Last century we took a lot of shots Of what we did, framing things for Look and Life So we could see us and our lot Riveting the lattice of a skyline Or walking the I beams of infinite rooms Over Manhattan, Cleveland, Washington— Oh elevated light. We were amassing works—bridges and dams, Ike’s interstates, highrises; raising tons Out of a continent unfolding by Mountain and pit, plain and gradient river, The convex sky bottling cirrus highs And the steep cumuli of moody weather, Oh century of light. Back then we were stout realists working out All manner of the world as one-to-one, The aerials that Margaret Bourke-White got Of factories and bombed-out towns, Also the gaunt subtractive stares by Evans, Whose dust bowl poor became our luminous Internal weather. And then at Buchenwald there were those faces Of ourselves—fed guards, starved Poles and Jews, The citizens of Weimar just trucked in Bearing the stares of deformed children, As now our lenses focused on the krill And undertow of the swallowing real Weather of enlightenment. Add in atomic white, the napalm blind . . . An overbright disequilibrium Had settled in, a kind of countermind, Blind as those guards at Buchenwald, darkroom And looking up, gashed faces wide with fear, All interrogatives frozen where Someone holds a light For focusing Margaret Bourke-White; While the two guards, deserving or not, stripped To bloody underwear, still looking up In horror at what’s coming next, hear "Pop!" Thanks to the flash, so everyone will see Us taking our turn at victory, Oh century.
Wyatt Prunty - 1947-
1 Into the laterals and faults of strata Whose linear seams are like memory, Water wades its way, settling matters In small aquifers, incised meanders; Then floods over a landscape that teaches Plains are only so much sediment, Silt the slow ocean of any reach. Think travertine and serpentine mantel- high in living rooms, or kames and tills Scattered like loose change, the marvelous marble Of dolomite and metamorphic rock, Or granite now as coolingly aloof As someday overhead . . . small seismic self Feeling a gust rattle years through the roof. Meanwhile, there’s still the phone and mail, the door, And the reassuring fact the fault’s not yours As you’ve not budged. Not even the cat crosses the floor. Outside, the world’s continuum of nests Is full of cries announcing differences, While mineshaft down, the brittle shale of self Waits, certain of its own circumferences. One is colossus of one’s growing doubt, With ideas like past presidents profiled And floating enthusiastic shouts From old elections, conclusions of the will, The dehydrations of mere permanence. But high wing over shadow, how the world Doubles in its transience. 2 Resplendently fragile, more color than weight, As agile of flight as of changed habitat, The birds are choric in the fate Of their varieties; predictable Of habit and Darwinian choices, Myriad on one scale, and on another Essential and of but one in all. And voices, This side liquid whistles followed by a trill, While there, a series of clear carolings, Then the rapid whinnies of descending will While somewhere overhead a finch attempts All notes at once, as though to summarize The way limbs ladder up, step green to blue So shadows rise. But year on year, wing beat and season, Fattened or starved, silent or full Of migratory sass, one reason Brings each back, whether the same or no— Warbler and thrush, sparrow and finch, wren, jay, Thrasher and dove, tanager, waxwing, owl, crow, hawk . . . They light, feed, breed, migrate or stay. Calendar wise in their brief histories And vulnerable as any emigrants Searching to eat, they are geographies Of days, convergences of now, And needed if for nothing more than their arrival When, worthy that again we crane to see, They bring survival.