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A Country Life

 A bird that I don't know,
Hunched on his light-pole like a scarecrow,
Looks sideways out into the wheat
The wind waves under the waves of heat.
The field is yellow as egg-bread dough Except where (just as though they'd let It live for looks) a locust billows In leaf-green and shade-violet, A standing mercy.
The bird calls twice, "Red clay, red clay"; Or else he's saying, "Directly, directly.
" If someone came by I could ask, Around here all of them must know -- And why they live so and die so -- Or why, for once, the lagging heron Flaps from the little creek's parched cresses Across the harsh-grassed, gullied meadow To the black, rowed evergreens below.
They know and they don't know.
To ask, a man must be a stranger -- And asking, much more answering, is dangerous; Asked about it, who would not repent Of all he ever did and never meant, And think a life and its distresses, Its random, clutched-for, homefelt blisses, The circumstances of an accident? The farthest farmer in a field, A gaunt plant grown, for seed, by farmers, Has felt a longing, lorn urbanity Jailed in his breast; and, just as I, Has grunted, in his old perplexity, A standing plea.
From the tar of the blazing square The eyes shift, in their taciturn And unavowing, unavailable sorrow.
Yet the intonation of a name confesses Some secrets that they never meant To let out to a soul; and what words would not dim The bowed and weathered heads above the denim Or the once-too-often washed wash dresses? They are subdued to their own element.
One day The red, clay face Is lowered to the naked clay; After some words, the body is forsaken The shadows lengthen, and a dreaming hope Breathes, from the vague mound, Life; From the grove under the spire Stars shine, and a wandering light Is kindled for the mourner, man.
The angel kneeling with the wreath Sees, in the moonlight, graves.

Poem by Randall Jarrell
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Book: Shattered Sighs