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by Amy Clampitt |

Syrinx

 Like the foghorn that's all lung,
the wind chime that's all percussion,
like the wind itself, that's merely air
in a terrible fret, without so much
as a finger to articulate
what ails it, the aeolian
syrinx, that reed
in the throat of a bird,
when it comes to the shaping of
what we call consonants, is
too imprecise for consensus
about what it even seems to
be saying: is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?—
much less whether a bird's call
means anything in
particular, or at all.

Syntax comes last, there can be
no doubt of it: came last,
can be thought of (is
thought of by some) as a
higher form of expression:
is, in extremity, first to
be jettisoned: as the diva
onstage, all soaring
pectoral breathwork,
takes off, pure vowel
breaking free of the dry,
the merely fricative
husk of the particular, rises
past saying anything, any
more than the wind in
the trees, waves breaking,
or Homer's gibbering
Thespesiae iache:

those last-chance vestiges
above the threshold, the all-
but dispossessed of breath.


by Amy Clampitt |

On The Disadvantages Of Central Heating

 cold nights on the farm, a sock-shod
stove-warmed flatiron slid under
the covers, mornings a damascene-
sealed bizarrerie of fernwork
 decades ago now

waking in northwest London, tea
brought up steaming, a Peak Frean
biscuit alongside to be nibbled
as blue gas leaps up singing
 decades ago now

damp sheets in Dorset, fog-hung
habitat of bronchitis, of long
hot soaks in the bathtub, of nothing
quite drying out till next summer:
 delicious to think of

hassocks pulled in close, toasting-
forks held to coal-glow, strong-minded
small boys and big eager sheepdogs
muscling in on bookish profundities
 now quite forgotten

the farmhouse long sold, old friends
dead or lost track of, what's salvaged
is this vivid diminuendo, unfogged
by mere affect, the perishing residue
 of pure sensation


by Amy Clampitt |

Nothing Stays Put

 In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985


The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above—
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're 
made of, is motion.


by Amy Clampitt |

Salvage

 Daily the cortege of crumpled 
defunct cars 
goes by by the lasagna-
layered flatbed 
truckload: hardtop 

reverting to tar smudge,
wax shine antiqued to crusted 
winepress smear, 
windshield battered to
intact ice-tint, a rarity

fresh from the Pleistocene. 
I like it; privately 
I find esthetic 
satisfaction in these 
ceremonial removals

from the category of
received ideas
to regions where pigeons' 
svelte smoke-velvet
limousines, taxiing 

in whirligigs, reclaim 
a parking lot,
and the bag-laden
hermit woman, disencumbered 
of a greater incubus,

the crush of unexamined
attitudes, stoutly
follows her routine,
mining the mountainsides
of our daily refuse

for artifacts: subversive
re-establishing
with each arcane
trash-basket dig
the pleasures of the ruined.


by Amy Clampitt |

Fog

 A vagueness comes over everything,
as though proving color and contour
alike dispensable: the lighthouse
extinct, the islands' spruce-tips
drunk up like milk in the
universal emulsion; houses
reverting into the lost
and forgotten; granite
subsumed, a rumor
in a mumble of ocean.
 Tactile
definition, however, has not been
totally banished: hanging
tassel by tassel, panicled
foxtail and needlegrass,
dropseed, furred hawkweed,
and last season's rose-hips
are vested in silenced
chimes of the finest,
clearest sea-crystal.
 Opacity
opens up rooms, a showcase
for the hueless moonflower
corolla, as Georgia
O'Keefe might have seen it,
of foghorns; the nodding
campanula of bell buoys;
the ticking, linear
filigree of bird voices.


by Amy Clampitt |

Exmoor

 Lost aboard the roll of Kodac-
olor that was to have super-
seded all need to remember
Somerset were: a large flock

of winter-bedcover-thick-
pelted sheep up on the moor;
a stile, a church spire, 
and an excess, at Porlock,

of tenderly barbarous antique
thatch in tandem with flower-
beds, relentlessly pictur-
esque, along every sidewalk;

a millwheel; and a millbrook 
running down brown as beer.
Exempt from the disaster.
however, as either too quick

or too subtle to put on rec-
ord, were these: the flutter
of, beside the brown water,
with a butterfly-like flick

of fan-wings, a bright black-
and-yellow wagtail; at Dulver-
ton on the moor, the flavor
of the hot toasted teacake

drowning in melted butter
we had along with a bus-tour-
load of old people; the driver

's way of smothering every r
in the wool of a West Countr-
y diphthong, and as a Somer-

set man, the warmth he had for 
the high, wild, heather-
dank wold he drove us over.


by Amy Clampitt |

Easter Morning

 a stone at dawn
cold water in the basin
these walls' rough plaster
imageless
after the hammering
of so much insistence
on the need for naming
after the travesties
that passed as faces,
grace: the unction
of sheer nonexistence
upwelling in this
hyacinthine freshet
of the unnamed
the faceless


by Amy Clampitt |

Beach Glass

 While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning. The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent 
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
 It behaves
toward the permutations of novelty—
driftwood and shipwreck, last night's
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic—with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
ot touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over. For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
 The houses
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it's hopeless
to know which to salvage. Instead
I keep a lookout for beach glass—
amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I'm afraid) Phillips'
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
 The process
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel, 
along with treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.


by Amy Clampitt |

A Silence

 past parentage or gender
beyond sung vocables
the slipped-between
the so infinitesimal
fault line
a limitless
interiority

beyond the woven
unicorn the maiden
(man-carved worm-eaten)
God at her hip
incipient
the untransfigured
cottontail
bluebell and primrose
growing wild a strawberry
chagrin night terrors
past the earthlit
unearthly masquerade

(we shall be changed)

a silence opens

 *

the larval feeder
naked hairy ravenous
inventing from within
itself its own
raw stuffs'
hooked silk-hung
relinquishment

behind the mask
the milkfat shivering
sinew isinglass
uncrumpling transient
greed to reinvest

 *

names have been
given (revelation
kif nirvana
syncope) for
whatever gift
unasked
gives birth to

torrents
fixities
reincarnations of
the angels
Joseph Smith
enduring
martyrdom

a cavernous
compunction driving
founder-charlatans
who saw in it
the infinite
love of God
and had
(George Fox
was one)
great openings


by Amy Clampitt |

A Hermit Thrush

 Nothing's certain. Crossing, on this longest day, 
the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up 
the scree-slope of what at high tide
will be again an island,

to where, a decade since well-being staked 
the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us 
back, year after year, lugging the 
makings of another picnic—

the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified
fig newtons—there's no knowing what the slamming 
seas, the gales of yet another winter
may have done. Still there,

the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree, 
the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass 
and clover tuffet underneath it, 
edges frazzled raw

but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding. 
Whatever moral lesson might commend itself, 
there's no use drawing one, 
there's nothing here

to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue 
(holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or 
any no-more-than-human tendency—
stubborn adherence, say,

to a wholly wrongheaded tenet. Though to 
hold on in any case means taking less and less 
for granted, some few things seem nearly 
certain, as that the longest day

will come again, will seem to hold its breath, 
the months-long exhalation of diminishment 
again begin. Last night you woke me
for a look at Jupiter,

that vast cinder wheeled unblinking
in a bath of galaxies. Watching, we traveled
toward an apprehension all but impossible
to be held onto—

that no point is fixed, that there's no foothold
but roams untethered save by such snells, 
such sailor's knots, such stays
and guy wires as are

mainly of our own devising. From such an 
empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us
to look down on all attachment,
on any bonding, as

in the end untenable. Base as it is, from 
year to year the earth's sore surface
mends and rebinds itself, however
and as best it can, with

thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta
beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings,
mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green
bayberry's cool poultice—

and what can't finally be mended, the salt air
proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage
of the seaward spruce clump weathers
lustrous, to wood-silver.

Little is certain, other than the tide that
circumscribes us that still sets its term
to every picnic—today we stayed too long
again, and got our feet wet—

and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps,
a broken, a much-mended thing. Watching
the longest day take cover under
a monk's-cowl overcast,

with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a 
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or 
the wells within?) such links perceived arrive—
diminished sequences so uninsistingly
not even human—there's

hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this 
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing.