A Hermit Thrush

Amy Clampitt
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.

More by Amy Clampitt

On the Disadvantages of Central Heating

cold nights on the farm, a sock-shod
stove-warmed flatiron slid under
the covers, mornings a damascene-
sealed bizarrerie of fernwork
        decades ago now

waking in northwest London, tea
brought up steaming, a Peak Frean
biscuit alongside to be nibbled
as blue gas leaps up singing
        decades ago now

damp sheets in Dorset, fog-hung
habitat of bronchitis, of long
hot soaks in the bathtub, of nothing
quite drying out till next summer:
        delicious to think of

hassocks pulled in close, toasting-
forks held to coal-glow, strong-minded
small boys and big eager sheepdogs
muscling in on bookish profundities
        now quite forgotten

the farmhouse long sold, old friends
dead or lost track of, what's salvaged
is this vivid diminuendo, unfogged
by mere affect, the perishing residue
        of pure sensation

Easter Morning

a stone at dawn
cold water in the basin
these walls' rough plaster
imageless
after the hammering
of so much insistence
on the need for naming
after the travesties
that passed as faces,
grace: the unction
of sheer nonexistence
upwelling in this
hyacinthine freshet
of the unnamed
the faceless

Salvage

     
Daily the cortege of crumpled 
defunct cars 
goes by by the lasagna-
layered flatbed 
truckload: hardtop 

reverting to tar smudge,
wax shine antiqued to crusted 
winepress smear, 
windshield battered to
intact ice-tint, a rarity

fresh from the Pleistocene. 
I like it; privately 
I find esthetic 
satisfaction in these 
ceremonial removals

from the category of
received ideas
to regions where pigeons' 
svelte smoke-velvet
limousines, taxiing 

in whirligigs, reclaim 
a parking lot,
and the bag-laden
hermit woman, disencumbered 
of a greater incubus,

the crush of unexamined
attitudes, stoutly
follows her routine,
mining the mountainsides
of our daily refuse

for artifacts: subversive
re-establishing
with each arcane
trash-basket dig
the pleasures of the ruined.