Charles Weld's poems have appeared in many small magazines
(Southern Poetry Review, The Evansville Review, Worcester Review,
Ellipsis, Phantamasgoria, Coe Review, Descant, Confluence etc.)
Pudding House published a chapbook of his work, Country I
Would Settle In, in 2004. He is employed as an administrator in
a non-profit agency serving children's mental health needs in
the Finger Lakes area of central New York.
A Starling That Sounds Like A Red-Tailed Hawk
A starling shipwrecked on a foreign shore
might make her way to safety in disguise,
not dressing differently than other starlings necessarily,
but talking hawk, crying the way a red-tailed cries
as it searches for thermals that push up like springs
under the wide undersides of buteo wings.
The risks of knowing and of being known,
described in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare,
are what I hear this morning in the starling's clear
keeer keeer. Fear must make this flattery more
sincere, although the increase in one century
of 60 birds to millions means starlings really have little to fear.
Yet we know that citizens of great empires often worry danger's near--
more prone, perhaps, like Viola in Illyria, when tired, lost or alone.
Family Story From A Western Territory
In the letter my family must have read and reread
all through the fall of 1857,
my grandfather's grandfather learned his brother had been dead
since June. The stranger, writing from Oregon, presumed Eben
had drowned in the Columbia. His skiff, crank
to the point of frequent capsize, probably swamped and sank
as it moved into the current from behind a point, sail set,
seven miles or so upriver from the trading post at Cathlamet.
Recklessness was hinted at without being named
in the description of him swimming, teeth biting rope,
to tow his often overturned boat to shore. The land he claimed--
halved by the government because he hadn't wed--
was so low you could row a boat around it, the letter said,
some springs. $1,000 for everything was the letter writer's hope.
A. R. Ammons' Towhee
Drink your tea is the sentence Yankee towhees sing,
scratching up the woods floor as April's easing
into spring. Southern towhees slur their words
so tow-hee becomes jreet in the mouths of North Carolina birds
like the one that calls for grits from its cage by the well
in A. R. Ammons' Hardweed Path Going. Young Archie warns
that grits are not available in natural form and quietly mourns
when he has to release this bird. Years later, he would tell
a reporter that the word to describe his childhood
is privation. Compensation--Emerson's word--would
argue that this want made space for abundance to reveal its store.
More hole, more hill--or, at least, if the hole doesn't cave, more
capacity to fill. "If you dig a well, steen it well," Ammons advised,
to prevent collapse as the world seeps in, radiant but unrevised.
If I were a rabbit hearing this racket,
I'd scrap travel plans indefinitely--
stay in bed, pull a pillow over my head
and try to breathe without moving.
Or, if robed and slippered (rabbit again),
I was padding around the warren's underground,
sipping tea, grousing to the wife,
my complaint might be:
"An owl should encourage
small, mammal movement, not stop it!"
Could it have been this chilling effect on intercourse
rather than the hooked nose, bushy, unkempt whiskers
and big, round, sharp and piercing eyes
that made one neighbor call Thoreau an owl?
Either way, he deserved it I'm sure--
blessed with full measure of froward probity
that made him think he was awake while others were sleeping.
The Barred Owl yawled while I was sleeping,
sometime, I think, between one a.m. and two.
Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?
Between tattoos the quiet was rich and deep as velvet,
velvet, a word Duke Ellington used
to describe the nightlife--its weighty drape,
the soft brushed nap so easy to sink into.
Awake, I sank, hushed and happy--
fruit, I thought, proof that spirit's first task
is to stop action rather than promote it.
Another fall when I slept in these woods--
about the same time of night the newspaper said--
one of my favorite students was found dead
after being thrown from a Harlem rooftop.
A woman heard his body smack onto her window parapet.
Naked, maybe shot before tossed--the story was unclear.
He was hardly innocent, trying to sell
hot, Glock nine-millimeters
in a strange neighborhood, but
innocent enough to misjudge risk
like the mouse in the field guide photograph,
caught unawares by the camera flash,
head down, ears back, not seeing
the outstretched legs and talons, reaching to do their work.
Built for stealth, not loft,
the Barred Owl's wings are thick and soft
to muffle the sound of their moving.
If mice and rabbits know this fact,
some business distracts them from remembering--
maybe the same business
that keeps men, according to my wife,
from knowing that their hearts need breaking
before they can grasp what's essential in life,
before they can be roused from sleeping to waking.
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