Indian Stream Republic

No one should be this alone—
none of the pines
in their prepotent verticals,

none of the unseen
hunters or blundering moose
who might stop by the empty lodge or the lake

as blue as if there had never been people
although there are people: a few
at the general store, and evidence of more

in clean vinyl siding, and down the extended street
a ruddy steel pole the height of a child, its plaque
remembering a place called Liberty

at Indian Stream
, 1832-35,
between the disputed boundaries
of Canada and New Hampshire, meant

as temporary, almost
content to remain its own.
Each household, their constitution said, could possess

one cow, one hog, one gun,
books, bedding and hay, seven sheep and their wool, secure
from attachment for debt no matter the cause.

The state militia came to set them right.
The legerdemain of the noon sun through needles and leaves,
revealing almost nothing, falls across

thin shadows, thin trace of American wheels and hands
for such high soil and such short reward:
the people... do hereby mutually agree

to form themselves into a body politic
by the name of Indian Stream, and in that capacity
to exercise all the powers of a sovereign

till such time as we can ascertain to what
government we properly belong.

More by Stephanie Burt

At the Providence Zoo

Like the Beatles arriving from Britain,
the egret's descent on the pond
takes the reeds and visitors by storm:
it is a reconstructed marsh
environment, the next
best thing to living out your wild life.

                  *

Footbridges love the past.
And like the Roman questioner who learned
"the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg,"
flamingos are pleased to ignore us. It is not known
whether that Roman could learn to eat upside-down,
by dragging his tremendous head through streams.

                  *

Comical, stately, the newly-watched tortoises
mate; one pushes the other over the grass,
their hemispheres clicking, on seven legs
in toto. Together they make
a Sydney opera house,
a concatenation of anapests, almost a waltz.

                  *

Confined if not preserved,
schoolteachers, their charges, vigilant lemurs, wrens
and prestidigitating tamarins,
and dangerous badgers like dignitaries stare
at one another, hot
and concave in their inappropriate coats.

Having watched a boa
eat a rat alive,
the shortest child does as she was told?
looks up, holds the right hand
of the buddy system, and stands,
as she explains it, "still as a piece of pie."

Silt

Things you know but can’t say,
the sort of things, or propositions
that build up week after week at the end of the day,

& have to be dredged
by the practical operators so that their grosser cargo
& barges & boxy schedules can stay.

The great shovels and beaks and the rolling gantries
of Long Beach, and of Elizabeth, New Jersey,
can keep their high and rigorous distinction
between on-time and late, between work and play.

“Since you excluded me, I will represent you,
not meanly but generously, with an attention
that is itself

a revenge, since it shows that I know you

better than you have ever known yourselves,

that if I could never have learned
how to be you, nor how to be
somebody you’d like to be very near, nevertheless

you could not do without me, or keep me away.”
 

White Lobelia

Little megaphones,
we hang out in the garden center and gossip
with the petunias three seasons a year.

With leaves too small to resemble
thumbs or hands or hearts, too soft
for any parts
of our threadable stems to grow thorns,
we prefer to pretend we are horns,
cornets and alto sax, prepared to assemble
in studios and sightread any charts.

We are of course for sale
to generous homes. Some of us have become
almost overfamiliar with ornamental
cabbage, with the ins and outs of kale.
Others have lost our voice
in a painstaking effort to justify our existence
as a perennial second choice.

Like you, we dismiss whatever comes easiest
to us and overestimate what looks hard.
In our case that means we admire
our neighbors’ luxuriant spontaneities
and treat the most patient preparers with disregard.

We strive for contentment in our
hanging baskets once
we know we will not touch ground.
We tell ourselves
and one another that if you listen
with sufficient
generosity, you will be able
to hear our distinctive and natural sound.