John Trumbull |
In elder days, in Saturn's prime,
Ere baldness seized the head of Time,
While truant Jove, in infant pride,
Play'd barefoot on Olympus' side,
Each thing on earth had power to chatter,
And spoke the mother tongue of nature.
Each stock or stone could prate and gabble,
Worse than ten labourers of Babel.
Along the street, perhaps you'd see
A Post disputing with a Tree,
And mid their arguments of weight,
A Goose sit umpire of debate.
Each Dog you met, though speechless now,
Would make his compliments and bow,
And every Swine with congees come,
To know how did all friends at home.
Each Block sublime could make a speech,
In style and eloquence as rich,
And could pronounce it and could pen it,
As well as Chatham in the senate.
Nor prose alone.
--In these young times,
Each field was fruitful too in rhymes;
Each feather'd minstrel felt the passion,
And every wind breathed inspiration.
Each Bullfrog croak'd in loud bombastic,
Each Monkey chatter'd Hudibrastic;
Each Cur, endued with yelping nature,
Could outbark Churchill's self in satire;
Each Crow in prophecy delighted,
Each Owl, you saw, was second-sighted,
Each Goose a skilful politician,
Each Ass a gifted met'physician,
Could preach in wrath 'gainst laughing rogues,
Write Halfway-covenant Dialogues,
And wisely judge of all disputes
In commonwealths of men or brutes.
'Twas then, in spring a youthful Sparrow
Felt the keen force of Cupid's arrow:
For Birds, as Æsop's tales avow,
Made love then, just as men do now,
And talk'd of deaths and flames and darts,
And breaking necks and losing hearts;
And chose from all th' aerial kind,
Not then to tribes, like Jews, confined
The story tells, a lovely Thrush
Had smit him from a neigh'bring bush,
Where oft the young coquette would play,
And carol sweet her siren lay:
She thrill'd each feather'd heart with love,
And reign'd the Toast of all the grove.
He felt the pain, but did not dare
Disclose his passion to the fair;
For much he fear'd her conscious pride
Of race, to noble blood allied.
Her grandsire's nest conspicuous stood,
Mid loftiest branches of the wood,
In airy height, that scorn'd to know
Each flitting wing that waved below.
So doubting, on a point so nice
He deem'd it best to take advice.
Hard by there dwelt an aged Owl,
Of all his friends the gravest fowl;
Who from the cares of business free,
Lived, hermit, in a hollow tree;
To solid learning bent his mind,
In trope and syllogism he shined,
'Gainst reigning follies spent his railing;
Too much a Stoic--'twas his failing.
Hither for aid our Sparrow came,
And told his errand and his name,
With panting breath explain'd his case,
Much trembling at the sage's face;
And begg'd his Owlship would declare
If love were worth a wise one's care.
The grave Owl heard the weighty cause,
And humm'd and hah'd at every pause;
Then fix'd his looks in sapient plan,
Stretch'd forth one foot, and thus began.
"My son, my son, of love beware,
And shun the cheat of beauty's snare;
That snare more dreadful to be in,
Than huntsman's net, or horse-hair gin.
"By others' harms learn to be wise,"
As ancient proverbs well advise.
Each villany, that nature breeds,
From females and from love proceeds.
'Tis love disturbs with fell debate
Of man and beast the peaceful state:
Men fill the world with war's alarms,
When female trumpets sound to arms;
The commonwealth of dogs delight
For beauties, as for bones, to fight.
Love hath his tens of thousands slain,
And heap'd with copious death the plain:
Samson, with ass's jaw to aid,
Ne'er peopled thus th'infernal shade.
"Nor this the worst; for he that's dead,
With love no more will vex his head.
'Tis in the rolls of fate above,
That death's a certain cure for love;
A noose can end the cruel smart;
The lover's leap is from a cart.
But oft a living death they bear,
Scorn'd by the proud, capricious fair.
The fair to sense pay no regard,
And beauty is the fop's reward;
They slight the generous hearts' esteem,
And sigh for those, who fly from them.
Just when your wishes would prevail,
Some rival bird with gayer tail,
Who sings his strain with sprightlier note,
And chatters praise with livelier throat,
Shall charm your flutt'ring fair one down,
And leave your choice, to hang or drown.
Ev'n I, my son, have felt the smart;
A Pheasant won my youthful heart.
For her I tuned the doleful lay,
For her I watch'd the night away;
In vain I told my piteous case,
And smooth'd my dignity of face;
In vain I cull'd the studied phrase,
And sought hard words in beauty's praise.
Her, not my charms nor sense could move,
For folly is the food of love.
Each female scorns our serious make,
"Each woman is at heart a rake.
Thus Owls in every age have said,
Since our first parent-owl was made;
Thus Pope and Swift, to prove their sense,
Shall sing, some twenty ages hence;
Then shall a man of little fame,
One ** **** sing the same.
Edgar Bowers |
Every month or so, Sundays, we walked the line,
The limit and the boundary.
Past the sweet gum
Superb above the cabin, along the wall—
Stones gathered from the level field nearby
When first we cleared it.
Stung the two mules.
Thirteen, I ran.
And then the field: thread-leaf maple, deciduous
Magnolia, hybrid broom, and, further down,
In light shade, one Franklinia Alatamaha
In solstice bloom, all white, most graciously.
On the sunnier slope, the wild plums that my mother
Later would make preserves of, to give to friends
Or sell, in autumn, with the foxgrape, quince,
Elderberry, and muscadine.
The granite overhang, moist den of foxes;
Gradually up a long hill, high in pine,
Park-like, years of dry needles on the ground,
And dogwood, slopes the settlers terraced; pine
We cut at Christmas, berries, hollies, anise,
And cones for sale in Mister Haymore’s yard
In town, below the Courthouse Square.
One of the two good teachers at Boys’ High,
Ironic and demanding, chemistry;
Mary Lou Culver taught us English: essays,
Plot summaries, outlines, meters, kinds of clauses
(Noun, adjective, and adverb, five at a time),
Written each day and then revised, and she
Up half the night to read them once again
Through her pince-nez, under a single lamp.
Across the road, on a steeper hill, the settlers
Set a house, unpainted, the porch fallen in,
The road a red clay strip without a bridge,
A shallow stream that liked to overflow.
Oliver Brand’s mules pulled our station wagon
Out of the gluey mire, earth’s rust.
And there, back from the road, the specimen
Shrubs and small trees my father planted, some
Taller than we were, some in bloom, some berried,
And some we still brought water to.
Paused at the weed-filled hole beside the beech
That, one year, brought forth beech nuts by the thousands,
A hole still reminiscent of the man
Chewing tobacco in among his whiskers
My father happened on, who, discovered, told
Of dreaming he should dig there for the gold
And promised to give half of what he found.
During the wars with Germany and Japan,
Descendents of the settlers, of Oliver Brand
And of that man built Flying Fortresses
For Lockheed, in Atlanta; now they build
Brick mansions in the woods they left, with lawns
To paved and lighted streets, azaleas, camellias
Blooming among the pines and tulip trees—
Mercedes Benz and Cadillac Republicans.
There was another stream further along
Divided through a marsh, lined by the fence
We stretched to posts with Mister Garner’s help
The time he needed cash for his son’s bail
And offered all his place.
A noble spring
Under the oak root cooled his milk and butter.
He called me “honey,” working with us there
(My father bought three acres as a gift),
His wife pale, hair a country orange, voice
Uncanny, like a ghost’s, through the open door
Behind her, chickens scratching on the floor.
Barred Rocks, our chickens; one, a rooster, splendid
Sliver and grey, red comb and long sharp spurs,
Once chased Aunt Jennie as far as the daphne bed
The two big king snakes were familiars of.
My father’s dog would challenge him sometimes
To laughter and applause.
Once, in Stone Mountain,
Travelers, stopped for gas, drove off with Smokey;
Angrily, grievingly, leaving his work, my father
Traced the car and found them way far south,
Had them arrested and, bringing Smokey home,
Was proud as Sherlock Holmes, and happier.
Above the spring, my sister’s cats, black Amy,
Grey Junior, down to meet us.
The rose trees,
Domestic, Asiatic, my father’s favorites.
The bridge, marauding dragonflies, the bullfrog,
Camellias cracked and blackened by the freeze,
Bay tree, mimosa, mountain laurel, apple,
Monkey pine twenty feet high, banana shrub,
The owls’ tall pine curved like a flattened S.
The pump house Mort and I built block by block,
Smooth concrete floor, roof pale aluminum
Half-covered by a clematis, the pump
Thirty feet down the mountain’s granite foot.
Mort was the hired man sent to us by Fortune,
Childlike enough to lead us.
He brought home,
Although he could not even drive a tractor,
Cheated, a worthless car, which we returned.
When, at the trial to garnishee his wages,
Frank Guess, the judge, Grandmother’s longtime neighbor,
Whose children my mother taught in Cradle Roll,
Heard Mort’s examination, he broke in
As if in disbelief on the bank’s attorneys:
“Gentlemen, must we continue this charade?”
Finally, past the compost heap, the garden,
Tomatoes and sweet corn for succotash,
Okra for frying, Kentucky Wonders, limas,
Cucumbers, squashes, leeks heaped round with soil,
Lavender, dill, parsley, and rosemary,
Tithonia and zinnias between the rows;
The greenhouse by the rock wall, used for cuttings
In late spring, frames to grow them strong for planting
Through winter into summer.
Early one morning
Mort called out, lying helpless by the bridge.
His ashes we let drift where the magnolia
We planted as a stem divides the path
The others lie, too young, at Silver Hill,
Except my mother.
Ninety-five, she lives
Three thousand miles away, beside the bare
Pacific, in rooms that overlook the Mission,
The Riviera, and the silver range
La Cumbre east.
And one druidic live oak guard the view.
Proudly around the walls, she shows her paintings
Of twenty years ago: the great oak’s arm
Extended, Zeuslike, straight and strong, wisteria
Tangled among the branches, amaryllis
Around the base; her cat, UC, at ease
In marigolds; the weeping cherry, pink
And white arms like a blessing to the blue
Bird feeder Mort made; cabin, scarlet sweet gum
Superb when tribes migrated north and south.
Alert, still quick of speech, a little blind,
Active, ready for laughter, open to fear,
Pity, and wonder that such things may be,
Some Sundays, I think, she must walk the line,
Aunt Jennie, too, if she were still alive,
And Eleanor, whose story is untold,
Their presences like muses, prompting me
In my small study, all listening to the sea,
All of one mind, the true posterity.
Mark Doty |
Because the road to our house
is a back road, meadowlands punctuated
by gravel quarry and lumberyard,
there are unexpected travelers
some nights on our way home from work.
Once, on the lawn of the Tool
and Die Company, a swan;
the word doesn't convey the shock
of the thing, white architecture
rippling like a pond's rain-pocked skin,
beak lifting to hiss at my approach.
Magisterial, set down in elegant authority,
he let us know exactly how close we might come.
After a week of long rains
that filled the marsh until it poured
across the road to make in low woods
a new heaven for toads,
a snapping turtle lumbered down the center
of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet.
His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out
of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
We'd have lifted him from the road
but thought he might bend his long neck back
I tried herding him; he rushed,
though we didn't think those blocky legs
could hurry-- then ambled back
to the center of the road, a target
for kids who'd delight in the crush
of something slow with the look
of primeval invulnerability.
the blunt spear point of his jaws,
puffing his undermouth like a bullfrog,
and snapped at your shoe,
vising a beakful of-- thank God--
You had to shake him loose.
We left him
to his own devices, talked on the way home
of what must lead him to new marsh
or old home ground.
The next day you saw,
one town over, remains of shell
in front of the little liquor store.
it was too far from where we'd seen him,
too small to be his.
though who could tell
what the day's heat might have taken
from his body.
For days he became a stain,
a blotch that could have been merely
I did not want to believe that
was what we saw alive in the firm center
of his authority and right
to walk the center of the road,
head up like a missionary moving certainly
into the country of his hopes.
In the movies in this small town
I stopped for popcorn while you went ahead
to claim seats.
When I entered the cool dark
I saw straight couples everywhere,
no single silhouette who might be you.
I walked those two aisles too small
to lose anyone and thought of a book
I read in seventh grade, "Stranger Than Science,"
in which a man simply walked away,
at a picnic, and was,
in the act of striding forward
to examine a flower, gone.
By the time the previews ended
I was nearly in tears-- then realized
the head of one-half the couple in the first row
was only your leather jacket propped in the seat
that would be mine.
I don't think I remember
anything of the first half of the movie.
I don't know what happened to the swan.
every week of some man's lover showing
the first symptoms, the night sweat
or casual flu, and then the wasting begins
and the disappearance a day at a time.
I don't know what happened to the swan;
I don't know if the stain on the street
was our turtle or some other.
I don't know
where these things we meet and know briefly,
as well as we can or they will let us,
I only know that I do not want you
--you with your white and muscular wings
that rise and ripple beneath or above me,
your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors
of polished tortoise-- I do not want you ever to die.