The Gentleman Who Spoke Like Music —for Peter Davison, 1928–2004
was kind to me though he did not have to be.
Who brought into the world a thousand books.
(Right there: a life well lived.) Who wrote a dozen or so himself, some prose about others, some his own poems.
(Right there: a life lived well!) Who corrected my spelling, gently, and my history too, who once or twice a year would buy me lunch and later let me leave his office with shopping bags of books to read.
Who wore a bowtie sometimes, and a vest, I think even a hanky in his jacket pocket.
Who was generous to me, the gentleman who spoke like music, who was kind to me though he did not have to be.
The Hungry Gap-Time,
late August, before the harvest, every one of us worn down by the plow, the hoe, rake, and worry over rain.
Chicken coop confiscated by the rats and the raptors with nary a mouse to hunt. The corn’s too green and hard, and the larder’s down to dried apples and double-corned cod. We lie on our backs and stare at the blue; our work is done, our bellies flat.
The mold on the wheat killed hardly a sheaf.
The lambs fatten on the grass, our pigs we set to forage on their own—they’ll be back when they whiff the first shucked ears of corn. Albert’s counting bushels in his head to see if there’s enough to ask Harriet’s father for her hand. Harriet’s father is thinking about Harriet’s mother’s bread pudding. The boys and girls splash in the creek, which is low but cold. Soon, soon there will be food again, and from what our hands have done we shall live another year here by the river in the valley above the fault line beneath the mountain.
Lump of Sugar on an Anthill
The dumb ants hack and gnaw it off grain by grain and haul it down to the chamber where they keep such things to feed their queen and young. The smart ants dig another entrance, wait for rain.
Which melts the sugar, and through viaducts they direct it to their nurseries, the old ants’ home, the unantennaed ward, and so on—the good little engineering ants!
The dumb ants have to eat their sugar dry.
Put your ear to a dumb ant’s anthill’s hole—mandibles on sandpaper is what you’ll hear.
The dumb ants pray it doesn’t rain before they’ve done their task, or else they will drown—in sweetness, but drown, nonetheless.
Peacocks in Twilight
I think not, because I’ll shoot both his eyes out with one bullet. Lest you think I advocate the blinding of peacocks in twilight, I don’t: to shoot both eyes out shoots out, too, his frontal lobe, ergo, the bird is dead, blind in one eye for a split second maybe, but dead, bird brain dead. I’ll do this from the porch on a summer evening, a pitcher of lemonade on my left. Though I dislike doilies, I’ll place one of Mother’s under the pitcher. She insisted on that, and my sister too. I’ll use my daddy’s gun.
Daddy didn’t like peacocks in twilight either, they offended an iron aesthetic of his, something to do with loathing cheap beauty, the meretricious, which I must have inherited, or else I love to hear and see the peahens weep.
accompanied by bees banging the screen, blind to it between them and the blooms on the sill, I turn pages, just as desperate as they to get where I am going.
Earlier, I tried to summon my nervous friend, a hummingbird, with sugar water. The ants got there first.
Now, one shrill bird makes its noise too often, too close: ch-pecha, ch-pecha-pecha.
If he’d eat the caterpillars (in sizes S to XXL!) eating my tomatoes, we could live as neighbors, but why can’t he keep quiet like the spiders and snakes?
I spoke to an exterminator once who said he’d poison birds but he didn’t want me to write about it. I have not until now, and now starts up that black genius, the crow, who is answered by the blue bully, the ubiquitous, the utterly American, jay.
The Shooting Zoo
The giraffe can’t stand up anymore: he’s still tall but not tall enough. The silverback is bald, the zebra’s black stripes gray. There’s a virus at the zoo: the springbok can’t prong, the alligators wracked by cataracts, the last lion meowls like an auntie’s cat.
The penguins walk as if they have a load in their pants!
The vultures are eating sandwiches and plants!
Something’s wrong with all the animals: the pandas obstreperous, the iguanas demand bananas, the loons are out of tune.
What to do, what to do? Soon, whatever it is that’s deranging them will pass through their bars, across their moats, and then: our dogs and goldfish, the little parakeet who pecks our lips >so we may say it kisses us, soon they’ll start dropping too.
Next: our children? grandma?
The zookeepers don’t know what to do, so print some permits permitting men to bring their guns to the shooting zoo.
His thoughts like a deck of cards hit by a howitzer. As they were only pieces of thoughts in the first place, thoughts without a beginning, middle, or end, they are now more torn, bits of red and black and white. Other shards of the puzzle in his head: some of blue sky, others a treetop, another one a bird’s foot, yellow. And piles of gray—streaked with cream—granite. These seem as if they belong in the same scene, but look at this one: a loopy piece of black, and more and more of them, all black. Half the puzzle unbroken black!
Where does the blackness meet the bird’s foot (two toes with visible talons), and the treetops, and what must be sky—blue, with wisps of white?
What is the blackness thinking about the whole mountain of blackness, soon to rise over the aforementioned granite mountain, remedyless and truculent?
A Clearing, a Meadow, in Deep Forest
One lies down in the meadow, one hears the insects saw and gnaw in the grass, and above, one hears some music from childhood, sees a barn swallow diving.
One has these thoughts, stricken. Clouds hang above the meadow’s—how did this clearing occur?—ragged treeline. How did it happen, its edges irregular, not cut for a field of even rye or oats? When one first breaks into it, the clearing, one thinks: not large enough for a farm, this fodder couldn’t feed four cows.
One walks halfway across and sits down, stricken. This is the place to rest, one thinks, in the meadow’s middle, this is the place to stop and wait for the wind, or a star, or a vole’s nose to point one on one’s way.