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Three Prose Poems

ISSUE:  Spring 1999


Oh, yesterday, that one, we all cry out. Oh, that one! How rich and possible everything was! How ripe, ready, lavish, and filled with excitement—how hopeful we were on those summer days, under the clean, white racing clouds. Oh, yesterday!


I was in the old burn-dump—no longer used—where the honeysuckle all summer is in a moist rage, willing it would seem to be enough to decorate the whole world. Here a pair of hummingbirds lived every summer, as if the only ones of their kind, in their own paradise at the side of the high road. On hot afternoons, beside the blackberry canes that rose thickly from that wrecked place, I strolled, and was almost always sure to see the male hummingbird on his favorite high perch, near the top of a wild cherry tree, looking out across his kingdom with bright eye and even brighter throat. And then, on the afternoon I am telling about, as he swung his head, there came out of the heavens an immense growl, of metal and energy, shoving and shrilling, boring through the air. And a plane, a black triangle, flew screaming from the horizon, heavy talons clutched and lumpy on its underside. Immediately: a suffering in the head, through the narrow-channeled ears. And I saw the small bird, in the sparkle of its tree, fling its green head sideways for the eye to see this hawkbird, this nightmare pressing overhead. And, lo, the hummingbird cringed, it hugged itself to the limb, it hunkered, it quivered. It was God’s gorgeous, flashing jewel: afraid. All narrative is metaphor.


After the storm the ocean returned without fanfare to its old offices; the tide climbed onto the snow-covered shore and then receded; so there was the world: sky, water, the pale sand and, where the tide had reached that day’s destination, the snow.

And this detail: the body of a duck, a golden-eye; and beside it one black-backed gull. In the body of the duck, among the breast feathers, a hole perhaps an inch across; the color within the hole a shouting red. And bend it as you might, nothing was to blame: storms must toss, and the great black-backed gawker must eat, and so on. It was merely a moment. The sun, angling out from the bunched clouds, cast one could easily imagine tenderly over the landscape its extraordinary light.


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