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Prairie Schooner 80.2 (2006) 115-117

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The Poet as Landscape, and: Catbird, and: The Nest

The Poet as Landscape

Any fool can make a claim to be anonymous.
   But when a leg enters the stream cold climbs
to the brain and he feels general as light watching
   the narrow gorge littered with old car parts and cars.
A river heaves by somewhere out of sight
   in a kind of camouflage. From broken branches
a piece of clothing hangs as if it had just shed its occupant,
   turning away from him to its own tattered freedom,
just as the sun casts its own perspective and cracked shadows
   begin their trek back in and down. No one built this ravine.
Still it still curves away as if it had a plan, scratching a way
   where you can't tell if the flashing is water, glass,
teeth, or the glint of foil. To get in he's crept under the fence,
   beside Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted. He whistles
like a ventriloquist, pretending that time too doesn't
   have to come from anywhere, not from that snailshell
a thrush shatters, that hummingbird who could be anywhere,
   from woodpecker's braille or semaphore of the fractured rill.
He watches things pretend to be themselves. One good shoe,
   its owner driven off, performs its lonely office for the lost,
and that smooth blue slab of granite is a woman's belly
   tied to root and leafdrift, a phosphoric womb of entrances
and flow open to transfigured birds and snakes whose
   mouths flame. They will not spare him. He moves on.
He is all these motivations, these crossed-up immensities,
   staggering, breaking down to something coming through,
a composting of Ford and bathtub, dead cat and rabbit,
   and gnawing on them all a large black dog. [End Page 115]


Rump flashing in flight, as if
   trying to escape his own fire,
he's eager as a schoolboy on the ground,
   scrambling in leaflitter, kicking up
a brushpile, taking a worm, a beetle, or
   in the same movement a beakful
of dead moss to rush to the nest,
   running and hopping so fast among rocks
it seems he's flying, that rich gray
   not rock but moving it. To rest,
he sings on a low branch dug full
   of little holes a song that could be
the real thing but to some ears sounds
   like imitation. In any case, out comes
a cat swallowed aeons ago when cats
   were just being invented. And there's
the voice of Punch, ungreased wheels
   of the old red barrow, handfuls of crickets,
gunshots, tanagers, leaves. The game's
   to find and sort: what's detail, what theme?
He sits unbothered, grinding out his rhapsodies
   though clearly outclassed even by sparrow
and chickadee. There he goes again, jumping
   off one of his better quarter notes to spear
a flick among ferns and rake through
   the area, going after just about everything
there, or that ever crossed and entered,
   swallowing it and making it song. [End Page 116]

The Nest

I'm walking near the woods
   trying to remember who said
you don't own things, they
   own you, when I look down
and see something. Dropping
   to my knees, I watch fat yellow-
tinged bottoms disappear into
   the duststorms their wings stir up
as they push down to stuff
   the stony soil with sweetness
that keeps generations going.
   Others push up refreshed and
lightened, continuing the dance
   through a rich world studded
ultra-violet. I watch for what
   seem hours, silent, so to them
I'm maybe an unflowered tree,
   dull bark, or bank. I watch until
the mapled dark dims eyes that can
   no longer tell bee from dust
or stones. So I stand, stretch
   again, look around. A few ox-eyed
daisies glare from deep in white,
   and over all White Man Mountain
grasps at whatever the sun's left,
   holds, then has to let go. Silent
as an owl feather, I walk in the
   right direction, I think, back to
the small house I have just...


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