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Skunk Hour

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop.
Her farmer is first selectman in our village; she's in her dotage.
Thirsting for the hierarchic privacy of Queen Victoria's century she buys up all the eyesores facing her shore and lets them fall.
The season's ill-- we've lost our summer millionaire who seemed to leap from an L.
L.
Bean catalogue.
His nine-knot yawl was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.
And bow our fairy decorator brightens his shop for fall; his fishnet's filled with orange cork orange his cobbler's bench and awl; there is no money in his work he'd rather marry.
One dark night my Tutor Ford climbed the hill's skull; I watched for love-cars.
Lights turned down they lay together hull to hull where the graveyard shelves on the town.
.
.
.
My mind's not right.
A car radio bleats "Love, O careless Love.
.
.
.
" I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, as if my hand were at its throat.
.
.
.
I myself am hell; nobody's here-- only skunks, that search in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street: white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire under the chalk-dry and spar spire of the Trinitarian Church.
I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air-- a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare.

by Robert Lowell
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