On the Skeleton of a Hound
Nightfall, that saw the morning-glories float Tendril and string against the crumbling wall, Nurses him now, his skeleton for grief, His locks for comfort curled among the leaf. Shuttles of moonlight weave his shadow tall, Milkweed and dew flow upward to his throat. Now catbird feathers plume the apple mound, And starlings drowse to winter up the ground. thickened away from speech by fear, I move Around the body. Over his forepaws, steep Declivities darken down the moonlight now, And the long throat that bayed a year ago Declines from summer. Flies would love to leap Between his eyes and hum away the space Between the ears, the hollow where a hare Could hide; another jealous dog would tumble The bones apart, angry, the shining crumble Of a great body gleaming in the air; Quivering pigeons foul his broken face. I can imagine men who search the earth For handy resurrections, overturn The body of a beetle in its grave; Whispering men digging for gods might delve A pocket for these bones, then slowly burn Twigs in the leaves, pray for another birth. But I will turn my face away from this Ruin of summer, collapse of fur and bone. For once a white hare huddled up the grass, The sparrows flocked away to see the race. I stood on darkness, clinging to a stone, I saw the two leaping alive on ice, On earth, on leaf, humus and withered vine: The rabbit splendid in a shroud of shade, The dog carved on the sunlight, on the air, Fierce and magnificent his rippled hair, The cockleburs shaking around his head. Then, suddenly, the hare leaped beyond pain Out of the open meadow, and the hound Followed the voiceless dancer to the moon, To dark, to death, to other meadows where Singing young women dance around a fire, Where love reveres the living. I alone Scatter this hulk about the dampened ground; And while the moon rises beyond me, throw The ribs and spine out of their perfect shape. For a last charm to the dead, I lift the skull And toss it over the maples like a ball. Strewn to the woods, now may that spirit sleep That flamed over the ground a year ago. I know the mole will heave a shinbone over, The earthworm snuggle for a nap on paws, The honest bees build honey in the head; The earth knows how to handle the great dead Who lived the body out, and broke its laws, Knocked down a fence, tore up a field of clover.
From Above the River: The Complete Poems by James Wright. Copyright © 1992 by the literary estate of James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.