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The Armadillo

by
for Robert Lowell


This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height, rising toward a saint still honored in these parts, the paper chambers flush and fill with light that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it's hard to tell them from the stars-- planets, that is--the tinted ones: Venus going down, or Mars, or the pale green one.
With a wind, they flare and falter, wobble and toss; but if it's still they steer between the kite sticks of the Southern Cross, receding, dwindling, solemnly and steadily forsaking us, or, in the downdraft from a peak, suddenly turning dangerous.
Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down.
We saw the pair of owls who nest there flying up and up, their whirling black-and-white stained bright pink underneath, until they shrieked up out of sight.
The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone, a glistening armadillo left the scene, rose-flecked, head down, tail down, and then a baby rabbit jumped out, short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!--a handful of intangible ash with fixed, ignited eyes.
Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry! O falling fire and piercing cry and panic, and a weak mailed fist clenched ignorant against the sky!

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