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting, we drop everything to listen as a hermit thrush distills its fragmentary, hesitant, in the end unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or the wells within?) such links perceived arrive-- diminished sequences so uninsistingly not even human--there's hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain as we are of so much in this existence, this botched, cumbersome, much-mended, not unsatisfactory thing.
From The Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1997 by the Literary Estate of Amy Clampitt. Used by permission. All rights reserved.